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Regional security, energy projects and humanitarian cooperation are in the focus of Moscows and Ashkhabads attention

photo: kremlin.ru
4 November 2022
Victoria MagdaVictoria Magda

Victoria Magda

CISS expert

Over the recent years, cooperation between Russia and Turkmenistan has soared to completely new heights both in the economic and political field. The rapprochement of the two countries started after Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov came into presidency in 2007. During all the following years, the bilateral relations were steadily progressing and achieved the level of strategic partnership. Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized this important fact when he was receiving the high-ranking Turkmenistan official in the Kremlin. That was a really symbolic meeting: Vladimir Putin awarded the high Russian Order of Merit for the Fatherland of the Fourth Degree to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.

Meeting in the Kremlin

The Decree about awarding the high Russian Order of Merit for the Fatherland of the Fourth Degree to the second President of Turkmenistan, Chairman of the Peoples Council of the National Assembly Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov was signed back on 26 August 2022. [1] However, the award ceremony took place only two months afterwards in the course of the official visit of G. Berdimuhamedov to Moscow.

Let us note that it was the first visit of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov to the RF in his capacity of the Chairman of the Upper Chamber of the Parliament of Turkmenistan. «No matter in what capacity you appear in Russia, we are always happy to see you, because you made a tremendous contribution into the development of our bilateral interstate relations», Vladimir Putin stated when receiving him in the Kremlin.

The RF President emphasized a big personal contribution by Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov into fine-tuning good neighborly relations highlighting that with his «direct participation, the relations between Russia and Turkmenistan approached the new level of allies, the level of strategic partnership». «We are very proud of the results we achieved together in the past under your guidance», Putin said. [2]

According to the Russian President, the successor and son Serdar Berdimuhamedov continued the strategic course for rapprochement of Moscow and Ashkhabad. The young Turkmenistan leader self-confidently won the early presidential elections on 15 March 2022 with almost 73% majority votes. «We have established very good and warm personal relations with him, out inter-governmental relations are steadily improving, and all this is based, of course, on your previous efforts and achievements. We are based on our understanding that the policy of Turkmenistan towards Russia will continue in the same traditional spirit you have established», the RF President stated.

In response, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov assured that «Turkmenistan and the Russian Federation are strategic partners, and we proved it with our lives and with time». The relations between the two countries strengthen and expand year-on-year. The Chairman of the Peoples Council of the National Assembly focused on strengthening parliamentary contacts and said that a historical document had been signed in the course of his visit to Moscow the agreement on setting up the joint Parliamentary Commission on cooperation. According to G. Berdimuhamedov, this stays within the logic of the strategy for enhancing the bilateral cooperation and thanked Russian President for the high award. [3]

Russian Order of Merit for the Fatherland

Awarding of Berdimuhamedov Senior is not a mere gesture of courtesy, which is quite common in international practice. The ex-President of Turkmenistan really earned this order, because he has special merits. Regional expert state that in the summer of 2022, when Russian gas was still coming to the EU countries, the European bureaucrats were actively searching for its substitution. The supplied volumes of the Azerbaijanian gas were not sufficient for the European market, so Brussels activated the negotiations with Ashkhabad on the issue of supplying gas from Turkmenistan to the EU. In general, this proposal was quite in line with the policy of Turkmenistan for diversifying its hydrocarbons supplies to the global market. It was assumed that gas from Turkmenistan would go to Europe via the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC). However, Ashkhabad quite unexpectedly refused to discuss this project, though it was promising material financial benefits.

The reason for such an unexpected decision of Ashkhabad would not be known to anyone, because it is not within the Oriental tradition to boast of ones noble actions. The editorial of one of the Internet resources of Turkmenistan gave a tip: it quite unambiguously stated that «Turkmenistan and Russia were strategic allies». «Bringing this to the level of personal human relations, we can say that Ashkhabad and Moscow are close friends. And that is simply indecent to try to gain something at the expense of your friends temporary problems», the article by ORIENT Agency claimed (and regional experts call this Agency close tot he Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan). [4]

In essence, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and the incumbent head of the state Serdar Berdimuhamedov shot down the plans of the European Union to import gas from Turkmenistan. Moscow appreciated this gesture of good will on behalf of Ashkhabad at its true value. By the way the Russian Order of Friendship for the big contribution into the development of Moscow-Ashkhabad partnership was awarded to Serdar Berdimuhamedov, who by that time was in his presidency only for two months. [5] Hence, the award policy of the Kremlin is a visible continuation of the energy diplomacy of Russia.

