TURKMENISTAN’S FOREIGN POLICY
Sergei Kamenev, Leading research associate, Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences. In 1999-2001, first secretary of the embassy of the Russian Federation in Turkmenistan
Today Turkmenistan is guided in its foreign-policy initiatives by certain economy- and social policy-related factors, as well as by the regional context and general geopolitical situation in Southwest Asia. One should point out the following factors as the most important: the country’s neutrality, huge gas reserves and its desire to bring up export of gas to the maximum, tangible political changes in Central Asia after the rout of the Taliban and an arrival of Western (American in the first place) troops at the region. There are other factors that also affect Turkmenistan’s foreign policy: the still unsettled problems of the Caspian Sea’s legal status (especially after the failure of the Ashghabad Summit in April 2002), lack of progress in settling disputes with Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, etc.
Obviously these and other (less important) factors often pull the country in opposite directions, which forces its leaders (read, Saparmurad Niyazov) not only to maneuver but also to abandon certain principles—otherwise the republic would not be able to defend its interests. This is true, first and foremost, of its neutrality affected by regional problems, the fluctuating foreign-policy situation and the country’s economic interests that lie in the sphere of fuel extraction and transportation.
In 2000 during the celebrations of five years of the republic’s neutrality Saparmurad Turkmenbashi proudly reminded that in December 1995 the status of neutrality had been registered by a special resolution of the U.N. General Assembly and supported by 185 countries. One can ask, however: Should Turkmenistan (an economically and politically weak country) become neutral? Indeed, today the majority of states are striving toward integration in all spheres. Integration allows all of them, and the undeveloped countries in the first place, to address their economic problems with greater efficiency. The question suggests the answer: the republic’s complete impotence forced Niyazov to announce neutrality because it offered more advantages than created negative effects. Ashghabad could elegantly avoid an involvement in complicated or simply unnecessary problems without causing puzzlement or even displeasure of other countries. Everybody knows that today it is theoretically and practically impossible to stay aside from the fluid and swiftly changing political processes anywhere in the world. This is especially true of Central Asia and can be clearly seen in the relations between Ashghabad and the Taliban. While the world community condemned the Taliban, Niyazov was not only quite benevolent toward it but also established stable contacts with it. Finally, neutrality allowed Turkmenbashi to avoid encroachments on his personal absolute power and to harshly repress any manifestation of an opposition. No wonder, the state is nearly completely isolated from the rest of the world very much like North Korea. Ashghabad is visited by practically only foreign leaders and businessmen who choose to ignore domestic policies; totalitarianism creates predictable conditions for foreign investments.
Intensive development of the fuel and energy complex that is impossible without constantly increasing energy-fuel export is another important foreign-policy factor. Late in 1999 the republic resumed gas export. As a result the share of industry in the GDP began to climb up to reach, in 2001, 35 percent, according to official figures.1 According to Turkmen expert assessments, the country has 23 trillion cubic meters of gas reserves. Early in 2002 Niyazov suddenly made public the following figures: 42-43 trillion cubic meters.2 It seems that one can ignore them—so far, there is no reliable confirmation of this statement and no wide-scale geological prospecting has been conducted so far.
It should be noted that Niyazov spares no effort to realize an idea of gas export in various directions, which has been reflected in his attempts to find options for at least one alternative gas pipeline. To a great extent, Niyazov’s foreign policy, the efforts of his diplomats and people from other departments are guided by this aim. In an effort to weaken its dependence on Russia where gas export and gas transit across the south of Russia to Ukraine are concerned Niyazov is discussing possible southward routes. There were two most real variants: a pipeline across the Caspian (trans-Caspian gas pipeline) and across Afghanistan.
At a certain stage the U.S.-supported trans-Caspian gas pipeline option seemed most probable—a consortium was set up with PSG and Shell Exploration B.-W. participating with equal shares. Little by little the American and Turkmen approaches diverged: Ashghabad wanted the project to be realized as promptly as possible while for Washington the project was of secondary importance. America in fact was using it to establish its influence in the countries involved rather than help Turkmenistan resolve its gas export problems. Americans were in no hurry.
Little by little the conflict of interests emerged to the foreground. The United States supported Azerbaijan that wanted a 50 percent quota for its gas which it planned to move along the future trans-Caspian gas pipeline. This was the last drop that exhausted the patience of the leaders of Turkmenistan and forced Ashghabad to turn to Russia.
In addition, a provision that is part of the Memorandum on Mutual Understanding on a Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline Turkmenistan signed with Turkey in December 1997 is another obstacle to the trans-Caspian gas pipeline. It says that the latter cannot be started until the legal status of the Caspian Sea is determined and the disputes with Azerbaijan about shelf oil and gas fields are resolved.3 This has not happened yet.
