"Parlamentskaya Gazeta" - about the current stage of Russian-Turkmen relations
To me, the Moscow press, in contrast to the Western one, underestimated the events, which took place recently in the Russian-Turkmen relations. Meanwhile, this even, to all appearance, may have crucial role for bilateral relations in the coming several years. By the end of the second decade of September, during a short visit to Ashkhabad the Russian economy minister Igor Yusufov, the sides managed to reach agreements on strategic directions of interrelations. Among these are the mutual agreement on resumption of supply of Turkmen gas to Russia (in annual volume of 2008 cubic meters), cotton, participation of Russia in extraction of gas on the Turkmen shelf of the Caspian Sea based on production sharing agreement, joint construction of gas main along the Eastern cost of the Caspian Sea, reconstruction of processing spheres of Turkmen economy with support of Russian companies, cooperation of regions of the both states.
A proper agreement, which will be signed on state and governmental levels, is initialed. A standing intergovernmental commission with the representatives of dozens of ministries, departments and companies is former to deal with implementation of the agreements reached. In some days after Yusufov's visit, presidents Niyazov and Putin had a phone conversation stressing the role of development of economic bilateral relations, talking about possible changes of basic principles of these relations. In fact trade and economic ties between the states in mid and late 90th demonstrated too low figures for the potential of the both sides.
According to the cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan the trade turnover with Russia made USD 134.77 million in 1996, 225.8 million in 1997, 210.83 million in 1999. In the year 2000, when Russia purchased the largest volume of Turkmen gas, the turnover reached to USD 1.300Billion, however, the next year in 2001 this figure again dropped to 493 million. In May of 2000 the Russian president Vladimir Putin visited Turkmenistan. It was one of the first foreign visits of the newly elected president Putin, and this fact was highly welcomed in Ashkhabad. Then the Turkmen and Russian leaders first talked about the necessity of offsetting the situation and shifting the trade and economic ties to a strategic fuel and energy sphere, to a pragmatic partnership.
In early 2002 the President Niyazov paid a working visit to Moscow and confirmed with his Russian counterpart and colleagues the issues related to a large scale purchase of Turkmen gas by Russia, stressing ones again aspiration to mutual rapprochement in energy sphere. The sides fixed in communiquй interest to elaborate a scheme of selling their fuel on foreign markets. In another document - agreement on Friendship and Cooperation between Turkmenistan and Russia - signed during Ashkhabad summit of the Caspian states, the sides agreed to further expand cooperation in fuel and energy complex - processing and transportation of oil, construction, reconstruction of oil and gas complex and its infrastructure, use and further development of pipeline system as well as implementation of projects of new export pipeline projects. After declaring these agreements on top level, in a month after signing Russian-Turkmen agreement talks on rehabilitation of TransAfghan pipeline started in Islamabad between Turkmenistan, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
As for TransAfghan project, implementation of these project means for Turkmenistan shifting one-way supply of its gas (to Russia) to international markets, shifting to a multi-vector strategy of gas export, expansion of the routes for transportation of its fuel. As for Russia one can presume that Transafghan project is not profitable for Russia for "it will loose its influence in the region".
TransAfghan pipeline is able to give a new serious stimulus to the process of social and economic rehabilitation of social and economic environment of Afghanistan. According to specialists, Afghanistan can get up to USD 300 million annual profit, more than 12,000 jobs only on the first stage of the project. Russia always backs any processes in Afghanistan, which are aimed at development of the economic infrastructure of the state that in its turn brings to elimination of terrorism and drag trafficking. TransAfghan pipeline is not only a gas pipe but also construction of communications, transport infrastructures and other facilities. Russia will definitely have shares in providing its less expensive equipment to Afghanistan. It will have good, stable revenues, taking into consideration serious scales of construction.
Moreover, the real rehabilitation of Russia's role and influence in the region is possible by participation - political, economic, technical, financial - in the regional project, but not blocking them. While the participation must be aimed at a long term perspectives. The TransAfghan project can become a good chance for "peaceful penetration" of Russia to the region.
The both states - Turkmenistan and Russia - are interested in expansion of cooperation. Real economic needs and political factors, connected with drastic changes of general situation in the Central Asia, after the international coalition started its activity in Afghanistan contributed to this process seriously.
In this respect, new regional processes dictated the necessity for formation of stable balance between Ashkhabad and Moscow as well as the third sides. Now Russia and Turkmenistan have no contradictions which could seriously affect bilateral relations. Today the both states are devoted to establishment of peaceful, stable and secure Central Asia, while fixing its role and place in this process.