Tried-and-true partnership

The strategic partnership of Russia and Turkmenistan is especially valuable, because up till now it was able to successfully overcome even certain crisis moments. For example, the peak of the first crisis in the relations between Moscow and Ashkhabad occurred during the first presidential term of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. Russia, being the major consumer of gas from Turkmenistan, in 2009 decided to decrease the volumes it purchased. The reason was in overpricing and the unwillingness of the Turkmenistan authorities to reduce the price referring to the agreement between Gazprom and Turkmengas signed back in 2003. Let us remind here that in 2009 Turkmenistan planned to increase natural gas production up to 75 bcm and export over 51 bcm through the Russian Federation. At that time, natural gas from Turkmenia accounted for about 20% of all the supplies in Gazprom export portfolio.

However, the unexpected explosion occurred on 9 April 2022 at the pipeline Central Asia Center delivering gas from Turkmenia to Russia. This mysterious case casted a gloom on the relations between the two countries for some time. Then Ashkhabad announced the policy of diversifying the hydrocarbons export routes and actively started developing cooperation with China and Iran. The interaction between Turkmenistan and the RF in the energy sphere was put on hold. This pause lasted until 2019, when Gazprom after lengthy negotiations executed a new long-term contract for purchasing gas from Turkmenistan, and this time for 5.5 bcma. [6]

At the same time, in 2021, the gas supplies from Turkmenistan to Russia doubled. Experts believe that the decision to import the gas surplus from Turkmenistan is of a political character and was made to assure political security in the region, as well as to try to block the possibility for third countries to strengthen their positions in Central Asia. Kremlin has always viewed the export of gas from Turkmenistan as a strategic instrument in exchange for some economic and political concessions on behalf of Ashkhabad. By resuming its purchase of gas Russia was counting on the loyal attitude of the Turkmenistan leadership in the sphere of security, which assumed close coordination of security, law enforcement and intelligence agencies and on-going information exchange. The modern history has proven demonstratively the correctness of such approaches and demonstrated the diplomatic capabilities of Moscow and Ashkhabad in resolving the most complicated issues.

From geo-politics to humanitarian cooperation

During his recent visit, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov held a series of negotiations on a number of relevant geo-political topics. In the Kremlin he discussed the issues of expanding and strengthening the Russian influence in Central Asia. Let us remind here that after a smooth transit of power in March 2022, G. Berdimuhamedov kept the position of the Chairman of the Peoples Council of the National Assembly. With that the ex-President visibly demonstrated he still has the most effective tools of real power.

In his speech at the Council of Federation, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov announced the intent to open a Russian Drama Theatre and a Turkmen-Russian University. «Through culture, art, science and education we will be able to enrich the strategy and the content of our partnership. In view of this, I would like to emphasize our high respect in Turkmenistan towards Russian language, literature, cultural and spiritual values of the Russian people», G. Berdimuhamedov emphasized. [7]

Valentina Matviyenko, the Chair of the Council of Federation, called Berdimuhamedov Senior «the true friend of Russia investing a lot of efforts and energy into development of our bilateral relations». She emphasized that at his initiative and with his personal participation «the projects of strengthening multilateral parliamentary contacts have reached the highest level». Thus, in May 2022, Ashkhabad hosted the first Inter-Parliamentary Forum of the Countries of Central Asia and the Russian Federation, as well as Womens Dialogue in new Ashkhabad format 5+1. «Today these initiatives are actively put into practice, often within new forms and contours», Matviyenko emphasized. [8] As we can see, the current relations between Moscow and Ashkhabad cover the entire range of connections from geo-politics and energy to humanitarian sphere.

