An article by: Vladimir Sapozhnikov

In October 2023, the ancient city of Samarkand will host the sixteenth edition of the Eurasian Economic Forum in Verona

Uzbekistan will finally get direct access to the Iranian port Chabahar on the Arabian Sea. This is one of the most important results of the recent visit by Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev to Tehran. Uzbekistan and Iran agreed to increase bilateral trade from the current 435 million dollars to three billion dollars per year.

Uzbekistan is a country with a millennial history, located in the geographical center of Central Asia, containing 449,000 square kilometers of mountains, steppes, and deserts, populated by a little over 36 million people. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Uzbekistan, being one of the 15 “sister” republics of the former USSR, gained independence. Following a transition period and a sequence of important changes in the economic structure of the country, where the dominating industry during the Soviet era was cotton growing, Uzbekistan became one of the points of attraction for many countries of Greater Eurasia, from Russia to China, Turkey, and Iran, which announced the course towards strengthening the partnership with the Tashkent government. At the same time, Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei, the spiritual leader of Iran, pointed out the presence of unnamed enemies that resist the convergence of Iran and Uzbekistan.

The statements by Khamenei were made during the recent visit of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev to Tehran. The visit by Mirziyoev became the first official visit of a President of Uzbekistan to Iran in the last 20 years. The leaders of both countries named this visit “historical,” which would affect not just the Uzbekistan-Iran mutual relations, but could have a great significance for the future of Central Asia and, in a broader context, of Greater Eurasia.

The central point of the negotiations for the Uzbek President in Tehran was cooperation with Iran in the transport and communications sectors. For the first time in the country’s history, Uzbekistan will have direct access to the Arabian Sea and, consequently, to the world ocean shipping lanes. This announcement, very important for the economic development of Uzbekistan, was made personally by Ayatollah Khamenei, “Iran will open direct access to port Chabahar for Uzbekistan on the Arabian Sea, to help the Uzbekistan’s foreign trade to reach many important world markets.”

For Uzbekistan that does not have direct access to the coast and cannot use global sea routes, this decision by the Iranian leader cannot be overestimated. Port Chabahar located north of the Gulf of Oman and south of the Sistan and Balochistan provinces is considered one of the most important in southern Iran. Using port Chabahar will contribute to the development of Uzbekistan’s foreign trade due to its connection with international waters. Port Chabahar situated not far from the territories of Afghanistan and Pakistan is connected with the Iranian national railway network. It serves as the only sea port for Iran and will become a part of the international transport North-South corridor that anticipates the construction of an intercontinental super-railway between Russia and Iran.

In addition to the fact that Russia traditionally supports good-neighborly relations with the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, China also started showing distinctive activity in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kirgizia, and Turkmenistan. In May last year, at the China-Central Asia Summit in Xi’an, the Chinese leader Xi Jinping declared the comprehensive development of strategic cooperation with the five countries of Central Asia.

Uzbekistan is a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and makes good use of its strategic position. On the margins of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on June 16, President of the Russian energy giant Gazprom Alexey Miller and Energy Minister of Uzbekistan Jurabek Mirzamakhmudov signed an agreement, under which Russia will sell to Uzbekistan 2.8 billion cubic meters of natural gas in 2023-2025. The delivery will start on October 1, 2023, at the rate of nine million cubic meters of gas per day. At present time, Uzbekistan exports a lot of gas to China, and the contract with Gazprom will allow the Tashkent government to satisfy the growing internal demand for hydrocarbons.

In this context, Tehran considers it very important to implement in Uzbekistan many joint projects in various fields, primarily in science and technology. For international observers, “this threatens a conflict of interests between Tehran and Ankara, which has been closely interacting with the countries of Central Asia for a long time and definitely would not want to find a new and serious competitor in this field.” In recent years, Turkey became the third economic and trade partner of Uzbekistan in Central Asia, following Russia and China. This fact became especially obvious after the visit of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to Samarkand last September, where he took part in the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. In addition to the negotiations with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyonov, Raisi met with the leaders of other countries of the region.

We remind that in October 2023, the ancient city of Samarkand will host the sixteenth edition of the Verona Eurasian Economic Forum, which is traditionally organized in Italy and in the entire world (in 2022, the partner capital of the Forum was the city of Baku, Azerbaijan) by the Association “Conoscere Eurasia”.

For the 32 years that have passed since the USSR decay, the structure of the country’s both national economy and foreign trade has significantly changed. In addition to growing and exporting cotton – the dominating crop in Uzbek industry during the USSR era – Uzbekistan is currently the eighth largest gas producer with proved methane reserves of 3,400 billion cubic meters. Uzbekistan has the 4th largest gold reserves in the world and presently manages to produce, on average, about 100 tons of gold per year. The uranium reserves are very significant (40 production sites covering 27 strategic fields). Uzbekistan does not have an enrichment nuclear industry, so 100% of the produced uranium is exported to many other countries of the world. During the negotiations in Iran, presidents Mirziyoev and Raisi analyzed the implementation of previously signed agreements, as well as discussed various international issues, including normalization of the situation in Afghanistan. They emphasized that Uzbekistan and Iran share the same approach to the Afghan problem.

As far as bilateral trade concerns, Mirziyoev and Raisi assigned their corresponding heads to increase the trade volume, which should grow from the current 435 million dollars to three billion dollars per year. Iran that has been living and developing for the last 40 years under severe international sanctions still managed to become one of the largest economies of the Middle East and can share its experience and technology with neighboring countries. And it is no accident that that the relationship between Iran and Russia has been booming for several years now.


Vladimir Sapozhnikov