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The evolution of Russian-Turkmen relations in the years 2007-2019
Material posted: Publication date: 11-11-2019

Turkmenistan is one of the most difficult for study countries in the post-Soviet space, which is exclusively due to its extreme insularity and isolation from the outside world. However, over time he began to play an increasingly important role in international Affairs, as the state ranks fourth in the world in natural gas reserves that could not fail to attract attention and create interest in leading extra-regional players (Russia, US, EU, China, Turkey, Iran). Since the collapse of the USSR, Moscow has attached special importance to developing ties with Ashgabat, and this trend remains unchanged.

Speaking about Turkmenistan, it is worth noting the fact that Turkmenistan in its modern borders appeared on the world map in connection with the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, in order to highlight the characteristics of the formed mode, we should reach out to the Turkmen history: the 1920-th years, the territory of residence of the Turkmen was formed in the Turkmen SSR, which throughout the history of the Soviet Union was subsidized by the Republic, purely dependent on the will of the center in Moscow. The Republic had neither the fertile land of Uzbekistan, neither industrially developed regions of Kazakhstan or the mountains of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which built the hydroelectric plant. However, however, Turkmenistan was literally lying on the huge gas deposits, making it one of the perspective centers of development of natural resources.

The picture changed by the end of 1991, when Turkmenistan became an independent state, with independence Ashgabat received a number of unresolved issues.
The first problem was in the clan disunity of the Turkmen society, as has long been the territory of the Turkmen steppes were inhabited by different nomadic tribes soon formed several tribal groups, of which in the future was formed five major clans (Akhal-Teke, iomode, ersary, salary, chowdury).

The second problem of independent Turkmenistan was the deteriorating economic situation: the main problematic issue was the violation of economic relations in the former Soviet Union; due to the independence of post-Soviet state imposed customs tariffs, reduce the export and import of all countries in the region; Turkmenistan lost a large part of budget revenues for the reason that Ashgabat was financed from the Central budget that in a situation of the dominance of monoculture of cotton has significantly reduced the income of the state; on the territory of Turkmenistan, as in the entire Central Asian region experienced significant population growth in 1980-1990, For example, according to the Soviet census of 1959, the population of the Turkmen SSR was 1.5 million people, and according to the Soviet census of 1989 the population was close to 3.5 million people. This situation has caused soaring unemployment, the most touching youth, which in turn caused a rise in this environment, extremist Wahhabi ideas and nationalist against networkmessage population of the region.

Along with this, the country at the time of independence lacked its own armed forces, in terms of the existence of a broad border with Afghanistan was one of the fundamental factors that affect the security of the Turkmen state, as in the Limited contingent of Soviet troops in Afghanistan have served a large number of ethnic Turkmen. Also, the Turkmens live in the North and North-West Afghanistan, the situation says that soldiers from the Turkmen SSR, mainly played the role of interpreters. After the fall of the Najibullah regime in Kabul seized power, the Mujahideen said that the next step would be the revenge of the soldiers who fought in Afghanistan as part of the contingent of the USSR.

These problems could not be fully resolved without the Russian Federation, which began to position itself as “a successor state of the USSR”, a position marked by the fact that between the Russian Federation were established not only military and political but also economic ties, despite the fact that Ashgabat was trying and trying to limit communications with the outside world, as exemplified by the adoption of a resolution on the level of the United Nations, under which Turkmenistan gained the status of a permanently neutral state.

Few the situation changed after the death of the first and lifelong President of Turkmenistan S. A. Niyazov in 2006, when the head of the Turkmen state stood Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, announced the immediate preservation of the heritage of S. A. Niyazov, the new Turkmen leader announced the continuation of the political course, formed at Turkmenbashi, but with some changes: in the internal politics of the era “the Golden age of the Turkmen people”, mentioned in the treatise “Rukhnama” S. A. Niyazov, first was renamed “the great Revival Epoch”, and then transformed into “the Epoch of power and happiness”. It should be noted an interesting feature consists in that proceeding from the said above, the G. M. official website of Turkmenistan is obliged to embark on a new era of development, that speaks about the differences of the reign of S. Niyazov and G. M. Berdimuhamedov, in other words, this fact magnifies the second President of Turkmenistan over the first.