New cooperation priorities

In the context of sanctions-related pressure on the Russian economy by collective West, Moscow is extremely interested in creating new logistics corridors. Not only Eastern vector becomes attractive for Russia, but also the promising North-South corridor (International Transport Corridor from India to the Baltic countries via Iran and Russia). At the latest Eurasian Forum in Baku, Alexei Overchuk, the Vice-Prime Minister of Russia, emphasized the special value of the North-South ITC in the current environment and the key role of Turkmenistan in implementing this project. [9]

Let us remind here, that the North-South ITC consists of three main routes. The first one goes along the Western Caspian Coast via Dagestan, Azerbaijan and Iran and provides access to the markets of the Persian Gulf countries, India, Pakistan, South-East Asia and Africa the key importers of Russian commodities. The second one is the marine route and creates connections between the ports of the Caspian Sea countries. The third route goes along the Eastern Caspian Coast from Russia to Iran via Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. This Eastern route has already been tried: this year the train passed and delivered the cargo. In connection with this, Russian Railways announced the start of large-scale cooperation with Turkmenistan in the field of upgrading the transit lines. [10]

The outlook for our two countries in the sphere of economy looks very promising, because a number of major Russian companies are already operating on Turkmenistan. They are KAMAZ, Vozrozhdeniye, Tatneft, which are implementing major projects. «We have extensive cooperation in healthcare, wonderful cooperation with respect to our transportation capabilities. Recently, two new locomotives were delivered to Turkmenistan, and now they are again interested in purchasing such machines», Alexander Blokhin, the RF Ambassador to Ashkhabad, said. According to him, the sales turnover between the countries is growing. In 2021, it was USD 865 mln, in in 5M 2022 USD 278 mln, which is approximately 18% higher vs. the similar period of the preceding year.

The analysts emphasize that Russian export so far is ahead of Turkmenistan export: in 2021, the RF exported goods for USD 725 mln, and Turkmenistan for USD 140 mln. During 5M 2022 the RF exported goods for USD 197 mln (+10%), and Turkmenistan for USD 81 mln (+27%). The two vectors are  developing simultaneously, but export capabilities of Turkmenistan are growing faster than those of Russia. This is underpinned by recent commissioning of many new agribusinesses in Turkmenistan (greenhouses, livestock breeding complexes, etc.). For example, agricultural export from Turkmenistan has grown approximately by one third already. Regional experts expect wanton growth of bilateral sales turnover in the near future, as well as switching to settlements in Russian Roubles. [11]

Strategic projects

In connection with active re-formatting of the European gas market, the Asian vector (including new in-land pipelines to the promising markets of Asia) becomes the logical solution for the gas industry of Russia. And the shortest way to Hindustan is via Turkmenistan. Besides, the well-developed common gas transportation infrastructure of our two countries already exists. For that reason, Moscow received a tempting offer from Ashkhabad to take part in the construction of the TAPI trunk pipeline (Turkmenistan Afghanistan Pakistan India). Analysts emphasize that Russia joining TAPI could help to resolve two tasks: to strengthen the role of Moscow in assuring the regional stability and increasing its influence in the region.

«Taking into account the heavily oversupplied domestic market, the European vector for Russia is gradually closing, and the supplies to China are done by both Turkmenistan and the RF, the coordinated gas supply business to Pakistan and India does not look like fantasy anymore. With account of recent contacts between the authorities of Russian and Afghanistan on the economic issues, there is more and more logic in cooperation of Gazprom and Turkmenistan on implementing TAPI project», Serdar Aytakov, the expert from Turkmenistan, believes. [12] Let us note that Turkmenistan is a prominent player in the Caspian Region, that is why Moscow is interested in broad strategic cooperation with Ashkhabad targeted at coordinating the activities in external fuel and energy markets.

The second important vector of strategic partnership of Russia and Turkmenistan is regional security. The well-informed sources confirm that in Moscow Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov discussed some sensitive issues associated with the tension in Afghanistan. Let us remind here that Taliban* has been in power there for more than a year. So far, Ashkhabad is independently coping with the emerging tension on the Turkmen-Afghani border. However, in case of excessive aggravation of the situation, Turkmenistan will be forced to search for external help, the experts claim. The stir-up among the insurgents representing various radical organizations including ISIS* in Afghanistan is highly probable. This underpins the need for Russia to strengthen its military and political influence in Central Asia with purpose of timely response to challenges and threats for regional security.

