"PARLIAMENTARY NEWSPAPER": MOSCOW AND ASHGABAT NEED EACH OTHER AS RELIABLE AND PREDICTABLE PARTNERS
It has become a common practice recently to view relations between Moscow and Ashgabat through a prism of the abolishment by both states of the Agreement on dual citizenship and problems arising from it that are gradually solved in the course of negotiations.
Meanwhile, worsening of the situation in Central Asia, Middle and Near East urges Russia, in political observers' opinion, to establish closer relations with states that can be relied upon to defend its national interests. And assessing potential of partners in countering such challenges of the XXI century as terrorism, drug trafficking, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, it is important to define hard and fast rules. At the same time, it would be wrong to see the only solution to problems, as political observers often note, in Russia's military presence in this or that region, yet sometimes, it is indeed necessary.
There are neither Russian nor American bases in Turkmenistan, although this issue was put before Ashgabat in a rather tough manner in view of conducting an anti terror operation in Afghanistan. However, observing its neutral status, approved by the special resolution of the UN General Assembly on December 12, 1995, the leadership of Turkmenistan stated resolutely that it would open its territory only for humanitarian cargo shipments to the population of Afghanistan. And it was actively helping this process, owing to which almost one half of all humanitarian assistance is transported through the Turkmen border posts. Surely, such a "neutral" principal position of Ashgabat is not to everybody's liking. And by the way, isn't it one of the reasons for critique coming from the West for slow introduction of the same western democracy?
It is necessary to recall that all the years after gaining independence Turkmenistan, contrary to other former Soviet republics, has done without debts and if, for example, it needed armament it purchased it. Turkmen citizens are not accused of drug trafficking; their names were not put on the list of apprehended drug dealers. When armed conflicts happened in the neighboring states and a flow of refugees to Russia increased the situation in Turkmenistan remained stable and calm. There were no conflicts on the basis of nationality or religion.
Along with it, making use of its neutral status, Turkmenistan made significant contribution to the settlement of a very complicated situation that once occurred in Tajikistan. It should be recalled that there were held three rounds of talks in Ashgabat between warring parties of the neighboring state from where thousands of refugees had flown into Turkmenistan. The Turkmen capital became a center on establishing a dialog between the Afghan warring parties for a number of times. It is believed that peacemaking potential of neutral Turkmenistan can still be of use to the international community.
By the way, when President of Turkmenistan Saparmurat Niyazov was asked about the situation in and around Afghanistan, he, in fact, set forth a foreign policy credo of his country: "Our principles are strong. As a neutral state, we rarely give political assessments of the events in the region. It doesn't mean that we are soulless or stand aside from political realities. The real support extended to this or that state necessarily leads to certain implications in relations. At the same time, we are very realistic about the situation in Afghanistan. But it is not for us to instruct, blame or teach. Every state has the right to choose its policy course, independently solve arising problems and contradictions. In addition, we have international organizations, the UN that are designed to reconcile interests of other states and the entire world community, not infringing on national interests of states."
As for relations with Afghanistan and Iran, Turkmenistan does not sign treaties on eternal friendship with them, does not regard bilateral relations as ideological. The major principles of partnership are pragmatic and simple - mutual trust and benefit. While other states were assuring the leadership of Afghanistan of their strong support, the power lines were already being built to the northern provinces of Afghanistan by a decision of president Niyazov. Today thousands of Afghans receive Turkmen electricity at a bonus price; new power transmission lines are built in the longsuffering land as peculiar symbols of revival of peaceful life.
Iran, in turn, sees its northern neighbor as a reliable and longstanding partner. Iranians purchase electricity, gas, oil products, and commodities from Turkmenistan in exchange for automobiles, household appliances and other machinery. Besides, both states implement several large-scale joint projects, for example, the Tejen-Serahs-Meshhed railway, the Korpeje - Kurt-Kui gas pipeline. Construction of "Friendship" water reservoir to irrigate 25,000 hectares of land on each side of the border is at the stage of completion.
Today that Turkmenistan has turned into a vast construction site geography of states-participants in joint projects proves best a multi-vector nature of the republic's foreign policy. For instance, companies from Germany, France, Japan, Turkey, Israel and Iran took part in the reconstruction of the Turkenbashi oil refinery worth about $1,5 bln.
Added to it, a number of big contracts have been signed lately with such American companies as Boeing, John Deer, Case, and General Electric. A "project of century" - the Turkmen-Russian gas agreement, according to which Gasprom will receive Turkmen gas for 25 years - is being implemented. Singing of a contract on the development of several oil and gas bearing blocks in the Turkmen sector of the Caspian Sea is next in the line.
Three Russian companies set up joint venture Zarit to operate specifically in the Turkmen offshore fields, which was a significant event confirming growing interest of foreign investors in Turkmenistan. It is of double importance that new Russian partners do come in this country, for it is no secret that in the last 10 years Russian business lagged behind their rivals in exploring the Turkmen market. Yet, realistically thinking people in both states do not need demonstration of what is evident: Turkmenistan needs Russia and Russia needs Turkmenistan and, in the latter case, not as an "agent of influence" in Central Asia but a reliable and predictable partner. "Good friends are good economists" the old saying goes that "never better characterizes today's substance and direction of the Russian-Turkmen ties that both states are striving to strengthen and expand."
"Parliamentary newspaper", 06.05.04