Naturally enough, in this situation Ashghabad never lost sight of the trans-Afghanistan option and was actively flirting with the Taliban. In his analysis of these processes political scientist Murad Esenov has written: “The Turkmenistan leadership immediately established contacts with the leadership of the Taliban, an obscure movement of the time (the fall of 1994.—S.K.)—in fact, Pakistan and Turkmenistan were the Taliban’s only foreign partners as of the moment it was formed… The subsequent course of events showed exactly why Turkmenistan and Pakistan were so interested in the Taliban’s expanding its presence on Afghan territory. On 27 October, 1997, President Saparmurad Niyazov signed a protocol with the head of the U.S. oil company Unocal granting the latter exclusive rights to set up a consortium to build a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipeline.”4
During the period the Taliban remained in power Ashghabad was sticking to this foreign-policy course. Despite the decision of the U.N. Security Council to tighten the anti-Taliban sanctions Niyazov continued insisting on his “special” position. During the January 2001 visit of NATO General Secretary George Robertson to Turkmenistan the country’s leader was quite amazed to learn that the majority of the European states are increasingly concerned with the mounting wave of Islamic radicalism coming from Afghanistan. Niyazov was convinced that this concern was unfounded—he was stubbornly using the term “the Afghan nation” and refused to distinguish between the common people and the true culprits of the continued crisis and those who presented serious threat to many countries, and Turkmenistan among them, as carriers of Islamic extremism.
Ashghabad was obviously trying to conceal from the world community that it was maintaining close ties with the Taliban thus ensuring the security of its 840-km long border with Afghanistan and earning (as some experts believed) no less than $100 million a year by trading with it.
Despite the U.N.-imposed sanctions Turkmenistan was selling the Taliban fuel, greases and lubricants, construction materials, consumer goods, and other commodities through intermediaries. Turkmenistan did not cut down its aid to the Taliban in accordance with what the U.N. demanded. It kept secret its economic and political ties with the Taliban; in 2001 the Committee for National Security and the Foreign Ministry of Turkmenistan tightened the procedure of drawing up documents for foreign diplomats and international officials wishing to visit the areas along the border with Afghanistan. The new rules related, in the first place, to the towns of Kushka, Kerki, and Tahta-Bazar through which Turkmenistan was trading with the Taliban.
At the same time, it is wrong to exercise a one-sided approach when discussing Ashghabad’s foreign-policy course and insist that it supported the Taliban only to be able to lay a pipeline across its territory and earn money by trading with it. A rupture of the earlier more or less friendly relationships would have destabilized the situation along the border and on the territory of Turkmenistan. The country that has no efficient defense means could not afford this. Niyazov had to soberly assess the situation and compare potential advantages and disadvantages of a conflict with the neighbor. His foreign policy in relation to Afghanistan was aimed at explaining his Central Asian members (and probably other countries) that a dialog with the Taliban should be extended and that good-neighborly relations with it had their own advantages.
At the same time the rout of the Taliban was a positive rather than a negative event for Turkmenistan even if Niyazov’s pet idea—a gas pipeline across Afghanistan—was shelved for the time being. There are reasons to believe that in more favorable conditions some time in future the idea will be revived. After all, there was little hope that Western companies would invest in the country ruled by the Taliban despite certain steps made by Enron and Unocal.
Today the relations between Ashghabad and Kabul are limited to humanitarian aid from the former and the use of its territory to deliver it to Afghanistan. One cannot expect the gas pipeline project to go ahead while the hostilities are still going on in Afghanistan. (Experts believe that that they will go on for a long time.) One can expect that the contradictions inside the provisional administration of Hamid Karzai will mount. The United States is very cautious: so far only assistant state secretary Elisabeth Jones who visited Turkmenistan early in 2002 mentioned the project very vaguely during her talks with President Niyazov when she said that an interest of American companies in the project may revive.5 Stephen Mann, U.S. presidential advisor on the Caspian region, who visited Turkmenistan in May 2002, was equally evasive. He said that the United States was prepared to support any commercially reasonable project of a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan across Afghanistan to Pakistan.6 He did not make any specific statements about America’s readiness to participate in such project.
Niyazov is very reserved in his relations with the CIS countries: its neutrality keeps his republic outside any multisided alliances, blocs, organizations, etc. At the same time Ashghabad never says “No” to bilateral contacts that promise economic advantages and can help develop its fuel export. This makes Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan its main foreign-policy (and economic) partners.