The strategic interest of Russia and Turkmenistan in this sphere coincide to a great extent. For example, successful implementation of promising transit and energy projects with participation of our two countries depends on the stability of the Caspian Region. Both countries are also interested in timely response to possible destabilization at the Turkmen-Afghani border. The experts are confident that Russia (should Turkmenistan ask for it) is ready to provide the full military assistance. For Moscow the priority is to assure security in Central Russia. In its turn, Turkmenistan has long-lasting contacts with Taliban (dating back to the times when Saparmurat Niyazov, the first President of Turkmenistan, signed the so-called non-aggression pact with them). For this reason, Ashkhabad could become a reliable mediator in negotiations between Moscow and Kabul.

The outcomes of the visit

The analysts express very high opinion of the November visit of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov to Russia. The significant growth in the number of high-level contacts between Moscow and Ashkhabad is observed over the recent year. This is connected with the steadily growing role of Turkmenistan as the key player in the new energy and transit projects, such as TAPI and the North-South ITC. The influence of Ashkhabad in the field of regional security and on the diplomatic track has grown significantly. In the context of international tension, it is vitally important for Russia to counteract strengthening of the positions of the West in the Caspian Region and in Central Asia, as well as to avoid destabilization of the region. Moscow will do its best to get Ashkhabad interested in additional coordination of efforts in the Afghanistan track, as well as in long-term cooperation in exporting energy.

Turkmenistan, in its turn, puts special emphasis on strengthening its cooperation with Russia in such spheres as energy, bilateral trade and joint efforts to develop the transit infrastructure in the Caspian Region. In the main areas of bilateral relations, the strategic interests of the RF and Turkmenistan coincide. This allows for making the conclusion about dynamic strengthening of the strategic partnership of Moscow and Ashkhabad and it approaching to the new level.

 


* Taliban and ISIS are terrorist organizations banned in the territory of the Russian Federation.

1. Putin awarded the Order of Merit for the Fatherland to Berdimuhamedov. RBC, 26.08.2022. https://www.rbc.ru/politics/26/08/2022/6308fc9b9a7947187b6e605f

2. Putin awarded the Order of Merit for the Fatherland of the 4th Degree to the ex-President of Turkmenistan. Interfax, 3.11.2022. https://www.interfax.ru/russia/870989

3. Russia and Turkmenistan will establish the Inter-Parliamentary Commission. MIR 24, 01.11.2022. https://mir24.tv/news/16529261/rossiya-i-turkmenistan-sozdadut-mezhparlamentskuyu-komissiyu

4. There are talks in Ankara about the possibility of receiving gas from Turkmenistan via TANAP. What does Ashkhabad think about it? ORIENT, 02.07.2022.  https://orient.tm/ru/post/38597/v-ankare-govoryat-o-vozmozhnosti-poluchat-turkmenskij-gaz-cherez-tanap-chto-ashhabad

5. Putin awarded the Order of Friendship to Serdar Berdimuhamedov. RIA Novosti, 10.06.2022. https://ria.ru/20220610/putin-1794591854.html

6. Gazprom executed a new long-term contract with Turkmengas. Vedomosti, 04.07. 2019. https://www.vedomosti.ru/business/articles/2019/07/03/805779-gazprom-kontrakt

7. Russian Drama Theatre will open in Ashkhabad. SPUTNIK Uzbekistan, 02.11.2022. https://uz.sputniknews.ru/20221102/v-ashxabade-otkroetsya-russkiy-dramteatr-29666859.html

8. Valentina Matviyenko: «Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov is a true friend of Russia». Turkmenportal.com, 02.11.2022. https://turkmenportal.com/blog/53675/valentina-matvienko-gurbanguly-berdymuhamedov-yavlyaetsya-istinnym-drugom-rossii

9. Overchuk about the new role of Russia as the North of Eurasia instead of the East of Europe. Vedomosti, 27.10.2022. https://www.vedomosti.ru/economics/news/2022/10/27/947613-o-novoi-roli-rossii

10. Russian Railways will help Turkmenistan to upgrade its railways. Bolshaya Aziya, 12.06.2022. https://bigasia.ru/content/news/businness/rzhd-pomozhet-turkmenistanu-modernizirovat-zheleznye-dorogi/

11. The RF Ambassador: Russia and Turkmenistan are exploring the possibility to switch to settlements in Russian Roubles. TASS, 10.09.2022. https://tass.ru/interviews/15708843

