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Statements for the press following Russian-Uzbekistani talks

April 26, 2016, The Kremlin, Moscow

Vladimir Putin and Islam Karimov made statements for the press following their talks.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr President, ladies and gentlemen.

The official visit by the President of Uzbekistan is proceeding in a traditional atmosphere of friendship, neighbourliness and openness.

Yesterday, the President of Uzbekistan and I had an informal meeting, during which we exchanged opinions on the international agenda and the situation in the Asia Pacific Region.

Our talks today were constructive and informative. We discussed important issues of bilateral cooperation and outlined specific plans for our political, trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian relations.

We talked in detail about Uzbekistan’s presidency at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. I would like to remind you that Russia held the rotating SCO presidency last year. In this context, we welcome Uzbekistan’s resolve to maintain continuity in SCO activities. We appreciate the efforts of our Uzbek partners to implement the Ufa agreements, and we support the new initiatives that are slated for discussion at the Tashkent summit in June, including the fight against drug trafficking, extremism and transnational organised crime.

As I have said, Uzbekistan is Russia’s strategic partner and reliable ally. Our cooperation is aimed at strengthening these relations of friendship and mutual support.

Mr President and I also spoke about a tragedy that goes back several decades: the terrible earthquake that hit Tashkent 50 years ago. The entire Soviet Union helped rebuild the city then.

We appreciate the level of bilateral economic ties. Russia is Uzbekistan’s second largest trading partner. It accounts for over 17 percent of Uzbekistan’s foreign trade.

At the same time, we are aware of current problems, which are connected primarily to exchange rates. We have taken note of a certain decline in mutual trade in this connection, but we have to say that the physical volumes of mutual trade have not decreased and have even grown by 7.9 percent in the first quarter of this year.

We are successfully implementing an action programme to boost economic cooperation in 2015–2019. As a result, the share of industrial and high-tech products in our mutual trade has increased to 30 percent. The deliveries of agricultural products from Uzbekistan to Russia have grown.

Our investment cooperation is on the rise. Over the past few years, Russian investments in Uzbekistan’s economy have exceeded $6 billion. Last year alone, the inflow of Russian investment to Uzbekistan reached $1.2 billion or 40 percent more than in 2014.

The enforcement of the 2014 agreement on the settlement of mutual financial claims and obligations provides additional opportunities for the implementation of new projects and enhancing credit and financial cooperation.

Energy remains in the focus of our cooperation. Leading Russian companies are successfully operating in Uzbekistan. Thus, LUKOIL and its Uzbek partners are developing a group of gas condensate fields in Bukhara Region and have invested $3.6 billion in these projects. Total investment has been planned at $12 billion.

The construction of a gas transmission facility, one of the largest in Central Asia, was launched in April. Its annual design capacity will be 8 billion cubic metres, and it will cost more than $3 billion. The implementation of this large project will create thousands of new jobs in Uzbekistan and attract substantial financial and tax revenues to its budget.

Other Russian companies have increased their activities in Uzbekistan, for example Gazprom. It plans to develop the promising Jel gas field.

We are implementing projects in thermal and hydropower generation. The Power Machines company has completed the modernisation of several large power stations.

We are strengthening industrial cooperation. The largest CIS joint venture successfully manufactures electrical products, and another one assembles vehicles from KamAZ components.

Of particular importance for bilateral cooperation are contacts between people – cultural, research and educational ties; it has always been like that and will continue to be. In this regard, the two governments have prepared and approved an intensive cultural and humanitarian cooperation programme during the talks. We hope that both Russian and Uzbekistani people will show great interest in it.

We intend to continue to expand cooperation in education and personnel training. Around 21,000 Uzbekistani students are studying for their university degrees in Russia. Uzbekistan has branches of leading Russian universities, including Moscow State University, the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics and the Gubkin University of Oil and Gas.

The newly signed cooperation agreement between the Bauman Moscow State Technical University and the Tashkent Institute of Railway Transport Engineers is sure to deepen bilateral educational and scientific contacts.

I would like to thank the President for his attention to the study of the Russian language in Uzbekistan – both in secondary schools and universities.