Ashghabad is actively using the CIS to establish regular contacts with its members on the highest and other levels and to observe how relations among them are developing. Turkmenistan is doing much to remain outside the orbit of foreign-policy interests of Russia or any of its Central Asian neighbors and limits its involvement in the CIS by the fields that directly or indirectly help Niyazov to maintain his regime or, at least, do not interfere with it.
Turkmenistan did not sign the Collective Security Treaty, yet joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace according to the individual program that offered it certain advantages where development of its national army was concerned. In June 1999 it withdrew from an Agreement on Visa-Free Travels for CIS Citizens across the Territories of its Members signed on 9 June, 1992. Turkmenistan remained outside the Declaration of the Heads of State of the CIS on the Main Directions of its Development signed at the meeting of the CIS Heads of State held on 2 April, 1999, and the Protocol on Amendments and Additions to the Agreement on a Free Trade Zone of 15 April, 1994. Ashghabad also withdrew from the Russian-Turkmenian Agreement on Joint Guarding the State Border of Turkmenistan.
On the whole Ashghabad wants to preserve the CIS but on conditions that do not promote any improvement of its forms and do not add efficiency. President Niyazov is fond of saying that the CIS should not acquire either controlling or coordinating functions. He also rejects what he calls “enforced” or “unmotivated” multisided integration and prefers to see Community limited to consultative and advisory functions with no “supranational and supra-state structures.” The Turkmen leaders are firmly convinced that if the CIS strengthens as a “collectivizing” organization (to quote Niyazov), their country will inevitably slip back to the position of a “raw-material appendage” or a “younger brother.”
Ashghabad is also extremely cautious when dealing with other Central Asian countries and avoids all regional structures its neighbors create. In the past it declined an invitation from Tashkent to join, as a full-scale member, the Central Asian Alliance and thus (as the Turkmen leaders believe) stemmed Uzbekistan’s regional ambitions. President Niyazov was equally negative about the Tashkent “6 + 2” Group on an Afghan settlement. It was only under pressure from the United States and Uzbekistan that it dispatched its representatives (with as limited powers as possible) to its meeting on 19 July, 1999.
Turkmenistan is avoiding economic integration much more consistently than the other CIS members and explains this with potential losses that might be incurred by closer relations with the CIS. This was why it did not want to join the Central Asian Economic Community. This unwillingness was supported by figures that said that trade operations within this structure would bring no economic advantages to Turkmenistan. It is cooperating with the CAEC though but is not seeking an observer status that Georgia, Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine have. At the same time, at various stages Ashghabad described, and is describing, these countries as its strategic partners.
Turkmenistan loses its reserve when protecting its vital interests, especially in the fields related to the fuel and energy complex and export of energy fuels. The recent summit in Ashghabad that took place early in March 2002 is one of the latest examples. It signed an Energy Policy Statement about which the pro-governmental publication Novosti Turkmenistana (News of Turkmenistan) wrote: “Everybody agreed that the Energy Policy Statement signed by the presidents of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Uzbekistan was the summit’s dominant note. It reflected the sides’ readiness to enter into strategic cooperation in the gas sphere.”7
The relations between Turkmenistan and Ukraine based on gas deserve special attention. In 1993-1994 Kiev ran into a considerable debt to Turkmenistan ($723 million) and took its time to repay it. As a result Turkmenistan stopped its export to Ukraine and reduced nearly to naught diplomatic relations with it, and this despite Ukraine’s attempts to discharge the debt with foodstuffs. Enraged with Kiev’s empty promises to repay the debt with money, Ashghabad issued an official statement that it would only export gas to the countries outside the former Soviet Union and only to solvent customers. Disagreements with the Gazprom over the prices of gas transit across Russia were another reason behind such statements. Late in 1998 President Niyazov had to retreat under pressure of his country’s appalling economic situation and an acute need for foreign currency: the Ukrainian debt was restructured and the sides agreed on deliveries of 15 billion cubic meters of gas in 1999.
