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Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 9,949 9,713 11,300 91
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 420 450 550 173
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (date from the World Bank)

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Update No: 358 - (26/10/10)

Turkmen-Uzbek rapprochement
Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, long rivals in Central Asia, appear to be friends again. The turning point was of course the death of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov in December 2006, to be succeeded apparently by his son (certainly his dentist) but they are exact look-alikes.

After meeting with Uzbek President Islam Karimov in Ashgabat on October 20, Turkmen leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov praised the strategic partnership between the two Central Asian states. “Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have similar positions or views on many urgent problems of global development and world politics. It is a constructive basis for cooperation in the international arena," the Trend news agency quoted Berdymukhamedov as saying after the talks.

Karimov seemed equally enthusiastic about the state of bilateral relations. "The Turkmen and Uzbek people are the heirs of an ancient and glorious history,” Trend quoted Karimov as saying. “We will be proud of our common heritage."

The Russian angle
In keeping with the closed nature of the Turkmen and Uzbek political systems, local media outlets did not reveal much about what the two leaders actually discussed.

Local experts noted that Karimov’s visit to Turkmenistan – his second in the past 10 months – occurred just days before Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was due to arrive in Ashgabat. This fact prompted experts to believe the Karimov-Berdymukhamedov discussions focused on energy issues, namely Turkmen natural gas exports.

Karimov and Medvedev may well be rivals vying for Turkmen energy exports. Tashkent is Ashgabat’s supply partner in the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan-China gas pipeline, which began operations last December. Medvedev, meanwhile, is expected to seek Berdymukhamedov’s help supplying the South Stream pipeline across the Black Sea, a project sponsored by Italy’s Eni and Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom.

Without a doubt, Medvedev and Berdymukhamedov “will discuss Turkmenistan’s gas export volumes and prices for 2011,” said Anna Walker, a Central Asia analyst at Control Risks, a consultancy. “It is plausible that Karimov and Berdymukhamedov discussed their strategy with regards to their exports to Russia, particularly over the pricing of these exports, so as to reach a common position to give themselves more bargaining power.”

Heading into his visit, it appeared Karimov was interested in diversifying Uzbekistan’s gas export routes and increasing the transit of Turkmen gas through its territory, to both China and Russia, to maximize profits.

Karimov’s interests were not limited to energy issues. Uzbek-Turkmen ties have gone through a number of rough patches since the Soviet collapse in 1991. Back in 2002, for example, Ashgabat accused Tashkent of being involved in an unsuccessful plot to assassinate then-leader Saparmurat Niyazov. But now there are some powerful reasons for Karimov to want to cooperate with Turkmenistan.

The two countries, for example, are opposed to plans by Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to develop hydropower generating capacity. As downstream countries, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan worry that the construction of dams in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan could restrict Central Asian water supplies. “The two countries are strongly opposed to plans in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to develop their hydropower sectors, and probably hope to use their combined leverage to thwart the development of these projects,” Walker told EurasiaNet.org.

The deterioration of security conditions in the region is another shared concern. In recent months, Islamic militants have become increasingly assertive in northern areas of Afghanistan, operating not far from the Uzbek and Turkmen frontiers. In addition, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have experienced bouts of instability.

“Everything that happened in southern Kyrgyzstan, all these problems have been created by those who pursue far-reaching strategic aims. Uzbeks and Kyrgyz were hostage to what was initiated by third forces,” Karimov said in remarks quoted by the Interfax news agency on October 20.

The exodus from paradise
Many thousands of Uzbeks leave to work in Russia every year, among other destinations.

The United States' annual Green Card lottery -- officially known as the U.S. Diversity Immigrant Visa Program -- is in full swing again. And many Uzbeks will be filling in their applications.

Last year, according to a regional media report, Uzbekistan led all former Soviet countries in the number of Green Card recipients.

According to "Uzmetronom," a website focusing on Uzbek news and affairs, some 3,200 Uzbek citizens received their U.S. Green Cards in 2009. Most of them were residents of the city of Samarkand.

That is only a tiny portion of Uzbeks who have left the Central Asian country, permanently or otherwise. Experts estimate there are some 8 million migrant labourers from Uzbekistan, living and working in Russia, Kazakhstan, and other former Soviet states.

A lack of jobs at home has forced thousands of others to look for destinations farther afield, such as South Korea, the Czech Republic, and the Persian Gulf countries.

President Islam Karimov frequently mentions rising living standards and the steadily growing economy in his speeches. But it seems many Uzbeks are voting with their feet.

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