12. Russia may access the South Asia markets with assistance of Turkmenistan. Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 30.08.2022. https://www.ng.ru/cis/2022-08-30/5_8526_asia.html

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Publications

Regional security, energy projects and humanitarian cooperation are in the focus of Moscows and Ashkhabads attention

photo: kremlin.ru
4 2022
Victoria Magda

Victoria Magda

CISS expert

Over the recent years, cooperation between Russia and Turkmenistan has soared to completely new heights both in the economic and political field. The rapprochement of the two countries started after Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov came into presidency in 2007. During all the following years, the bilateral relations were steadily progressing and achieved the level of strategic partnership. Russian President Vladimir Putin emphasized this important fact when he was receiving the high-ranking Turkmenistan official in the Kremlin. That was a really symbolic meeting: Vladimir Putin awarded the high Russian Order of Merit for the Fatherland of the Fourth Degree to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.

Meeting in the Kremlin

The Decree about awarding the high Russian Order of Merit for the Fatherland of the Fourth Degree to the second President of Turkmenistan, Chairman of the Peoples Council of the National Assembly Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov was signed back on 26 August 2022. [1] However, the award ceremony took place only two months afterwards in the course of the official visit of G. Berdimuhamedov to Moscow.

Let us note that it was the first visit of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov to the RF in his capacity of the Chairman of the Upper Chamber of the Parliament of Turkmenistan. «No matter in what capacity you appear in Russia, we are always happy to see you, because you made a tremendous contribution into the development of our bilateral interstate relations», Vladimir Putin stated when receiving him in the Kremlin.

The RF President emphasized a big personal contribution by Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov into fine-tuning good neighborly relations highlighting that with his «direct participation, the relations between Russia and Turkmenistan approached the new level of allies, the level of strategic partnership». «We are very proud of the results we achieved together in the past under your guidance», Putin said. [2]

According to the Russian President, the successor and son Serdar Berdimuhamedov continued the strategic course for rapprochement of Moscow and Ashkhabad. The young Turkmenistan leader self-confidently won the early presidential elections on 15 March 2022 with almost 73% majority votes. «We have established very good and warm personal relations with him, out inter-governmental relations are steadily improving, and all this is based, of course, on your previous efforts and achievements. We are based on our understanding that the policy of Turkmenistan towards Russia will continue in the same traditional spirit you have established», the RF President stated.

In response, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov assured that «Turkmenistan and the Russian Federation are strategic partners, and we proved it with our lives and with time». The relations between the two countries strengthen and expand year-on-year. The Chairman of the Peoples Council of the National Assembly focused on strengthening parliamentary contacts and said that a historical document had been signed in the course of his visit to Moscow the agreement on setting up the joint Parliamentary Commission on cooperation. According to G. Berdimuhamedov, this stays within the logic of the strategy for enhancing the bilateral cooperation and thanked Russian President for the high award. [3]

Russian Order of Merit for the Fatherland

Awarding of Berdimuhamedov Senior is not a mere gesture of courtesy, which is quite common in international practice. The ex-President of Turkmenistan really earned this order, because he has special merits. Regional expert state that in the summer of 2022, when Russian gas was still coming to the EU countries, the European bureaucrats were actively searching for its substitution. The supplied volumes of the Azerbaijanian gas were not sufficient for the European market, so Brussels activated the negotiations with Ashkhabad on the issue of supplying gas from Turkmenistan to the EU. In general, this proposal was quite in line with the policy of Turkmenistan for diversifying its hydrocarbons supplies to the global market. It was assumed that gas from Turkmenistan would go to Europe via the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC). However, Ashkhabad quite unexpectedly refused to discuss this project, though it was promising material financial benefits.

The reason for such an unexpected decision of Ashkhabad would not be known to anyone, because it is not within the Oriental tradition to boast of ones noble actions. The editorial of one of the Internet resources of Turkmenistan gave a tip: it quite unambiguously stated that «Turkmenistan and Russia were strategic allies». «Bringing this to the level of personal human relations, we can say that Ashkhabad and Moscow are close friends. And that is simply indecent to try to gain something at the expense of your friends temporary problems», the article by ORIENT Agency claimed (and regional experts call this Agency close tot he Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan). [4]

In essence, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and the incumbent head of the state Serdar Berdimuhamedov shot down the plans of the European Union to import gas from Turkmenistan. Moscow appreciated this gesture of good will on behalf of Ashkhabad at its true value. By the way the Russian Order of Friendship for the big contribution into the development of Moscow-Ashkhabad partnership was awarded to Serdar Berdimuhamedov, who by that time was in his presidency only for two months. [5] Hence, the award policy of the Kremlin is a visible continuation of the energy diplomacy of Russia.