I already said that the President and I have discussed major international and regional issues extensively. We are convinced of the need to form a broad anti-terrorist coalition, acting on the basis of international law and under the auspices of the UN, especially with regard to Afghanistan.

Our similar or identical positions facilitate our cooperation in the United Nations and similar frameworks, as well as greater constructive cooperation in the CIS. This is one of the objectives of the plan of foreign ministerial consultations we signed.

In conclusion, I would like thank the President and all members of the Uzbekistani delegation one more time for the productive and meaningful negotiations which will undoubtedly serve to further promote multifaceted cooperation between our countries.

Thank you.

President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov: Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, allow me again to sincerely thank the President of Russia for the invitation to pay an official visit to Moscow, for the traditionally warm welcome and hospitality extended to the Uzbekistani delegation.

We in Uzbekistan view this official visit as a much-needed extension of our bilateral and multilateral cooperation, and an opportunity to study reality and consider the prospects of our relations, including trade and economics, investment, in short – aspects of a new practical content for our underlying agreements on strategic partnership and alliance between Uzbekistan and Russia.

We had a detailed discussion and exchange of views on a host of, frankly speaking, sensitive aspects of bilateral relations; on regional security and stability and on urgent measures that we need to take to help relieve growing tensions in the world, and the scale and growing activity of international terrorism, violent extremism and radicalism.

I would like to take this opportunity to emphasise again the personal attention that the President of Russia is paying to further strengthening relations between Russia and Uzbekistan; he never forgets this. So, from this perspective, yesterday’s meeting, which began at half past eight and lasted until nearly midnight, I must say, was a rare meeting when we openly talked about problems that concern both Russia and Uzbekistan.

Frankly speaking, I talked more, and Mr President listened, but he must have certainly drawn his own conclusions. This is in regards to the opportunity that I seem to get (I already mentioned it during the expanded segment of our meeting), the kind of personal privilege that I feel I have – to be allowed to speak very bluntly with Mr Putin sometimes, to say things that others are not yet ready, or willing, or even dare to say, maybe. It is a privilege that I use sparingly, of course. But nevertheless I am very pleased with his trust. Trust is not something that you give to just anyone, they say.

Yet, this is both good and bad, a plus and a minus. A minus because not everyone likes it, but a plus because I feel so relieved that I said it. I said something I had spent long evenings and nights pondering, and troubling over sometimes: why have I not done this, why have I chosen a different option, why did the course of events go here and not there, and could I have influenced it all, and so on. So yesterday’s conversation was frank, very frank.

I do not think that this conversation will have any major impact on anything. I do not want to think that. I just said what I thought about the events happening around us, what we could stop now, and what we could do to prevent the impending disaster. The tension needs to be dealt with anyway. If not today, then tomorrow, an end should be put to this.

Several times during this short period of time, Mr President, I said what I thought: I believe in Russia, I believe in you, and that is it. I do not know what journalists will say tomorrow about my – possibly – very bold statement; however, I said what I had to say because, in my opinion, and from my experience, it is of great worth.

Indeed, we have had an extensive discussion and exchanged views on many issues such as regional security, stability and urgent measures needed in connection with the growing tension, as well as the scale and intensity of international terrorism, violent extremism and radicalism.

The urgency and importance of addressing these issues is of particular significance, given the rapidly changing situation, the escalation of geopolitical confrontation, geopolitical conflicts, the ongoing global financial and economic crisis, the danger of expanding threats, and challenges near and far.

I think it goes without saying that in our discussion we were primarily concerned about priority aspects of our bilateral relations, and first of all the situation taking shape in Central Asia.

Above all, this concerns, of course, the situation in neighbouring Afghanistan. The present situation in Afghanistan can be described as a sluggish confrontation between opposing sides, the continuation of which, in my opinion, could create a serious threat of the instability spilling over to neighbouring countries and regions. It is what was known during the Soviet days as the “USSR’s underbelly.” Those who remember, remember. However, this expression, this assessment is also highly relevant today.

