As Russia and China vie for economic and political influence in Central Asia, Uzbekistan has become ground zero in their competition. Yet despite Uzbekistan’s pivotal role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and deep Russian-Uzbek economic, security and military engagement, Tashkent will try not to side with China and will abstain from joining the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) and CSTO. Instead Uzbekistan will continue its official non-alignment policy, seeking ever closer relations with other regional leaders such as Turkey and possibly the United States.
It has been in Russia’s core interests to keep Uzbekistan as a close partner, as the country arguably has the most strategic location in the entire region. Uzbekistan shares borders with all Central Asian states (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan) and Afghanistan, and it also sits on a big part of the agriculturally rich Fergana Valley, with a sizable population as well as oil and natural gas deposits. This strategic importance has acted as a drag on relations between Tashkent and Moscow at times since the break-up of the Soviet Union; Uzbekistan was and still is important to Moscow. Yet its geography, and its wealth of resources, has enabled Uzbekistan to repeatedly resist Russian pressure to enlist Tashkent into CSTO or EEU.