Tried-and-true partnership

The strategic partnership of Russia and Turkmenistan is especially valuable, because up till now it was able to successfully overcome even certain crisis moments. For example, the peak of the first crisis in the relations between Moscow and Ashkhabad occurred during the first presidential term of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. Russia, being the major consumer of gas from Turkmenistan, in 2009 decided to decrease the volumes it purchased. The reason was in overpricing and the unwillingness of the Turkmenistan authorities to reduce the price referring to the agreement between Gazprom and Turkmengas signed back in 2003. Let us remind here that in 2009 Turkmenistan planned to increase natural gas production up to 75 bcm and export over 51 bcm through the Russian Federation. At that time, natural gas from Turkmenia accounted for about 20% of all the supplies in Gazprom export portfolio.

However, the unexpected explosion occurred on 9 April 2022 at the pipeline Central Asia Center delivering gas from Turkmenia to Russia. This mysterious case casted a gloom on the relations between the two countries for some time. Then Ashkhabad announced the policy of diversifying the hydrocarbons export routes and actively started developing cooperation with China and Iran. The interaction between Turkmenistan and the RF in the energy sphere was put on hold. This pause lasted until 2019, when Gazprom after lengthy negotiations executed a new long-term contract for purchasing gas from Turkmenistan, and this time for 5.5 bcma. [6]

At the same time, in 2021, the gas supplies from Turkmenistan to Russia doubled. Experts believe that the decision to import the gas surplus from Turkmenistan is of a political character and was made to assure political security in the region, as well as to try to block the possibility for third countries to strengthen their positions in Central Asia. Kremlin has always viewed the export of gas from Turkmenistan as a strategic instrument in exchange for some economic and political concessions on behalf of Ashkhabad. By resuming its purchase of gas Russia was counting on the loyal attitude of the Turkmenistan leadership in the sphere of security, which assumed close coordination of security, law enforcement and intelligence agencies and on-going information exchange. The modern history has proven demonstratively the correctness of such approaches and demonstrated the diplomatic capabilities of Moscow and Ashkhabad in resolving the most complicated issues.

From geo-politics to humanitarian cooperation

During his recent visit, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov held a series of negotiations on a number of relevant geo-political topics. In the Kremlin he discussed the issues of expanding and strengthening the Russian influence in Central Asia. Let us remind here that after a smooth transit of power in March 2022, G. Berdimuhamedov kept the position of the Chairman of the Peoples Council of the National Assembly. With that the ex-President visibly demonstrated he still has the most effective tools of real power.

In his speech at the Council of Federation, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov announced the intent to open a Russian Drama Theatre and a Turkmen-Russian University. «Through culture, art, science and education we will be able to enrich the strategy and the content of our partnership. In view of this, I would like to emphasize our high respect in Turkmenistan towards Russian language, literature, cultural and spiritual values of the Russian people», G. Berdimuhamedov emphasized. [7]

Valentina Matviyenko, the Chair of the Council of Federation, called Berdimuhamedov Senior «the true friend of Russia investing a lot of efforts and energy into development of our bilateral relations». She emphasized that at his initiative and with his personal participation «the projects of strengthening multilateral parliamentary contacts have reached the highest level». Thus, in May 2022, Ashkhabad hosted the first Inter-Parliamentary Forum of the Countries of Central Asia and the Russian Federation, as well as Womens Dialogue in new Ashkhabad format 5+1. «Today these initiatives are actively put into practice, often within new forms and contours», Matviyenko emphasized. [8] As we can see, the current relations between Moscow and Ashkhabad cover the entire range of connections from geo-politics and energy to humanitarian sphere.