Later, the volumes of gas started climbing up while President Kuchma and other Ukrainian leaders started frequenting Turkmenistan, and this despite the fact that in the fall of 2000 Kiev’s debt reached the figure of $422 million.8 During one of such visits Turkmenbashi allowed himself a bit of malice (and he was right): “I should say that the visits of the Ukrainian president to Turkmenistan have become a tradition. Every year as winter approaches President Kuchma always comes to see his friend Turkmenbashi.”9 At the same time Niyazov deemed it necessary to stress his cool attitude to the CIS. He has said: “We both favor a bilateral principle of CIS membership and of settling all political problems. Leonid Danilovich Kuchma and Turkmenistan both agree that the CIS is a consultative structure that should meet regularly twice a year to outline the problems. It should avoid any rigid decisions binding on other countries… We object to the CIS’ guiding and leading role in the relations among its members. This is a matter of principle for us.”10
In May 2001 Turkmenistan and Ukraine signed an agreement on long-term trade and economic cooperation for 2001-2010 and agreements on deliveries of natural gas to Ukraine in 2001-2006. This was an important step in the bilateral relations between the two countries: the documents strengthened economic contacts and developed foreign-policy ties. Today Ukraine is Turkmenistan’s main trade and economic partner and as such it has outstripped Russia and the traditional allies (Turkey and Iran). Today, Ukraine and Turkmenistan are cooperating outside the fuel and energy complex; they are working together in industry and industrial infrastructure, there are talks about constructing a railway bridge across the Amu Darya and drainage and communication tunnels. Ukrainian companies are prepared to build cement works in Turkmenistan, small metallurgical plants, and construct sea-going vessels.
One should not think, however, that the bilateral relations with Ukraine put the relations with Russia on the back burner. The communiqué that concluded the visit of President Niyazov to Russia in January 2002 said, in particular: “The presidents are convinced that in the new, 21st century the relations between Turkmenistan and Russia have entered a qualitatively new stage of partner cooperation that corresponds to the spirit of traditional fraternal friendship between our nations and that meets their basic interests and expectations.”11 The high-sounding words reflect, on the whole, the nature of bilateral relations between the two countries.
These relations are not free of serious setbacks caused, in the first place, by Ashghabad’s treatment of the political processes inside the CIS and the problems caused by cooperation in the energy sphere, mainly in energy-fuel export. Quite often this treatment is far from adequate. Throughout the 1990s Turkmenistan was trying to move away from close relations with Russia (gas deliveries were the only and quite natural exception). It was looking at Russia as a potentially dangerous partner that could negatively affect its domestic stability and, what was even more important, the authoritarian nature of Turkmenbashi’s power. Its leaders were obviously afraid of the role of a “younger brother” imposed on them who would be unable to keep the energy-fuel sources under their control. Bilateral contacts were also hampered by disagreements with the Gazprom: in 1997 Turkmenistan stopped exporting its gas to Russia.
Ashghabad’s withdrawal from the Agreement on Visa-Free Travels among the CIS countries created even more problems in the relations between the two countries. The press service of the Foreign Ministry of Turkmenistan stated: “This is explained by our desire to stop those citizens who want to enter our republic for their own mercenary interests that have nothing in common with the national interests of sovereign states.”12 This was obviously dictated by the desire to keep away from the country the opposition leaders and members now in exile in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and journalists, tourists and all others who may speak out about the totalitarian nature of the ruling regime. Words fail when it comes to describing the obstacles those who wish to visit Russia should surmount. They spend hours, if not days, in long lines outside the Russian embassy despite the fact that the Russian consulate works for 12 to 14 hours a day. The words they use in relation to the leaders of Turkmenistan responsible for the visa barrier cannot be quoted here.
Positive shifts occurred late in 1999 when the two countries signed an agreement on exporting 20 billion cubic meters of gas ($36 per 1 thousand cubic meters) to Russia in 2000. The agreed amount being delivered by September 2000, the export operator Itera signed a contract with the Turkmenneftegaz on delivering 10 billion cubic meters of gas more until the end of the year. The new price was fixed as $38 per 1 thousand cubic meters with payments in money and commodities, the ratio being 40 to 60.
Turkmenistan had to deliver gas to Ukraine under the Ashghabad agreement, which slowed down gas deliveries to Russia. Only 6.2 billion cubic meters were delivered. Itera suggested that the deliveries should continue in the first quarter of 2001. Ashghabad demanded a new contract with a new price and a new ratio: $40 per 1 thousand cubic meters of gas with the 50 : 50 ratio. Itera accepted the new conditions.
President Putin visited Turkmenistan in May 2000, and this noticeably pushed forward bilateral relations nearly in all spheres. No important documents were signed, yet the meeting permitted to extend cooperation outside the sphere of gas deliveries.
One of the problems that create a lot of negative feelings in Russia is de-Russification of society in Turkmenistan. The rights of Russian speakers are violated: they are limited in selecting the place of residence, their rights of property are not observed, the migrants are deprived of the right to privatize their flats, unjustified arrests and detainments are not infrequent. Turkmenian authorities more and more often refer to “unwritten laws” when the legal norms are pushed aside to give place to unofficially applied oral instructions. On 1 January, 2000 all documentary flow was switched to the Turkmenian language and the majority of high-placed officials who were Russian speakers were deprived of their posts. Nearly every day Russian speakers come to the embassy of Russia to complain about violations of their rights and to ask for help.
