Hungary and Uzbekistan Join the 6th Summit of Turkic Countries
The Council of Turkic Speaking States held its sixth summit in Cholpon-Ata, Kyrgyzstan, last weekend. This latest summit included two guests: Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. The Presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkey also attended.
Mirziyoev ascended to the Presidency in 2016 following the death of his predecessor Islam Karimov. During Karimov’s twenty-seven years in office, Uzbekistan often had tense relations with its Central Asian neighbors, a trend Mirziyoev has been working to reverse. Visits with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev early in Mirziyoev’s presidency yielded ninety-two agreements worth about 840 million USD at the Kazakh-Uzbek business forum last March. Uzbekistan is also working to resolve border disputes between itself and Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. In February, Uzbekistan made Turkey one of several countries whose citizens can visit Uzbekistan visa-free for 30 days. A few months later, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Tashkent, where the two leaders signed a total of twenty-three agreements on cooperation in trade, transport, energy, and other spheres.
During another visit to Erdogan in April, Mirziyoev announced Uzbekistan’s intent to join the Turkic Council. As a guest at the summit, Mirziyoev expressed continued eagerness, saying that Uzbekistan is “ready to participate in its activities in areas that are of practical interest to our country.” He also noted that in the past year Uzbekistan’s trade with Turkic Council states has increased by 40 percent. Kyrgyzstan’s President and host of the summit, Sooronbai Jeenbekov welcomed Uzbekistan’s intention to join the Council.
Like Mirziyoev, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been trending towards closer ties with the Turkic states. Since 2010, the second Orban government has pursued an economic policy it termed the “Eastern Opening,” an attempt to reduce dependence on the European Union (E.U.) and deepen ties to China and Central Asia. This began with establishing private Hungarian Trading Houses in Baku, Moscow, and Astana in 2012, followed by one in Istanbul in 2013. Hungary gained observer status at the General Assembly of Turkic-Speaking states the next year. In 2017 they applied for accession to the International Turkic Academy. Hungary became the first E.U. state to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative in that same year. They are also one of the few E.U. members supporting Turkish membership in the E.U.
Orban said at the summit that he was honored to be the “first Hungarian prime minister to pay a visit to Kyrgyzstan,” and invited the President Jeenbekov to visit Hungary in return. Noting that Hungary has strategic partnerships with Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkey, he expressed hope that Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan would both become strategic partners of Hungary as well. Orban’s speech repeatedly referenced Hungary’s shared cultural ties with the Turkic states in a way that reflected his country’s shift in focus from the E.U. towards Central Asia. The Council’s member states signed a decision granting Hungary observer status at the summit.
Mirziyoev and Orban’s attendance reflects their respective governments’ goal of cultivating stronger ties in Central Asia. Creating these tighter bonds represents a shift in priority from West to East for Hungary. It means a step out of relative isolationism pursued under the previous administration for Uzbekistan. As one of Central Asia’s largest countries, Uzbekistan will be a significant factor in the region as it continues to be more involved.