Uzbekistan has broken ranks among its Central Asian peers, who have pointedly refrained from adopting explicit positions on Russia’s war, by stating that it recognizes Ukraine’s territorial integrity and that it will not recognize the independence of the breakaway self-styled republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Speaking in the Senate on March 17, Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov urged both sides in the conflict to reach a diplomatic solution.
“The situation around Ukraine is a cause of deep concern for Uzbekistan,” Komilov said. “We support pursuing a peaceful solution for this situation and to settle this conflict by political and diplomatic means. For that to happen, it is necessary first to bring an end to the military activities and aggression.”
The statement stops short of categorically assigning blame to either side for initiating the conflict, but the fact that it has been made at all is notable in light of the depth of diplomatic and economic ties between Uzbekistan and Russia.
All other countries in Central Asia, whose economies are like Uzbekistan’s strongly dependent on that of Russia, have adopted fiercely noncommittal positions.
Kazakhstan has also refrained from lending its backing to the declaration of sovereignty made by the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics, but it has at the same time avoided stating categorically that it rejects the claims. The recognition and subsequent need to defend those self-declared republics from a purported planned assault by Kyiv’s forces was what Russia had cited as the ostensible justification for waging war against Ukraine.
On February 22, Kazakh Foreign Minister Mukhtar Tleuberdi told journalists that “the issue of recognition for the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics by Kazakhstan is not on the agenda” – a formulation seemingly geared toward avoiding the ire of both Russia and the West alike.
The Kremlin sought early in the war to put Tashkent on the spot by trying to convey the impression it was giving its tacit approval for the invasion of Ukraine.
When Russian President Vladimir Putin’s office issued a statement about his February 25 telephone conversation with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, it suggested that Mirziyoyev had “expressed understanding regarding the actions taken by the Russian side.”
This seeming endorsement prompted Mirziyoyev’s spokesman to provide a clarification.
“I would like to emphasize that Uzbekistan takes a balanced, neutral position on this matter,” Sherzod Asadov said in a Facebook post in English. “All disputes and disagreements that arise must be addressed solely on the basis of the international law norms.”
As Temur Umarov, a fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center, noted in a comment on his Telegram feed, countries in Central Asia are showing extreme caution over the Ukraine crisis.
“Each in its own way depends on Russia, and therefore, they do not want to anger her. But at the same time, there is not a single Central Asian country that can support Russia's actions toward Ukraine, as that would indirectly legitimize Moscow's attempts to interfere in their own internal affairs,” Umarov wrote.
If Uzbekistan has some additional scope to take a position at variance with Kazakhstan, it is because it is not a member of either the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union trading bloc or the Collective Security Treaty Organization defense grouping, Umarov wrote.
“Uzbekistan … feels more free in its relations with Moscow, and so it allows itself more transparent formulations,” he wrote.