The point is, above all, that Russia has always had not simply interests, but vital interests in this region. We in Uzbekistan do not simply recognise but consider Russia’s participation indispensable. I believe that attempts to address the Afghan issue without Russia are ill considered and absolutely rash. I believe that those who are thinking this and making such plans are very wrong. Russia has been in this region, and, I believe, will remain there. There can be no two ways about it.

The present situation in Afghanistan can be described as a sluggish confrontation between opposing sides, the continuation of which, in my opinion, could create a serious threat of the instability spilling over to neighbouring countries and regions. In our opinion, this danger should not be underestimated.

It needs to be said that many attempts are being made to set up a negotiating process, but unfortunately, it is producing no practical results. I would like to reiterate that to move forward in resolving the Afghan problem, it would be expedient to invite Russian representatives for talks, bearing in mind the country’s vital interests. Russia’s capabilities in the region are very important. This is, of course, if Russia wants to participate. I am sure that a great deal depends on Russia’s participation, if we take not only a short-term but also a long-term view and look far ahead.

It is important to resume the negotiating process between the government and the Taliban movement. The sides should not set any conditions on the start of the negotiating process. Circumstances should not be an impediment but a subject of negotiations. It is also essential to have strong political will and be prepared for mutual concessions and compromise solutions.

There is another issue I would like to dwell on. I would also like to note that, considering the complicated situation in Afghanistan and lessons of recent history, it is essential to prevent the SCO from getting involved in the military and political developments in that country. Such involvement might be regarded by Kabul, all of Afghanistan and far beyond it –practically by the entire world – as SCO member-states’ preparedness (we are both SCO states) to assume full responsibility for the settlement of the Afghan crisis. It would be utterly wrong to shift the Afghan issue onto someone else and later discuss the successes and failures, retrospectively. I believe that it is impossible to wish for a settlement of all problems in one fell swoop, considering the situation in Afghanistan.

We highly appreciate our constructive bilateral cooperation at the UN, SCO, CIS and other influential international organisations and agencies. Today we have paid special attention to issues related to the preparation for and the organisation of the meeting of the Council of Heads of State of SCO member-states, which is due in Tashkent in June. We are sincerely grateful to the Russian side – I emphasise this – for its comprehensive support of Uzbekistan as the SCO chair, primarily as concerns the political items of the summit agenda and the compiling of its final documents.

I would like to reiterate that, considering the present situation, with a mere two months before the meeting, I find it necessary to move into the foreground certain issues that have not been dealt with deliberately up until now because certain countries seek to settle their own issues. We should place the interests of the SCO – I mean its long-term interests – above everything else. That is why, if we view the situation at this angle, we should speed up the pace of the coordination of documents crucial for the future of the SCO itself.

Naturally, issues related to further deepening of our broad cooperation in such essential areas as maintaining and increasing the volume of bilateral trade in the context of the difficult foreign trade situation, the development of investment activity and interaction in the transport and communication sphere figured prominently in our talks.

Today Mr President cited certain figures (he struck me with his knowledge of the subject) showing that the trade turnover has far from declined; that is, if we speak in terms of physical volumes. A highly negative factor in certain estimates is the continuing devaluation, whereby the value of a particular currency is falling, and so on. In such cases, it is best to talk about physical trade volumes.

Trade turnover is the best possible indicator. We are moving forward, but for some reasons the devaluation of a particular currency shows this result on an absolutely negative side. This approach is completely wrong and I believe that certain [forces] are deliberately taking advantage of this circumstance.

All calculations are made in dollars or in some other units, as it has now become trendy. However, the best possible option, as we became accustomed in our younger days, is to calculate everything in physical volumes, so that we can tell if we are moving forwards or backwards.

So today, when Mr President cited some figures showing that with regard to the supplies of certain types of fruit and vegetables we have increased our supplies to Russia several-fold, by 20 times, first, I was touched by the fact that the President of Russia not only knows about this but takes a positive view of it.

Second, we agreed that these processes show our potential in terms of increasing our trade turnover, especially in priority trade areas, on items that cannot be easily substituted because, to put it bluntly, Turkey today is unable to ensure [such supplies] or for some reasons there are serious grounds for these supplies to be halted.