However, with the struggle against the personality cult of Saparmurat Niyazov, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov began in the state of democratic reform. First and foremost, the new head of state focused on the reform in education that would demonstrate to the world community “...improving the quality of human capital. Educational, intellectual and human potential of Turkmenistan is a strategic resource of the country therefore the government is taking all necessary measures in order to modernize systems of education, science, culture, health”.

On this basis, in domestic policy, the new President concentrated on the holding of “democratic” reforms: introduced the multi-party system in the state along with the ruling Democratic party of Turkmenistan to date, there are a Party of Industrialists and entrepreneurs of Turkmenistan and the agrarian party of Turkmenistan. Both these parties represent affiliated with the government projects, which, however, did not affect the fact that 15 December 2013, Turkmenistan held its first parliamentary elections on an alternative basis: the Mejlis ran for representatives from trade unions, women's Union and youth organization named after Magtymguly. Despite the fact that formal elections can be considered as alternative, in fact, all of the party and social movements strongly depend on the ruling regime in Turkmenistan. Consequently, the characteristics of a multiparty system did not mean that on the territory of Turkmenistan is truly guaranteed political freedom and pluralism, and especially the strengthening of democratic rights and freedoms. This policy was directed not so much on domestic policy as on foreign policy actors, which could offer Turkmenistan loans. As implemented the construction of gas pipeline to China through the territory of other Central Asian republics, in General, cost was not particularly advantageous because the gas pipeline built by the Chinese side, which is reflected in the price of Turkmen gas. The response of Western countries to these steps has been restrained, as the state of the USA and Europe never saw a real attempt of Turkmenistan on the path of democracy.

Thus, by the end of the 2000s, the political situation has changed markedly because of the death of S. Niyazov, the current President focused on the visible transformation in the political life that resonated with the Western establishment and led to meeting George. Bush and G. M. Berdymukhammedov that is in stark contrast with the policy of Saparmurat Niyazov, did not support the US in Afghanistan. However, the potential improvement of relations with Western countries did not take place, since the West didn't see real steps of the Turkmen establishment for the construction of democracy. However, the halo and the liberal Democrats as possible in the Turkmen society, became firmly associated with Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov that is reflected in building relations with Dmitry Medvedev. However, the first year of his presidency Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov interacted with Vladimir Putin, which resulted in Vladimir Putin's visit to Ashgabat in the first half of may 2007 similarly, the head of Turkmenistan made an official visit to Russia in April 2007, which is his second official visit as President of the Turkmen state after a visit to Saudi Arabia, combined with the Hajj. This situation, on the one hand, suggests that the Russian Federation was not at that time government, contacts which are placed in the priorities of Turkmen foreign policy, however, on the other hand, Moscow's stance on certain issues resonated with Ashgabat. Following the meeting of the presidents of Turkmenistan issued a Joint statement, according to which the country planned to strengthen political ties, to deepen interregional cooperation, expand cooperation in oil and gas and transport sectors of economic relations.

It was at that moment saw the construction of the Caspian gas pipeline, the goal of which was to create the United system of gas pipelines from Turkmenistan to Russia, as Moscow was the main consumer of Turkmen gas. Similarly, due to the construction of this pipeline Moscow sought to communicate with each other to put under their own control flows of all produced in the Central Asian region of the gas, thus Russia sought to cut off the Ashgabat and Astana from solvent countries in the European Union.

Despite this, the representatives of Turkmenistan held a number of negotiations with representatives of the European States, India and China, trying to identify the potential market, which, however, did not cause a negative reaction from Moscow, which understood the dependence of Ashgabat from the transit role of the Kremlin.

The first official visit by Dmitry Medvedev to Turkmenistan can be considered a trip in July 2008 under which the heads of state have declared that they want to develop bilateral relations, primarily in the economic (gas sector, the increase of air traffic capacity of the railway) and humanitarian spheres. Similarly, in the framework of this meeting the presidents signed a Joint statement, which noted that relations between Moscow and Ashgabat are strategic in nature, that talks about the improvement of relations between the two countries in General, and particularly contrasts with the statements voiced in the period of presidency of S. Niyazov. However, the heads of state noted the role of Russian regions in improving relations between the two countries, among them emphasized the role of the Republic of Tatarstan, Astrakhan region, and St. Petersburg.

