Ukraine and Uzbekistan have a powerful potential for mutually-advantageous cooperation in various fields. However, many Ukrainian institutions do not have the faintest idea that such opportunities exist. The recent international conference “Ukraine-Uzbekistan: Parallels of Historical Progress and Ways of Cooperating in the 21st Century,” held at the Vernadsky National Library, turned into a bridge that has been rebuilt in Ukrainian-Uzbek relations — with many more to follow.
The conference and the accompanying book exhibit drew a considerable number of scholars and diplomats from the two fraternal countries (no irony intended). All the participants talked about the great prospects for developing mutually-beneficial cooperation, which should take the form of qualitatively new models. But it is also necessary to retain the best of what has already been achieved in our relations, those thousands of threads that link our two countries in the economic, scientific, and civilizational fields.
Experts claim that economic relations between Ukraine and Uzbekistan have had their ups and downs. Very often, as governments changed, past agreements were forgotten or shelved, and most people were blissfully unaware of already-signed contracts. For example, an agreement was signed in 2004 on canceling exclusions in free trade, which considerably smoothed the path of economic cooperation. There have been periodic dialogues involving our two countries’ business circles. The current tendency is to expand cooperation.
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Uzbekistan to Ukraine Ilhom Khaidarov noted that there was an almost two-fold increase in bilateral trade in 2006. After carrying out a land reform, Uzbekistan now has a greater demand for farming machinery, which the currently sluggish Ukrainian market can easily meet. Ukrainian projects and innovations in oil extraction can also be successfully introduced into Uzbekistan’s oil and gas complex, says Mykhailo Dovbenko, director of the Open Politics Institute.
However, full-fledged cooperation between the two countries is impossible without political dialogue. Presidents Viktor Yushchenko and Islam Karimov last met in November 2006 in Minsk, and Prime Minister Yanukovych also had a meeting with the president of Kazakhstan president in Sochi. Many high-profile visits by political leaders are planned for the current year. Ukraine is already taking active steps to lay the groundwork for proclaiming a Year of Uzbekistan in the near future.
Ukraine-Uzbek relations also have considerable potential in the field of cultural exchanges: during the conference an agreement was signed on scientific and informational cooperation between the Alisher Navoi National Library of Uzbekistan and the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine. This was preceded by a long period of collaboration in the sphere of history studies, culture, and information. Ambassador Khaidarov pointed out that both countries maintain close historical ties and, in spite of all the odds, are going to build the future through a joint effort.
The president of Uzbekistan noted during a meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart that the only problem is that, although the two countries are extremely close to each other, they do not have a common border. The Ukrainian president answered briefly, “Borders do not matter to true friends.”
Mykhailo DOVBENKO, Director, Open Politics Institute:
“I believe we have things to learn from each other. For example, Uzbekistan has taken some interesting political and economic steps that can help us move faster to a better future. Take their land reform, for instance. They are not afraid to institute private ownership of land and give everything to private owners. Only a few structures (particularly the irrigation system) remain in the hands of state. In doing so, they have given a significant boost to agricultural development, and the first results have already appeared. Farmers have increased labor efficiency, which in turn encourages them to modernize and mechanize their facilities. This means we could establish contacts in the field of mechanical engineering.
“Also of interest to us and our Uzbek friends is our participation in oil and gas investment projects. Since they have now embarked on attracting as many investments as possible, I think we could offer them a lot of our scientific and technological expertise. Let’s face it: the steps they are taking in this field and the results they have achieved have sparked our interest in cooperation. They have not only managed to avoid importing oil and gas products but, on the contrary, they are exporting large quantities of these to the world market. I think that if we have more information on the steps being taken by the Uzbek government, more Ukrainian companies will show interest in this cooperation.”
Viacheslav SHVED, chairman, Middle East, Asia, and Pacific Department, National Institute for Strategic Studies:
“I think certain delays in the development of Ukrainian-Uzbek cooperation are a thing of the past. We are wiser today and see that we should adopt a more mindful and careful attitude to each other and seek ways of mutually-advantageous cooperation between Ukraine and Uzbekistan in pursuance of our national and strategically important interests.
“I would single out the following key points in our cooperation. Firstly, joint participation in planning high-profile Eurasian energy transportation projects. The importance of Central Asia, and Uzbekistan, as a leading country of this region with rich deposits of natural gas, is on the rise. Uzbekistan is the world’s 6th largest holder of gas reserves and 12th largest producer. We must be aware of Uzbekistan’s role in establishing new Eurasian energy transit corridors as well as in forming the system of European energy security. This is what the European Union spotlighted recently, stressing the role and importance of Uzbekistan for the organization. The EU is now seeking ways to develop relations with this Asian country. Ukraine could fit into this very well and benefit greatly from the new format of relations between united Europe and Uzbekistan.
“Secondly, we must understand that Uzbekistan is our serious partner in developing relations with such countries as Afghanistan and China, as well as with important regional institutions, like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Uzbekistan has colossal reserves here.
“Thirdly, we have a tremendous potential for raising to a qualitatively new level our humanitarian contacts, exchange of spiritual values, and the development of mutually-advantageous cooperation in research, education, and culture. The exhibit and international conference confirmed that our peoples have a great capacity for spiritual enrichment and mutual exchanges. I would also like to stress that in order to develop our relations successfully we must resume, and continue, political consultations and dialogue between our two heads of state. The matter has already gotten off the ground.”