Russian President visits Uzbekistan

On Wednesday morning Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, where he will hold talks with President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov.

The centerpiece of the meeting will be discussion of the outlook for expanding bilateral relations and search for new opportunities in the countries' traditional spheres of cooperation, such as the fuel and energy complex, water resources system, military and technical cooperation, light industry.

The Russian-Uzbek top-level negotiations are to "give a serious incentive to bilateral cooperation in all directions," deputy chief of the Kremlin administration Sergei Prikhodko announced.

The potential of the Russian-Uzbek trade and economic relations is far from being exhausted, Moscow believes. Yet the countries are witnessing a slump in the mutual trade volume, Prikhodko pointed out. In 2002 it fell by 20 per cent and made up $800 million.

"The unfavourable economic situation in Uzbekistan, first of all due to the bad harvest of cotton, makes cooperation between the two countries' economic agents extremely difficult," he said.

Trade volume can be increased by cooperation between Russian and Uzbek companies in the oil and gas sphere, power, irrigation and water supply industries, the Kremlin representative believes.

At the end of last year Gazprom signed a contract with Uzbek colleagues on supplies of Uzbek gas to Russia, he recalled. Moreover, Russian companies are interested in joint development of oil and gas fields in Uzbekistan, Prikhodko pointed out.

As to the power industry, the depreciation of this sphere in Uzbekistan has amounted to 80 per cent, he said. Uzbekistan is also interested in cooperation with Russia to restore irrigation and watering facilities.

The international agenda of the talks between Vladimir Putin and Islam Karimov will include the situation in the region. Also, Uzbekistan shows interest in cooperation within the EurAsEC that comprises Russia, Belarus, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.

Apart from this the parties intend to discuss expansion of interaction within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization /the same countries except Belarus, plus China and Uzbekistan/, fight against terrorism, illegal drug trafficking, cooperation between the two countries' law-enforcement structures.

The meeting is expected to touch upon issues of interaction between Russia and Uzbekistan in the context of the world community's joint efforts to restore the economy of Afghanistan, its industry, agriculture and transport infrastructure.

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