In August 2008, a meeting was held G. M. Berdimuhamedov and the first Deputy Chairman of RF Government V. Y. Zubkov, during the talks the sides discussed the development of economic and humanitarian cooperation, with the result that an Agreement was signed on trade-economic cooperation, which consolidated the provisions of the Joint statement of presidents of Russia and Turkmenistan.

Soon, the first official visit of G. M. Berdymukhamedov in Moscow (24-25 March 2009), the Kremlin had high hopes for this visit and sought to cancel the visa regime between Moscow and Ashgabat. However, during the visit was signed the following documents:

  • The agreement on mutual recognition of documents on education;
  • Cooperation agreement between Russia's FSB and the State border service;
  • The agreement on organization of direct railway and ferry communication through the ports of Makhachkala, Astrakhan water transport hub and Turkmenbashi between the two governments;
  • Joint statement of the presidents of Russia and Turkmenistan.

Joint statement of the presidents focused on the issues of interaction of States in economic and humanitarian spheres, however, the nature of the relationship between the States strategic was celebrated as “strong and friendly relations”.

However, the main goals of the Moscow failed to achieve that in the future led to the “gas war” because of problems with the construction Transformismo of the pipeline that has led to the fact that “Gazprom” has declared its readiness to buy only 10% of gas from Turkmenistan.

This situation has led to the fact that on April 9, an explosion occurred on the gas pipeline “Central Asia - Center-4”, resulting in Ashgabat has completely stopped gas supplies to Russia and blamed the incident on Russian “Gazprom”, for which action was not ready “Turkmengaz”, failed to reduce the pressure in the pipes that led to the explosion. This accident forced the leadership of Turkmenistan to create an interagency group responsible for finding new sales markets for Turkmen gas, which is about reducing the interaction between Ashgabat and Moscow.

Thus, we can conclude that the Turkmen leadership has relied on the development of the project “Nabucco” sales of energy to Europe via Turkey, which caused a negative reaction from the Kremlin, which was reflected in the Joint Russian-Turkmen statement 2009

This situation has led to the fact that in September 2009, in Ashgabat on an official visit to the President of the Russian Federation. In the framework of the talks, the sides noted development of humanitarian relations and refrained the discussion of energy issues.

Soon place another visit of Dmitry Medvedev in Ashgabat, during which the sides discussed issues of politics and Economics, in the end, the President said that the main goal of States is security and stability in the Central Asian region and the Caspian basin; in Economics, the heads of state noted the cooperation in the transport sector, cooperation in the field of communication and telecommunication, agriculture. However, the presidents agreed that the supply of gas pipeline “Central Asia - Center-4” will resume, but at the same time on the Central Asian market China, which is rapidly intercepts the main consumer of gas from the Russian Federation.
Following the visit of Dmitry Medvedev took place in October 2010 in the city of Turkmenbashi, and the representatives of the States discussed the issues of humanitarian and economic cooperation, and stated that the relations of the two are in a state of long-term strategic cooperation and provide stability and understanding. The tone of the statements of the presidents said that both countries have managed to normalize relations after the incident of 2009
However, in the background to normalize relations, the Turkmen authorities have suspended the work of the company Barash Communications Technologies - the company associated with the Russian MTS, whose property was nationalized and the Russian staff taken home. After this incident, the contacts between the authorities of the States were practically reduced to zero.

In August 2011, we conducted telephone talks between the presidents, during which they discussed topical issues in Russian-Turkmen cooperation, as well as the results of the recent significant bilateral activities in various fields.
Next month in Ashgabat, was held the third Russian-Turkmen economic forum organized by the chamber of Commerce of Russia and Trading-industrial chamber and the Union of Industrialists and entrepreneurs of Turkmenistan. In October 2011, Dmitry Medvedev sent a congratulatory message to G. M. official website on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of Turkmenistan's independence; the President said that “at the present time among the most important tasks is to maintain the atmosphere of mutual understanding and trust, which largely determines the further development of bilateral relations.” Such a mixed message resonated with the Turkmen leadership, which forced the head of Turkmenistan to pay a visit to Moscow, during which the parties failed to come to any agreements. According to the results of the visit of the Russian Federation did not increase purchases of Turkmen gas, but Ashgabat is not able to agree on plans for diversification of gas transportation routes.