One of the most obvious results of this policy is a growing number of applications from those wishing to emigrate to Russia. According to the Federal Migration Service, by late 2000 62,678 families (about 190 thousand people) had already applied for the migrant status in Russia. The main reasons are a low social status and the standard of living that borders on poverty; concern for the future of children caused by the low educational standards in Turkmenistan. I should add that the Russian-language information field is very narrow; no periodicals from Russia are circulated in the republic and there is no possibility to subscribe to them; the possibilities of being exposed to Russian culture are narrow and are contracting, etc. We are aware of these problems, and the visit of President Putin provided an opportunity to at least discuss them.
It was President Niyazov’s working visit to Moscow in January 2002 that bred hopes of improvement in the sphere of teaching the Russian language. The two presidents signed an agreement on opening a Turkmen-Russian school in Turkmenistan. Niyazov asked for help to obtain textbooks and teacher’s guides of Russian for local schools. In the context of the Russian-language programs rapidly disappearing from the curricula of secondary schools and institutions of higher learning this request sounds encouraging. Let’s hope that deeds will follow words.
However, the main problem—gas deliveries to Russia on which the entire foreign-policy and foreign-trade edifice rests—remained unresolved. The sides cannot agree on the price: the Turkmen side insists on $42 per 1 thousand cubic meters saying that this is the price for which it sells gas to Ukraine while Russia sticks to $36. The sides could not agree on the schedule of future deliveries either (from 2 to 10 billion cubic meters during the first five years to reach the figure of 80 billion only by 2012).
Obviously, the visit was short of a failure. The pro-governmental Internet newspaper Turkmenistan.ru had to admit that “the impartial observers were reserved, though optimistic, in their comments about how seriously the countries wanted to draw closer,” and pointed out that “the joint communiqué was vague.”13 One wonders whether the results were worth Niyazov’s one-day visit to Moscow—all questions could have been discussed at length in late November 2001 at the jubilee summit dedicated to the first ten years of the CIS. Niyazov was the only president who did not have bilateral negotiations with the Russian president at the summit and limited himself to a brief talk.
Two weeks before his one-day trip to Moscow Niyazov presented a draft treaty between Russia and Turkmenistan to Foreign Minister of Russia Igor Ivanov on a working trip to Ashghabad. The initiative was an obvious surprise to the minister, yet he promised to do his best to consider the document that laid the principles of relations between the two countries with an account of Turkmenistan’s neutrality.14 Such documents are not considered in haste, they should be discussed with relevant ministries and departments of both countries, which is a time-consuming procedure. Therefore one could not expect that this important document would have been signed during Niyazov’s short visit to Moscow.
One should say, however, that the bilateral relations are going ahead, especially in the energy and fuel sphere. Turkmenistan will remain dependent on the “northern pipeline” for many years to come and it will remain willing to sell its gas not only to Ukraine and Iran but also to Russia. During his meeting with the press in Ashghabad in February 2002 President Niyazov said that on many occasions he had invited Russian businessmen to buy gas from his country because, said he, it was much cheaper than to extract it up in the north.15 His willingness to sell gas to Russia has been confirmed by his positive assessment of President Putin’s idea of a Eurasian gas alliance to harmonize the interests of the states producing gas, of those letting it across their territories and of its consumers. If realized it will radically change the gas-related ties.16
Moscow also wants to maintain its ties with Ashghabad because of the gas deficit in Russia and the high costs of moving gas from Yamal and West Siberia to Western Europe—Turkmenistan is obviously much closer. Putin’s idea of a Eurasian gas alliance testifies that Moscow is willing to continue receiving maximally large amounts of Turkmenian gas for many years to come.
Both countries want to preserve regional stability—and this is connected with the situation in Afghanistan. Russia and Turkmenistan are doing all they can to support the antiterrorist operation and bring it to a successful conclusion. Their support of Karzai’s administration is not only moral. The two countries openly declared their desire to act within the general direction of international efforts to restore Afghanistan and develop it into a normal civilized state.
