No sooner had ink dried up on the document on cooperation in the gas field between Russia and Turkmenistan signed in Kremlin than one of the signatories under Turkmen-Russian document, Saparmurat Niyazov, was already discussing the same topic with President Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine in the fashioned "Serdar" hotel on the shore of the Caspian sea. What was it - dual policy or notorious wild-goose chase or something else?
The more people are there, the more opinions we have. We could witness it reading Russian press comments on the visit of Turkmen leader to Moscow and on the agreements concluded as a result of it. Yet, those assessments split into two groups if we set aside "yellow" and "interested" part of the press that appeared to be more concerned with nonessential details like who wore what, how two Presidents hugged, what pins the Turkmen vice-premiers wore and so on and did not want to recognize it as a turning point in relations of two countries.
Official and close to the Russian leadership press called the documents signed between Moscow and Ashgabat a "revolutionary breakthrough", a proof of "Russia's and Turkmenistan's policy transformation from competition towards partnership in the gas field", a "strong basis for development and cooperation in other fields". At the same time the papers ascribing themselves to the "front lines of democracy" expressed quite opposite point of view. In their opinion "west-oriented Russia" should not sign even very profitable for the Russian people agreements with a regime that hardly matches the American standard of democracy. And forasmuch as they don't believe in present Kremlin Administration being diligent student at the long distance school of western democracy, scoring just 3rd grade on the subject, the anxiety of journalists, who used to fit reality to the schemes invented by themselves, becomes understandable. In those schemes Turkmenistan is not presented as a country friendly and close to Russia, the people of which has long historic and cultural ties with the Russian people. On the contrary Turkmenistan is pictured mostly in black colors as a state totally rejecting prescriptions from outside.
As a matter of fact these schemes inspire debates that the "contract with Turkmens" is allegedly not profitable, that we "overpay" them, and that Moscow entered into a "secret deal" with the government that has fallen under severe criticism from OSCE and international human rights organizations and etc.
We have already reported about the nature of the conflict between OSCE and Ashgabat. As regards profitability of the contract we advise those, who don't believe pragmatic Niyazov stating that Russia would get more advantages from realization of the contract by virtue of merely re-exporting the Turkmen gas to Europe, to think it over again. Would "Gasprom have signed the 25-year long contract that it bargained with Ashgabat over the price issue for almost three years if it had not been profitable? Or why does Ukraine value so much its contract with Turkmenistan, why do Ukriane's power workers literally pray to Turkmenbashi, and by the way buy the Turkmen gas on the same conditions that "Gasprom" does now? One has to bear in mind that it is more costly to ship the gas from Turkmenistan to Ukraine than, for instance, to the south of Russia. Let alone the volumes of spare Siberian gas that could be then sold for hard currency to reliable western buyers.
Nowadays nobody will trade at self-loss. And as to the objections that geopolitical aims sometimes justify economic expenses it sounds completely absurd with regards to Turkmenistan. By declaring neutrality and following its principles in the foreign policy conduct Turkmenistan has played no political games ever and rejected participation in the regional or military blocs. The only thing that Niyazov and his country do not object to is a direct bilateral partnership and realization of joint economic projects. Such an approach as time has shown also accommodates many others. Iran, for example, has learned from its own 10-year experience that it is good to share 1000 km border with a neighbor who is neither an enemy nor an ally but is a partner for peacefully and mutually beneficial cooperation. Ashgabat has respectful and mutually beneficial cooperation with other countries as well where Ukraine especially featured till recent time. Today Russia has finally risen to the same level of cooperation. This event tells us about really historical nature of the agreements signed by Saparmurat Niyazov and Vladimir Putin in Kremlin. Moreover, Russia by coming back as a major economic partner of Turkmenistan and amid pure pragmatic benefits (strengthening its energy balance, new market for its goods, increasing the volume of gas shipments to Europe) solves its geo-strategy tasks.
In view of this it is worth recalling what the Turkmen leader repeatedly said at the meetings with Russian delegations on various levels. "We take into consideration that Russia has its national interests in our region', - Turkmenbashi said. ‘We understand it. But we ask you to remember that, while building up economic cooperation, always keep in mind that we have our national interest too".
It seems that Moscow at last heard Niyazov's words and managed to view Turkmenistan not as a competitor but as a partner in the world market. Coupled with possible realization of the plan on construction of the pipeline by joint efforts of Russia, Turkmenistan and Ukraine running along Caspian sea cost to deliver Turkmen "blue fuel" through Kazakhstan to Russia, Ukraine and, possibly, to Europe we could then witness emergence of the real and not declarative "Gas Alliance" of the above-mentioned states. It could become an alliance joined by other states in the future that play different roles in maintaining of Eurasian energy balance.
In this context the unplanned relative closeness of dates of Niyazov's visits to Moscow on April 10-11 and Kuchma's visit to Turkmenistan on April 11-12 does not look like coincidence. One never knows whether it is a sign of the real closing in of the three post-soviet states on the basis of pragmatism and national interests.