In February 2012, Dmitry Medvedev congratulated G. M. Berdimuhamedov with the victory in the presidential election and expressed expectations that Russia and Turkmenistan would build up the relationship.

However, despite these expectations, your first visit of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov made in Turkey, indicating that the Turkmen President has not only put relations with Turkey are higher than relations with Russia, but also retains the attempts for the construction of a gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Turkey to Europe, which have not found positive response from the Russian authorities.

At the same time in Russia there is a change of power, and power again comes to Vladimir Putin, who already had experience with Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. However, relations have seen a positive shift, as in the information sector came news that MTS is back on the Turkmen market after a year and a half break.

Speaking about the policy of Russia in Central Asia, it must be said that V. V. Putin have focused on how to create a new working organization, able to unite the post-Soviet space like the EU. Causing June 29, 2012 was held a telephone conversation with Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who was to host the meeting of the Council of CIS heads of state in its territory at the end of 2012 In conversation Vladimir Putin congratulated his Turkmen colleague with 55-year anniversary and its contribution to the development of bilateral relations. This issue was devoted to one more telephone conversation on 15 October 2012, However, at the meeting, the President of the Russian Federation focused on the contacts with the presidents of Kazakhstan and Ukraine. In that period, a contract was signed to build two tankers for Turkmenistan JSC ”Plant ”Red Sormovo”.
By March 2013, the Russian media are increased reports of TRANS-Caspian pipeline to Europe bypassing Russia, which increases the tensions between the two countries. However, with the development of technology for shale gas production, almost all the projects for the construction of a gas corridor from Turkmenistan to Europe have become irrelevant.

This also increases information intensity around solving the problem of the Caspian sea; on these two questions force the Russian President to hold a phone conversation with President of Turkmenistan, in the course of this conversation the question was raised about the dual nationals, which soon resulted in the negotiations at the level of Ministers of foreign Affairs of the States; the Russian side was willing to negotiate an extension of the status of dual nationals (according to Russian data, 134 thousand people in Turkmenistan), the Turkmen wanted to “Gazprom” to increase purchases of Turkmen gas. At the end of negotiations a source in the Ministry said that “progress has been made, which is good: the subject is extremely sensitive”.
Despite lengthy negotiations and phone calls at the highest level, the parties were able to reach a compromise, according to the passport of the new sample received not only the citizens of Turkmenistan, but also those residents who had both Turkmen and Russian passports. Instead, the Russian side undertook to submit for consideration the State Duma the Protocol on the termination of the 1993 agreement on dual citizenship. Thus by August 2013 had been resolved the issue of persons with dual citizenship.

Speaking about relations between States in 2014, it follows that the Ukrainian problem had virtually no impact on relations between Moscow and Ashgabat on the one hand, Turkmenistan and Russia had common border (neither water nor land), the Russian-speaking population of Turkmenistan is relatively small, on the other hand, in 2013 were resolved on dual citizenship in Turkmenistan, which clearly had a favorable impact on the development of bilateral relations, as exemplified by the the Turkmen President was invited to the celebration of the 70th anniversary of victory in the great Patriotic war. The most important issue in the relationship between Moscow and Ashgabat remained the unresolved issue of the delimitation of the Caspian sea-lake.

In the framework of solving this problem in Astrakhan in late September 2014, a meeting of heads of States of the “Caspian five”; in the framework of this summit, held a bilateral meeting with G. M. Berdimuhamedov and Vladimir Putin, during the negotiations the parties discussed the problem of the Caspian sea. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov expressed the following opinion: “Indeed, today was a very good summit, signed a good agreement, which, I think, will benefit our countries and peoples. It is necessary, I think, at this pace and to continue, because, as You know, the geopolitics of the world today is changing very quickly, and the Caspian sea, on the contrary, becomes the epicenter of an economic hub, especially in the Eurasian space.”

