Russian defense minister praised improving ties with Uzbekistan

Defense minister said Thursday that Russia was completely satisfied with Uzbekistan's readiness to cooperate with Russia, underlining a significant recent warming in relations with the ex-Soviet republic that is evicting U.S. troops from its soil.

In July, Uzbek President Islam Karimov gave the U.S. troops deployed to back up operations in neighboring Afghanistan 180 days to leave, in a move that followed strong Western criticism of a bloody government crackdown on an uprising in May.

During a visit to the southern Uzbek city of Samarkand on Thursday, Sergey Ivanov said that Uzbekistan's decision to end the U.S. military presence there was "a decision made by a sovereign country," Interfax reported.

"Uzbekistan has repeatedly confirmed its readiness to develop bilateral cooperation with Russia, and we are totally satisfied with that," Ivanov said.

He also said that Russia saw Uzbekistan as an outpost in Central Asia of the Russia and China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The SCO in July urged the United States to determine a withdrawal date for its military deployed in the strategic, energy-rich region. Since the start of the anti-terrorism war in Afghanistan in 2001, the United States has also deployed a military contingent in Kyrgyzstan.

Russian and Uzbek military are expected to hold joint anti-terrorism exercises on Friday, in another sign of improved political and security ties, reports the AP.

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