Uzbekistan is considering a range of military contracts with its neighbors amid a push by its new president to improve foreign relations.
On October 4, 2017, Kommersant reported that Uzbekistan is interested in procuring armored vehicles, Su-30SMs, and attack and transport helicopters from Russia. The two sides are also looking at the potential for Uzbekistan to have some of its older fixed-wing aircraft, like its MiG-29s and Su-25s, overhauled.
In the background of this interest in Russian systems, Uzbekistan has moved forward with cooperation agreements with Russia. The two sides signed a military-technical agreement in November 2016, and both countries ratified the deal in April 2017. An Uzbek delegation reportedly traveled to the Irkutsk Aircraft Plant in August of this year and, last month, top Uzbek and Russian officials met to discuss a potential arms contract. Earlier this week, Uzbek military forces began a joint exercise with Russian troops on Uzbek soil, the first such maneuvers since 2005.
Besides its negotiations with Russia, Tashkent is considering a purchase of Arlan armored vehicles from Kazakhstan and reportedly bought 10 Ejder Yalcin armored vehicles from Turkey. Moreover, earlier this year, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who succeeded long-term ruler Islam Karimov last year, suggested that Uzbekistan needed to invest further in its anti-aircraft capabilities.
The Uzbek push for new arms contracts comes as President Mirziyoyev emphasizes improving Uzbekistan’s foreign relations and engaging more with neighbors. The late President Karimov often had strained relations with other leaders in the area, and President Mirziyoyev, as part of his broader reform plan, aims to ease Uzbekistan out of its isolationism.
While an arms build-up could unnerve neighbor Kyrgyzstan, with whom Uzbekistan has often encountered tensions over the years in regards to resource use and border delineation, President Mirziyoyev has made a point of entering dialogue with his Kyrgyz counterpart to resolve disputes between the two countries. The two countries signed a law on much of their shared border earlier in the week which was approved by the Uzbek Senate on Wednesday.
Uzbekistan may run into difficulty with its procurement goals, however. Kommersant reported that the main obstacle to Uzbekistan’s purchase of Russian equipment is its financial condition — despite the fact that Russia is reportedly offering the arms at domestic prices, rather than commercial prices, an arrangement usually reserved for CSTO members.
Uzbekistan may several billion dollars on defense annually — the country does not formally release its defense budget figures — but it is unclear how much of the country’s budget is geared towards procurement. As a result, some of its objectives may go unmet for the immediate future.