In General the work of this summit can positively assess, as the “Caspian five” made the document that the territory within the limits of 15 nautical miles and the waters 10 nautical miles subject to the sovereignty of States “five”, but the “Convention on the legal status of the Caspian sea” were signed in connection with the presence of a number of issues on delimitation of the Caspian seabed, especially here it is worth mentioning the dispute between Ashgabat and Baku around the Kapaz gas field.

The next personal meeting during his visit to Iran Vladimir Putin meeting with President of Turkmenistan raised the issue of terrorism in the world, its Turkmen colleague said that Turkmenistan is a neutral state. After analyzing this speech, we can conclude that Moscow is the beginning of all sorts of way to influence Ashgabat in the military, for its part Turkmenistan tried to abstract away any statements and refer the Kazakh authorities, which run from the Caspian sea has caused confusion.

To exert pressure on the Turkmen leadership, the Russian authorities have resorted to gas pressure, so as to Express that by the beginning of 2016, “Gazprom” has sharply reduced purchases of Turkmen gas and came out of a 25-year gas contract in 2003, thereby repeating their actions seven years ago. Later, the leadership of “Gazprom” said that he takes two-year break in relations with Turkmenistan and analysis of the situation. Along with a solution to the problem of the Caspian sea, the Kremlin thus tried to involve Turkmenistan to military cooperation. The Turkmen leadership had to make concessions, as the main purchaser of gas in the face of Beijing's only quenched by issued loans, and Gazprom was paying real money.
In late January, the Ashgabat with working visit was visited by the head of the Russian foreign Ministry Sergey Lavrov, who held talks with the Turkmen authorities on the gas conflict and explained the position of Moscow regarding the war in Syria and the use of weapons of the Caspian flotilla for the destruction of terrorist entities. However, the Russian Minister of foreign Affairs proposed to the Turkmen side a loan for 10 billion rubles and had a conversation about the Turkmen-Turkish relations, which the Kremlin saw a threat to its regional influence.

1 November took place the meeting of the Turkmen President to President of the Russian Federation in the framework of the working visit of G. M. Berdimuhamedov to Russia. The meeting was dedicated to economic and humanitarian issues, also Vladimir Putin mentioned that the bilateral relations will be based on the approved 2009 Agreement, where the relations between two countries were defined as strategic.

In mid-February 2017 in Turkmenistan held its third alternative election in which a landslide victory was won by Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, who became President for the third time. In this regard, his Russian counterpart congratulated him on his victory and wished him success in his work, also, the two leaders confirmed their intention to develop relations and expand mutually beneficial cooperation.

By June 2017, the President of Turkmenistan was canceled benefits for the entire population, entered Turkmenbashi, it was caused by the gas conflict with Russia. However, the Russian side was represented by Chairman of the Federation Council V. I. Matviyenko at the V Asian games in Ashgabat.
In October 2017, the President of the Russian Federation paid an official visit to Turkmenistan, during the talks the sides discussed the gas and the Afghan problem. Following the talks, the two leaders signed a Joint statement of the President of the Russian Federation and the President of Turkmenistan and the agreement between the Russian Federation and Turkmenistan on strategic partnership. In addition, during the visit, signed a package of intergovernmental, interdepartmental documents on cooperation.

By August 2018, the parties signed a Convention on the legal status of the Caspian sea with Azerbaijan, Iran and Kazakhstan, according to which the Caspian sea was divided in a special way. In early 2019, “Gazprom” again began to purchase Turkmen gas, Ashgabat also in February 2019 was visited by Russian foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

In October 2019, a meeting of the presidents of Turkmenistan and Russia before the meeting of the Council of CIS heads of state, at the end of this meeting a Joint statement was adopted, in which a special role was given to international security issues.

In conclusion it should be noted that relations between States have undergone various transformations, primarily because of the gas problems (development of a parallel Russian project of gas supplies to Europe), along with this, the Russian and Turkmen despite the economic gossip developed political cooperation and tried to work together to solve the problems of Afghanistan and the division of the Caspian sea, this work is complicated by the fact that Turkmenistan is officially a neutral state.


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Khaibullin T. R


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