(RFE/RL) -- Uzbekistan today is expected to officially leave the Soviet-era regional power grid that unites the country with its three Central Asian neighbors.
The move could leave Uzbekistan’s impoverished neighbors, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, facing severe electricity shortages during the winter months.
Khusrav Ghoibov, a top official at the Tajik Foreign Ministry, criticized Uzbekistan’s decision as an effort to put pressure on neighbors.
"We view the move as a political step by our neighboring country,” Ghoibov said. “Needless to say, each sovereign country has the right to participate in intergovernmental treaties or stop its participation. However, international norms in modern days would not support it if such political decisions harm another country’s interests."
Uzbekistan’s geographic location has made it one of the most important members of the unified system, as many regions in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are supplied with electricity through power lines crossing Uzbek territory.
Kyrgyzstan depends on lines traversing Uzbekistan to supply electricity from its Jalalabad Province to its Osh and Batkent regions. Both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan import Uzbek electricity during the winter.
To ease crippling energy shortages during winter, Tajikistan depends on 1.2 billion kilowatt hours of Turkmen electricity delivered through Uzbekistan.
Tajikistan does not share a common border with Turkmenistan, and Tashkent’s withdrawal from the regional grid will cut off the cash-strapped country from its vital electricity supplier.
Uzbek officials have criticized the regional grid as an “outdated and unreliable" union that caused problems and disagreements among its members.
Esso Sadullaev, a high-ranking official at the state-owned electricity company, Uzbekenergo, has told news agencies that the unified power system “is becoming a source of conflict among member countries."
Last month, Kazakhstan accused Tajikistan of stealing electricity from the unified system and threatened to leave the regional grid. Officials in Dushanbe deny the accusation.
Uzbek officials say Tashkent’s participation in the regional system endangers the flow of electricity to its domestic consumers.
In recent years, Tashkent has invested over $1 billion to update its power supply system and end its dependency on neighbors to deliver electricity to Uzbekistan’s southern areas.
Uzbekistan’s Husar-Surkhan power line, which transfers electricity to Surkhandarya Province, was due to be launched today. The Uzbek province has so far relied on the Tajik branch of the regional power grid for power.
Speaking to reporters in Dushanbe, Uzbek Ambassador Shokosim Shoislomov said Uzbekistan has a “national program, under which $3.6 billion will be spent during the period until 2014 for enhancement of the country’s power grid."
“This will allow us to meet the increasing requirements of our economy in electricity and export surplus electricity to other countries, in particular to Afghanistan as we are currently doing," Shoislomov said.
Electricity, gas, and water resources have been the source of disagreements between Uzbekistan and its neighbors since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The gas-rich country has repeatedly cut off gas supplies to Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and southern Kazakhstan in past years, often without prior notice.
Uzbekistan vigorously opposes plans by Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to build major hydropower plants that would pave the way for them to become energy independent and key electricity producers in the region.
Tashkent insists the power plants would create environmental threats and leave Uzbekistan facing water shortages.
The Central Asian power grid brings together Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
Turkmenistan left the unified system in 2003.
Based on agency material and reports from RFE/RL’s Central Asian services.