Finally, both Moscow and Ashghabad believe that the extremely difficult problem of the Caspian Sea’s legal status should be resolved (Azerbaijan, Iran, and Kazakhstan want the same). The problem that has remained unsolved for over 10 years has been closely studied in our country and abroad. There is no need to dwell on it in detail here. I shall limit myself to the position of Turkmenistan. In his time Deputy Foreign Minister Elbars Kepbanov clearly described his country’s approach to the problem and pointed out: “Turkmenistan will be satisfied with the division into sectors … which means that the sea will be divided as an international lake into national sectors that will include the bed, water and the water surface. The sectors will be limited to the median and side lines that will connect the state frontiers of the states on the opposite and adjacent shores.”17 Until 1998 Ashghabad was prepared to accept the idea of a condominium, yet when “Azerbaijan had started working on the Caspian unilaterally the idea of a condominium lost its urgency.”18 At the same time Turkmenistan is insisting that the legal status should be defined before oil extraction starts.
Recently, Turkmenistan has somewhat shifted its position: it is prepared to discuss the division along the median line (that comes close to the positions of Russia and Kazakhstan), yet suggests doing this along the latitude rather than along the modified median line (Azerbaijan is ready to accept the latter variant).
Turkmenistan and other Caspian states suggested a summit on the Caspian problem. It was postponed several times—a sure sign that it was premature. Indeed, when convened in April 2002 in Ashghabad it was a complete failure. This amply demonstrated that for the time being such meetings held no promise and that the legal status issue should be shelved for a while. No wonder that after the summit, at a meeting with the commanders of the Caspian Navy, Vladimir Putin dismissed the results by saying: “Weak negotiators.”
The relations between Turkmenistan and its Central Asian neighbors can be described as normal with periods of tension. Predictably, they are gas- and oil-oriented. For example, Kazakhstan has its share in modernizing the rather depleted Central Asia-Center gas pipeline. The governments are actively discussing a new oil pipeline going from Kazakhstan to Iran via Turkmenistan. It is the most efficient variant among other suggested routes of energy-fuel transportation from Central Asia to the world markets.19
A North-South railway corridor along the Caspian eastern coast is another foreign-policy pet project of Ashghabad’s that has been discussed for several years. In fact, construction works were started on the Turkmenian territory—Ashghabad is looking at Astana and Moscow for signs of interest. In fact, Russia will acquire a shorter route to Iran and the Persian Gulf.20
Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan are both willing to actively cooperate in the economic and foreign-policy fields, yet Ashghabad nurtures claims to Kazakhstan because of the latter’s gas and electric power debts. According to the Central Bank of Turkmenistan, by 1 January, 2001 the debt amounted to $52.7m; of them $21.8m of debt accumulated for gas deliveries in 1993 and 1994 and $28.9m for electric power supplied in 1995-2000. The final settlement has been postponed for a long time during which the government of Turkmenistan even announced that it was prepared to transfer the Kazakhstani debt to a third side.
The Internet newspaper Turkmenistan.ru wrote: “In response to a quite legitimate demand to repay the debts some of the Kazakhstani officials tried to shift the blame from their shoulders by saying that certain economic entities were responsible for the debt and they should repay it to the Turkmenian suppliers of energy fuels.”21 Ashghabad’s firmness and its absolute conviction that it was protecting its lawful interests finally produced a positive result: Astana agreed to set up a joint commission to discuss the problem and set up a mechanism of debt settlement. Today, the problem had been nearly solved.
The relations with Uzbekistan are also far from simple: both capitals are claiming regional leadership, the rivalry accelerating. So far, Uzbekistan has gained much more points, in the first place because NATO (or the United States) came to the region. The neutrality Niyazov proclaimed some time ago proved a negative factor. There is no need to discuss at length Western interests in Central Asia. One can only say that Washington has staked on Uzbekistan because of its greater military potential and central geographical location. This allows Tashkent to play an important role in shaping the military and political climate in the region. No wonder the country is looked at as the key one in Central Asia; naturally enough U.S. paratroopers are busy settling on the Khanabad airfield at Tashkent.
Its neutrality does not allow Ashghabad to compete with Tashkent. Even “when Turkmenistan hinted that it is unwilling to allow German units to use its military airfield as an intermediate, Germany took this calmly and did not press further.”22 This does not mean that the West completely understood Niyazov’s stand in the extreme situation created by the terrorist acts of 11 September, 2001. On the other hand, Moscow, Tehran, Beijing and several other capitals responded with satisfaction: for some time they had been watching with growing concern (if not irritation) how NATO’s military contingents were deployed at their borders with an obvious intention to remain there for a long time.
Niyazov tried to smooth down the negative impression by opening the airfields for humanitarian deliveries to Afghanistan. He has succeeded to a great extent: after a while his country became second after Pakistan where the volumes of humanitarian aid handled on its territory was concerned. All are satisfied: Turkmenbashi himself, the coalition, the U.N., and the Afghans.