Tell me, does Uzbekistan produce less fruit or vegetables? In 2016, Uzbekistan plans to increase fruit and vegetable production to 4.5 million tonnes. We can sufficiently supply certain types [of these products] not only to Russia, if these long-term plans are followed through.

You know what vegetables are. They are not cotton. Vegetables and fruit are sown today and crops are harvested in November or October. Therefore, we should know several years in advance what the needs are, say, in Russia’s northern regions, Moscow and St Petersburg for Uzbek fruit, which for several reasons (taste and many other parameters) are the best. In this regard, we agreed with Mr President today that this issue will be addressed from a somewhat different perspective. We badly need an entity, a business entity, an agency that will assess the needs of particular regions, especially in Siberia, for fresh fruit and vegetables, at least for five years ahead, so that we know in advance when to plant, what to plant and even what kind of vegetables and fruit a particular Siberian region will need.

This is great, isn’t it? Just think, you place an order and in a year you receive a particular kind of fruit in one form or another. Besides, we are no longer the kind of country where everything used to be produced and placed in refrigerators in bulk, the final product being a kind of mash. Today, we have learned a great deal, in particular how to ensure both quality and supplies, and we provide services to our customers on par with others. The issue easily lends itself to solution through this prism. It is not only an issue of fruit and vegetables, but also of industrial goods, where added value and other things are needed. We are prepared to cooperate as required by a consumer country. And I believe this is a very important reserve in our bilateral ties.

Another issue is transport and transit. Why did our northern transit fall by 27 percent in 2015, but our southwestern transit is growing by 50 percent? Concerned agencies in our country and in Russia, above all, should sit down and think, keep us informed and address these issues.

Who is not interested in receiving transit revenue? What is transit? We have an opportunity, we have a railway service that runs according to a certain schedule, but we do not take advantage of this opportunity because we are slow and in addition do not have an effective approach. Therefore, I am grateful to Mr President for paying so much attention to figures related to our trade turnover.

I completely agree with Mr President in that it is unpardonable to make miscalculations here and not take advantage of the opportunities that we have. Even today, we, Russia and Uzbekistan, are connected by thousands of threads. These eternal values are the basis of the sides’ interest in advancing good traditions, in close cooperation, in broad contacts in culture, humanities, science and academia, based on long-term programmes and projects.

I want to say that – as you might have noticed – a document has been signed today between the Tashkent Institute of Railway Engineering and the Bauman Moscow State Technical University. I graduated from the Polytechnic Institute long ago (it was known as the Central Asian Polytechnic Institute at the time) and I always looked up at the Bauman alumni with envy. It is an all distant past now. To me, a Polytechnic Institute man, it was a cherished dream to study at the Bauman Institute someday.

Today, I am glad to see that we have signed a document that orders cooperation between the Bauman University and our Institute of Railway Engineering, which is regarded as one of the best [institutions of higher learning] in Uzbekistan.

Uzbekistan had three branches of Moscow-based universities — the Gubkin Institute, with whose rector we maintain excellent contacts – he visited Uzbekistan quite recently, the Lomonosov Moscow State University and the Plekhanov University of Economics.

Mr President, we attach great importance to our young people’s contacts. I regard them as future-oriented. If we promote our ties through universities, we will not need to acquaint anyone with each other and, importantly, we will no longer say that the Russian language is receding into the oblivion on the far ends of the former USSR.

I resolutely object to the latter point. At any rate, I think the Russian language is studied in proportion to the demand for it. When it is needed, we will study it, come what may. If we regard the matter from this point, we the elder generation should deal with it in such a way as not to see that we are too late with our efforts. All of this should be a natural process.

Young people should know each other and speak one language. Then there will be no problems between us and between our nations. I say this with such passion because I am an ardent supporter of this cause. People should think about the future. That is of vital importance.

Uzbekistan has presently 840 schools, where 450,000 students are taught in Russian. That is a symbolic fact. You see such things are not imposed artificially. It is all quite natural and – let us say it outright – we are interested in it. With this, I stress again and again the importance of our official visit today.

I thank Mr President again for his initiative to invite a delegation of Uzbekistan to Moscow. I am glad that we have paid that visit today.

Thank you.

April 26, 2016, The Kremlin, Moscow