New cooperation priorities

In the context of sanctions-related pressure on the Russian economy by collective West, Moscow is extremely interested in creating new logistics corridors. Not only Eastern vector becomes attractive for Russia, but also the promising North-South corridor (International Transport Corridor from India to the Baltic countries via Iran and Russia). At the latest Eurasian Forum in Baku, Alexei Overchuk, the Vice-Prime Minister of Russia, emphasized the special value of the North-South ITC in the current environment and the key role of Turkmenistan in implementing this project. [9]

Let us remind here, that the North-South ITC consists of three main routes. The first one goes along the Western Caspian Coast via Dagestan, Azerbaijan and Iran and provides access to the markets of the Persian Gulf countries, India, Pakistan, South-East Asia and Africa the key importers of Russian commodities. The second one is the marine route and creates connections between the ports of the Caspian Sea countries. The third route goes along the Eastern Caspian Coast from Russia to Iran via Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. This Eastern route has already been tried: this year the train passed and delivered the cargo. In connection with this, Russian Railways announced the start of large-scale cooperation with Turkmenistan in the field of upgrading the transit lines. [10]

The outlook for our two countries in the sphere of economy looks very promising, because a number of major Russian companies are already operating on Turkmenistan. They are KAMAZ, Vozrozhdeniye, Tatneft, which are implementing major projects. «We have extensive cooperation in healthcare, wonderful cooperation with respect to our transportation capabilities. Recently, two new locomotives were delivered to Turkmenistan, and now they are again interested in purchasing such machines», Alexander Blokhin, the RF Ambassador to Ashkhabad, said. According to him, the sales turnover between the countries is growing. In 2021, it was USD 865 mln, in in 5M 2022 USD 278 mln, which is approximately 18% higher vs. the similar period of the preceding year.

The analysts emphasize that Russian export so far is ahead of Turkmenistan export: in 2021, the RF exported goods for USD 725 mln, and Turkmenistan for USD 140 mln. During 5M 2022 the RF exported goods for USD 197 mln (+10%), and Turkmenistan for USD 81 mln (+27%). The two vectors are  developing simultaneously, but export capabilities of Turkmenistan are growing faster than those of Russia. This is underpinned by recent commissioning of many new agribusinesses in Turkmenistan (greenhouses, livestock breeding complexes, etc.). For example, agricultural export from Turkmenistan has grown approximately by one third already. Regional experts expect wanton growth of bilateral sales turnover in the near future, as well as switching to settlements in Russian Roubles. [11]

Strategic projects

In connection with active re-formatting of the European gas market, the Asian vector (including new in-land pipelines to the promising markets of Asia) becomes the logical solution for the gas industry of Russia. And the shortest way to Hindustan is via Turkmenistan. Besides, the well-developed common gas transportation infrastructure of our two countries already exists. For that reason, Moscow received a tempting offer from Ashkhabad to take part in the construction of the TAPI trunk pipeline (Turkmenistan Afghanistan Pakistan India). Analysts emphasize that Russia joining TAPI could help to resolve two tasks: to strengthen the role of Moscow in assuring the regional stability and increasing its influence in the region.

«Taking into account the heavily oversupplied domestic market, the European vector for Russia is gradually closing, and the supplies to China are done by both Turkmenistan and the RF, the coordinated gas supply business to Pakistan and India does not look like fantasy anymore. With account of recent contacts between the authorities of Russian and Afghanistan on the economic issues, there is more and more logic in cooperation of Gazprom and Turkmenistan on implementing TAPI project», Serdar Aytakov, the expert from Turkmenistan, believes. [12] Let us note that Turkmenistan is a prominent player in the Caspian Region, that is why Moscow is interested in broad strategic cooperation with Ashkhabad targeted at coordinating the activities in external fuel and energy markets.

The second important vector of strategic partnership of Russia and Turkmenistan is regional security. The well-informed sources confirm that in Moscow Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov discussed some sensitive issues associated with the tension in Afghanistan. Let us remind here that Taliban* has been in power there for more than a year. So far, Ashkhabad is independently coping with the emerging tension on the Turkmen-Afghani border. However, in case of excessive aggravation of the situation, Turkmenistan will be forced to search for external help, the experts claim. The stir-up among the insurgents representing various radical organizations including ISIS* in Afghanistan is highly probable. This underpins the need for Russia to strengthen its military and political influence in Central Asia with purpose of timely response to challenges and threats for regional security.