There are other problems in the relations with Uzbekistan. In 2001 Tashkent signed frontier delimitation agreements with Ashghabad and Astana. This did not relieve tension at the border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. In April 2002 Turkmen border guards killed two Uzbek citizens at the border between the Shavat District of Uzbekistan and the Tashauz District of Turkmenistan. This was the seventh incident of that sort in the countries’ bilateral relations. Uzbekistan is very much concerned with violations of the rights of ethnic Uzbeks in the Tashauz Region and displeased with high fees the Uzbeks from the Khorezm Region and Karakalpakstan have to pay when they cross into Turkmenistan: on religious festivals they follow the tradition and visit burials of their ancestors that remained in Turkmenistan when the Soviet Union fell apart. So far Ashghabad has done nothing to resolve the problems of ethnic Uzbeks living in the Tashauz Region.23
Turkmenistan is maintaining best relations with Turkey—both countries are looking at them as a strategic partnership. They normally act together on an absolute majority of international issues, their bilateral ties are ensured by nearly 60 treaties and agreements related to practically all sides of their relationship.
Economy is the main field of their cooperation: in 1999 the trade turnover between them was about $400m; in 2000 the figure was nearly $450m24 while the share of Turkish capital in Turkmenistan reached about $4 billion in 2000. There are about 300 Turkish firms and companies working in the country and over 15 thousand Turkish businessmen operating there. They are leaders in the construction, pharmaceutical and processing branches and monopolists in the republic’s textile industry with over 90 percent under their control. Suffice it to say that there is a post of personal “plenipotentiary representative of the president of Turkmenistan for placing natural gas, oil, electric power and cotton from Turkmenistan on the Turkish market.” Today, the post is filled by Turk Ahmet Chalyk who enjoys Turkmenbashi’s complete confidence and exerts a lot of influence on him.
The obviously pro-Turkish political bias opens wide horizons for Ankara: Turkish businessmen enjoy unprecedented tax and credit privileges, and have preferences on the realty market. Thousands of Turks have Turkmen passports, which means dual citizenship though not covered by corresponding interstate agreement. By his decrees Niyazov appoints Turks to high state posts up to deputy ministers. He is fond of saying that the assistance extended to his country by the great Turkish brothers has no limits. This is reflected in the official policy described as “two states—one nation.”
There is close cooperation between the military structures of the two countries and their special services. They exchange information and train the military. It should be said that practically all the commanders of the armed forces of Turkmenistan were trained or re-trained in Turkey. Some of the power structures follow the Turkish pattern, for example, the militia was transformed into the police. Obviously, these contacts contradict the country’s neutrality.
From time to time relations with Ankara are clouded: in his outstanding work Rukhnama Saparmurad Niyazov has written, in particular, that history knows of no Turks. There have always been Turkmens who saved Islam, saved the Turkish race and set up a Turkish state. From this it follows that neither the Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Azerbaijanis, Kyrgyz, Uighurs, nor other Turkic nations have ethnic and cultural values of their own. They are surrogate nations as compared with the Turkmens.
Early in 2002 a Turkmen aircraft ready to depart for Ashghabad was arrested in the Istanbul airport on a request of a Turkish firm Tar-Teq-San that had lost patience after almost ten years of talks about a Turkmen debt. (It was the Turkish judicial authorities that issued an order for the arrest; earlier the bank accounts of the Turkmen embassy in Ankara and consulate in Istanbul had been frozen.)
The relations with Azerbaijan are strained to the utmost because of the disagreements over the Azeri, Chirag and Kiapaz oil fields out in the Caspian Sea. Their open hostilities interfere with a more or less prompt settlement of the Caspian Sea’s status problem. Turkmenistan.ru has the following to say in this connection: “It was not Ashghabad but Baku that used certain advantages inherited from the U.S.S.R. to seize certain juicier morsels in the central part of the oil-rich sea. It was not Ashghabad but Baku that established its sovereignty over the territory with the oil fields prospected in the past in our common country by geologists and oil workers of this republic. It looks strange that the western Caspian coast does not claim as its own the oil- and gas-fields of Siberia or Nebit-Dag in Turkmenia discovered and developed in the past by specialists in the ‘black gold’ from Baku.”25
Azerbaijan responds in kind. This exchange has nothing in common with diplomatic practices and does not promote negotiations. On many occasions Turkmenistan expressed its surprise when Baku lagged behind with scheduled payments for Turkmen gas. The bilateral talks of late July 2001 failed to produce positive results. The CIS summits convened for various occasions showed that the two leaders preferred to ignore one another—this happened once more in April 2002 in Ashghabad.
Foreign-political and economic ties with Iran are developing according to a different pattern. They are based on gas deliveries to Iran along the Korpeje-Kurt-Kui pipeline commissioned late in 1997. Iran is one of the five major trade partners of Turkmenistan: in 2000 it delivered over $210-million-worth products and imported $85-million-worth Turkmen products.26 No wonder wholesale and retail networks in Turkmenistan abound in Iranian products.
Economic ties give a good impetus to foreign-policy relations. One can see that the Turkmen leaders are interested in all sorts of contacts with their neighbors despite the proclaimed neutrality of their country. This is demonstrated by the frequent visits of Mehdi Safari, special representative of Iran for the Caspian Sea problems, and of the country’s President Khatami himself to Ashghabad. His attendance of the Caspian Summit of May 2002 confirmed that the course toward stronger bilateral relations had not changed.
Still, Ashghabad cannot ignore the United States’ negative attitude to Iran as a “terrorist state” and Washington’s response to a gas pipeline project reaching Turkey and going on farther, to reach Europe. On the other hand, Ashghabad should take into account Russia’s interest in Iran conditioned by long-term agreements on military hardware deliveries and construction of an atomic power station in Bushehar.
The United States is the main object of Turkmenistan’s foreign policy in the West: Ashghabad wants to revive the trans-Caspian pipeline project. Washington, in its turn, is trying to keep Ashghabad in sight, especially in the context of the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan. No wonder, Stephen Mann, former American ambassador to Turkmenistan, now serving U.S. special representative for the Caspian, is frequenting the country. His Russian is superb and his professional skills as negotiator are excellent.
The United States treat Turkmenistan as a point from which its diplomats can follow the developments in Iran, Turkey, the Southern Caucasus and, naturally, Central Asia. In the context of America’s announced intention to identify all terrorist states Iran has become one of the objects of its close attention. One can even expect the White House to exploit the friendly ties between Ashghabad and Tehran to reach its aims.
One should not forget that the United States is aspiring to mediate between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan in their oil-related conflict. In 1997 Americans photographed the sea from their reconnaissance satellite and discovered that the coastal points of the median line had not changed since 1940 when the second (after 1921) treaty between the Soviet Union and Iran was signed.
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An analysis of Turkmenistan’s foreign-policy course suggests a conclusion that it is aimed at developing the republic’s energy and fuel complex, gas supplies to Ukraine and Russia in the first place. One cannot expect trans-Caspian or trans-Afghanistan gas pipelines in the nearest future, which means that Ashghabad should concentrate on its relations with these two countries. Still, it should closely follow the Central Asian developments—this is all the more necessary because of the neutrality status.
1 See: Novosti Turkmenistana, 14 January, 2002.
2 From the answers of S. Niyazov at a press conference in January 2002, Internet-gazeta Turkmenistan.ru, 10 January, 2002.
3 It is interesting to note that President Niyazov insisted on the provision.
4 M. Esenov, “Turkmenistan’s Foreign Policy and Its Impact on the Regional Security System,” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 1 (7), 2001, pp. 52, 54.
5 See: Turkmenistan.ru, 9 February, 2002.
6 See: Turkmenistan.ru, 14 May, 2002.
7 Novosti Turkmenistana, 4 March, 2002.
8 See: Turkmenistan.ru, 25 October, 2000.
11 Neitral’niy Turkmenistan, 22 January, 2002.
12 Quoted from: Izvestia, 19 March, 1999.
13 Turkmenistan.ru, 26 January, 2002.
14 See: Vremia novostei, 21 January, 2002.
15 See: Turkmenistan.ru, 25 February, 2002.
16 See: Turkmenistan.ru, 26 January, 2002.
17 E. Kepbanov, “Kaspiiskoe more: podkhody k opredeleniu pravovogo statusa,” Finansovye vesti (Ashghabad), No. 11-12, 1998.
18 Ibidem. Turkmenistan is fiercely contesting Azerbaijan over the oil fields of Kiapaz, Azeri and Chirag.
19 See: Turkmenistan.ru, 2 March, 2001.
20 See: Ibidem.
21 See: Ibidem.
22 Turkmenistan.ru, 9 March, 2002.
23 According to the press center of the Ezgulik Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan [www.gundogar.com].
24 Sotsial’no-ekonomicheskoe polozhenie Turkmenistana za 2000 g., National Institute of State Statistics and Information of Turkmenistan, Ashghabad, 2001, pp. 71, 73.
25 Turkmenistan.ru, 23 August, 2001.
26 See: Sotsial’no-ekonomicheskoe polozhenie Turkmenistana za 2000 god, p. 71.