Written evidence submitted by Eleanor Kramers (ECA0014)


Eleanor Kramers

Montfort Communications (Eurasia)




Dear Committee members,


I make this submission as one of very few British entrepreneurs based in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.


Following almost two years advising Uzbekistan’s largest private company Artel Electronics, I am in the process of founding one of Central Asia’s first international communications and strategy agencies, to build a bridge between the Silk Road and the rest of the world. 


I have taken this leap thanks to my full confidence in the extraordinary potential of the country’s rapid economic and political development, and the wider region’s potential for sustained growth. Having worked on the ground in Uzbekistan for nearly two years, I am uniquely positioned to review the opportunities and challenges of engagement, and to address some cultural misconceptions that may make future diplomatic activities more fruitful.


At this critical geopolitical juncture, I believe the UK should dedicate more official resource to gain a significant regional diplomatic advantage. This would position the UK as a valued partner in the region, helping to embed British values, and boost British business.


In this submission I outline:



Please see an expansion of my views in answer to your discussion points below. I would welcome the opportunity to meet in person in London, or host you in Tashkent, when you are able to visit Uzbekistan.


Yours sincerely,


Eleanor Kramers





What are the opportunities and risks of the UK strengthening its partnerships with Central Asian states in areas of mutual interest?


  1. Strengthening partnerships in Central Asia provides multiple opportunities, particularly in relation to building up trade and expanding soft power initiatives. However, there is a risk that the UK does not tailor its approach to the individual nuances of each state and does not account for the cultural importance of senior engagement.


  1. On trade, there is an unparalleled opportunity to capitalise on rapid economic development, particularly in Uzbekistan. Since 2017, a reform process led by President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has been transforming the country into a more transparent, modern economy. As the country opens to attract Foreign Direct Investment, there are large-scale opportunities to develop the country’s infrastructure, energy sector and business environment. Many of these opportunities are in line with UK political aims, including greening the economy and fostering sustainable development. Anticipated WTO accession should further accelerate economic activity.


  1. The UK Government has already made some progress in fostering bilateral trade links. In 2019 a UK-Uzbek Partnership and Cooperation agreement was signed, and Uzbekistan was the first country to join the UK’s Generalised System of Preferences Framework. In 2022, UK-Uzbek trade was estimated at around £141million.


  1. However, far more could be done by senior politicians and diplomats to support British trade interests. In the Central Asian States, the seniority of those undertaking the engagement is seen as a direct reflection of how important the host country is seen.  France has hosted the Uzbek President twice. Anthony Blinken visited Uzbekistan in February and President Macron will do so shortly. Following expected Presidential trips to Italy and Germany this year, the UK will be the only G7 economy not to host the country on a state visit. 


  1. The benefits are reaped by economic interests. Over EUR6bn in trade deals were alleged to have been signed on the Uzbek President’s last state visit to Paris, and annual Uzbek-German bilateral trade has increased to around EUR1.3bn.


  1. British politicians have a role to play in promoting British businesses. Furthermore, once this door is opened, I believe that more could be done to support British businesses in their activities. There is limited practical advice about the ways of building working relationships and business activities, where the business culture differs dramatically from the UK. The embassies could work with partners on the ground and learn from success stories to bridge this gap and build confidence in commercial activities


  1. Overall, the British Embassy in Tashkent has a welcome renewed focus on developing bilateral trade opportunities. However, it is clear they are not sufficiently empowered to capitalise on the extraordinary momentum of the country. 






What is the Government doing to maximise UK soft power influence in Central Asian states? 


  1. British culture enjoys an outsized respect in Uzbekistan and Central Asia; schools and companies are given Uzbek names, the UK is a favoured location for study and the culture is held in high regard. Anecdotally, many Uzbek colleagues watch Prime Minister's Question Time on a weekly basis. The UK is pushing on an open door in terms of soft power in both Uzbekistan and the wider region.


  1. The Chevening Scholarship is a standout initiative. The scheme has produced several fellows that now sit at the top of Uzbek society, and this has given the UK even further cultural respect and leverage within Uzbek institutions. However, there is now an increasingly crowded competition for top Uzbek graduates as other countries and NGOs provide similar schemes. 


  1. Both the Chevening Scholarship and the British Council should be supported with local PR resources and the ability to expand, to properly capitalise on the desirability of British education and showcase the best of what the UK has to offer.


  1. Diplomatically, the UK could trip up by considering Central Asian states as a homogenous mass. Each country has a different ethnic make-up and has developed at different paces due to varying types of leadership as well as natural resources. There is also (sometimes) friendly competition between the states.


  1. For this reason, a recent visit by Foreign Minister James Cleverly to Astana has not been covered in other regional press and has no wider benefit for diplomatic relations among other Central Asian states. Rather, it has likely led to some awkward conversations with other regional governments.


  1. Soft power initiatives are acknowledged, but ministerial engagement adds significant value and trust to the investment of time and human capital whilst proving to developing nations that they are taken seriously. Culturally, this is very important.  For that reason, the work of the British embassies across the region are likely being compromised by the lack of high-level engagement from London.


  1. I believe that a visit of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in the coming months will be greatly beneficial. It will provide a visible symbol of support for the region’s continued development and the desire to build greater diplomatic ties.


What opportunities exist for the UK to work more closely with Central Asian states in multilateral institutions and to foster respect for the rules-based international order? 


  1. Engagement with the Central Asian economies, hungry for development and western expertise, could not be more critical given regional and global geopolitics. As former Soviet republics nestled between competing political powers, many countries are vying for influence, often through trade and financial influence.


  1. Given the aforementioned respect for the UK and its contribution to international law making, the UK has an opportunity to take a lead in encouraging wider political and financial engagement from the Western powers. 


In summary, engagement in Central Asia at this critical geopolitical junction is vital to British interests and, done well, would provide significant diplomatic and trade opportunities. Countries such as Uzbekistan are rapidly reforming to become more open, and engagement would be evidence of the UK’s support towards these endeavours.


Diplomatic efforts should be empowered by high level engagement and should be mindful of the complex social and cultural differences throughout the region. In trade, more should be done to educate British businesses about the nuances of the market, through working with local or more established partners and highlighting success stories or otherwise.


Once more, I would be delighted to provide further information about the opportunities within Uzbekistan and the region, and hope to meet you in due course, either in Tashkent or London.















March 2023