Previous Stratfor analysis said that under Uzbekistan's new president, Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the country would draw closer to its neighbors and improve its bilateral ties with other Central Asian countries. The Uzbek government's decision to renew energy ties with neighboring Tajikistan confirms that analysis.
Uzbekistan is taking another small step away from its isolationist past. On Nov. 7, Uzbekistan and neighboring Tajikistan reached a preliminary agreement to rejoin their power supply networks. According to the head of the department for strategic development of Uzbek state energy company Uzbekenergo, the country is ready to activate the 500-kilovolt line as well as the four 200-kilovolt lines built between the Uzbek and Tajik power grids. The announcement indicates relations are warming between Uzbekistan and its neighbors under Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
Under Mirziyoyev's predecessor, Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan had little meaningful cooperation with its neighbors. His poor personal relations with other Central Asian leaders and isolationist policies fostered mistrust and kept countries like Tajikistan at arm's length. For example, Karimov's Uzbekistan withdrew from a joint Central Asian power grid in 2009 and cut off natural gas supplies to Tajikistan in 2012. Disputes over borders demarcation and water resources were key issues hampering relations as well.
Since Mirziyoyev took over as president in 2016, however, the country has taken several steps to pursue stronger ties with its neighbors, and many of these links are being restored. The renewed power grid connections are just one area in which those efforts have come to fruition: The deal follows an important border demarcation agreement between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Uzbekistan is also making plans to resume its natural gas exports to Tajikistan, although details on pricing and volume levels haven't yet been finalized.
Going forward, bilateral agreements such as these will become increasingly important for Uzbekistan and Central Asia more broadly. Strain on the region's resources — especially water — will make cooperation even more crucial. The decision to promote energy ties now could open communication channels and make other negotiations easier later on.