TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation, signed a strategic partnership deal yesterday with Uzbekistan, seeking to restore Russian influence in the Central Asian nation that had become a key US military ally since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Islam Karimov, president of Uzbekistan, has charted an independent course since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. He became a strategic partner of the United States in 2002, after the Uzbeks offered use of a key air base to hundreds of US troops to oust the hard-line Taliban regime in neighboring Afghanistan.
The Putin-Karimov deal calls for cooperation across a range of economic sectors and closer diplomatic and academic ties. The move seeks to restore Moscow as a major player in Central Asia, which was considered part of the Kremlin's sphere of influence since Czarist times.
''We've signed a document that opens a new page in the history of our relations," Putin said after the treaty was signed, Russia's ITAR-Tass news agency reported. ''The treaty has no time restrictions and lays down a solid foundation for the Russian-Uzbek strategic partnership."
Karimov called the talks ''significant" and added they would ''open new prospects for our long-term relations."
Without the lure of foreign aid, Russia has turned its mighty state-affiliated energy companies to the task of making deals across Central Asia to maintain ties.
Yesterday, Russia's Lukoil and Uzbekistan's Uzbekneftegaz signed a 35-year cooperation agreement that foresees about $1 billion of Russian investment to exploit natural gas fields in central Uzbekistan. Russia last year opened a base, its first abroad since the Soviet collapse, in the neighboring Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan.