U.S. VS RUSSIA: ATTEMPTED COOPERATION WITH TURKMENISTAN IN THE SECURITY AND DEFENSE SPHERE
Maxim Starchak, Head of the International Security and Conflicts Group, Russian Association of Political Science; coordinator of the Russian Youth Association of Euro-Atlantic Cooperation (Moscow, Russia)
America’s Military Presence
In the wake of 9/11 Washington stepped up its activities in Turkmenistan which, together with Tajikistan and Kazakhstan, opened its air space for the U.S. and coalition humanitarian flights to Afghanistan. American experts described it as “the only one of the five Central Asian states that is not officially a member of the Enduring Freedom coalition.”
In 2002 the two countries signed an agreement on the use of Turkmenian air space by American military-transport aviation and the international civilian airport of Ashghabad for fuelling aircraft moving humanitarian cargoes to Afghanistan. This brings from $8 to 12 million into the Turkmenian budget every year.
Meanwhile, the Americans initiated and actively promoted talks on the use of other airfields: one of the three military airbases not far from Nebit-Dag, Ak-Tepe, and Mary-2. The latter was selected as the largest of the three able to receive two or more wings of strategic aviation.
This could be described as contradicting the country’s neutrality yet the agreement, which never mentioned the offending term “military base,” would have allowed President Niyazov to continue saying that Turkmenistan did not have foreign military bases on its territory.
The rumors enthusiastically discussed by the Russian press about a possible American base in Mary-2 caused a bout of anger from the Foreign Ministry of Turkmenistan, which resolutely refuted them in its statement of 7 September, 2005 as “pure invention that has nothing in common with reality.”
The American experts were convinced that “in the context of future planning, preparing for a post-Niyazov regime should be given greater thought, as access to Mary would be a high pay-off investment that would impact Persian Gulf and Central/South Asian contingency planning.”
In September 2005 it became even clearer that the Americans needed the base: it was completely reconstructed by UAE construction companies and accepted by a commission of the U.S. Defense Ministry. The Arabs first completely restored the Kushka airfield. However, the talks on the Mary-2 military base reached a dead end—there was no agreement on a permanent American presence. Between 2006 and 2008 the Department of State contributed about $1.4-1.7 million a year to Turkmenistan’s security sphere. Uzbekistan received more or less the same aid or even less while Kyrgyzstan and………………