The strategic interest of Russia and Turkmenistan in this sphere coincide to a great extent. For example, successful implementation of promising transit and energy projects with participation of our two countries depends on the stability of the Caspian Region. Both countries are also interested in timely response to possible destabilization at the Turkmen-Afghani border. The experts are confident that Russia (should Turkmenistan ask for it) is ready to provide the full military assistance. For Moscow the priority is to assure security in Central Russia. In its turn, Turkmenistan has long-lasting contacts with Taliban (dating back to the times when Saparmurat Niyazov, the first President of Turkmenistan, signed the so-called non-aggression pact with them). For this reason, Ashkhabad could become a reliable mediator in negotiations between Moscow and Kabul.

The outcomes of the visit

The analysts express very high opinion of the November visit of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov to Russia. The significant growth in the number of high-level contacts between Moscow and Ashkhabad is observed over the recent year. This is connected with the steadily growing role of Turkmenistan as the key player in the new energy and transit projects, such as TAPI and the North-South ITC. The influence of Ashkhabad in the field of regional security and on the diplomatic track has grown significantly. In the context of international tension, it is vitally important for Russia to counteract strengthening of the positions of the West in the Caspian Region and in Central Asia, as well as to avoid destabilization of the region. Moscow will do its best to get Ashkhabad interested in additional coordination of efforts in the Afghanistan track, as well as in long-term cooperation in exporting energy.

Turkmenistan, in its turn, puts special emphasis on strengthening its cooperation with Russia in such spheres as energy, bilateral trade and joint efforts to develop the transit infrastructure in the Caspian Region. In the main areas of bilateral relations, the strategic interests of the RF and Turkmenistan coincide. This allows for making the conclusion about dynamic strengthening of the strategic partnership of Moscow and Ashkhabad and it approaching to the new level.

 


* Taliban and ISIS are terrorist organizations banned in the territory of the Russian Federation.

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2. Putin awarded the Order of Merit for the Fatherland of the 4th Degree to the ex-President of Turkmenistan. Interfax, 3.11.2022. https://www.interfax.ru/russia/870989

3. Russia and Turkmenistan will establish the Inter-Parliamentary Commission. MIR 24, 01.11.2022. https://mir24.tv/news/16529261/rossiya-i-turkmenistan-sozdadut-mezhparlamentskuyu-komissiyu

4. There are talks in Ankara about the possibility of receiving gas from Turkmenistan via TANAP. What does Ashkhabad think about it? ORIENT, 02.07.2022.  https://orient.tm/ru/post/38597/v-ankare-govoryat-o-vozmozhnosti-poluchat-turkmenskij-gaz-cherez-tanap-chto-ashhabad

5. Putin awarded the Order of Friendship to Serdar Berdimuhamedov. RIA Novosti, 10.06.2022. https://ria.ru/20220610/putin-1794591854.html

6. Gazprom executed a new long-term contract with Turkmengas. Vedomosti, 04.07. 2019. https://www.vedomosti.ru/business/articles/2019/07/03/805779-gazprom-kontrakt

7. Russian Drama Theatre will open in Ashkhabad. SPUTNIK Uzbekistan, 02.11.2022. https://uz.sputniknews.ru/20221102/v-ashxabade-otkroetsya-russkiy-dramteatr-29666859.html

8. Valentina Matviyenko: «Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov is a true friend of Russia». Turkmenportal.com, 02.11.2022. https://turkmenportal.com/blog/53675/valentina-matvienko-gurbanguly-berdymuhamedov-yavlyaetsya-istinnym-drugom-rossii

9. Overchuk about the new role of Russia as the North of Eurasia instead of the East of Europe. Vedomosti, 27.10.2022. https://www.vedomosti.ru/economics/news/2022/10/27/947613-o-novoi-roli-rossii

10. Russian Railways will help Turkmenistan to upgrade its railways. Bolshaya Aziya, 12.06.2022. https://bigasia.ru/content/news/businness/rzhd-pomozhet-turkmenistanu-modernizirovat-zheleznye-dorogi/

11. The RF Ambassador: Russia and Turkmenistan are exploring the possibility to switch to settlements in Russian Roubles. TASS, 10.09.2022. https://tass.ru/interviews/15708843

12. Russia may access the South Asia markets with assistance of Turkmenistan. Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 30.08.2022. https://www.ng.ru/cis/2022-08-30/5_8526_asia.html