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A 24 hours visit to Ashgabat of the Russian delegation headed by the Minister of Energy Igor Yusufov resulted in what both sides were prompted to by the logic of economical realities and objective mutual needs for the last years: Turkmenistan and Russia finally got down to a full-scale and long-term economical partnership. Initialed document is so serious that it will be signed either by the heads of states or the heads of governments. This is not about concluding agreement of the local level but is about the strategy of full-fledged cooperation in the various fields. As one of the Russian delegation members said: "We have started an engine that will pull the entire train park along". Yet nobody tried to conceal that the "park" needs a complete overhaul, maintenance and good cleaning both literally and figuratively. It is true that there are some problems and the sides will have to demonstrate its professionalism, organizational skills and flexibility to solve them. The only thing they don't need to demonstrate is the political will because it is already in place - the political will of the high level, which was clearly manifested both by the President Niyazov and by the Minister Yusufov who acted on behalf and upon direct instruction of the President Putin. Therefore the heads of working groups were seen to have acted rather as technocrats carrying out instructions of their political leadership.

The main achievement of the Ashgabat negotiations was the agreement on principals of cooperation. From now on it will be developing on the basis of a concrete economical benefit and mutual expediency. The old disagreements are put aside and nobody will wait till "the moment is ripe". The Russian delegation was composed of the managers of big companies who are pure pragmatics and the men of business and who don't pay attention to poor PR. That is why they spoke common language with their Turkmen counterparts - the language of figures, volumes and dates.

Negotiations brought to the end unfruitful discussions as to what are the positions of Turkmenistan and Russia in the gas market - whether they are competitors or partners. As Igor Yusufov said "Turkmenistan has the volumes of fuel it can deliver, and we have the facilities and capabilities to receive it". Russia will fix its pipeline network and increase its capacity by 2005 when Turkmenistan will deliver the volumes of gas the both sides will agree on. Yusufov also said that this would in no way affect the traditional Turkmen gas deliveries to Ukraine.
The sides produced the same constructive approach to the issue of Trans-Afghan gas pipeline. Niyazov invited Russia to participate in its realization "to the extend that would be beneficial for them". It is worth mentioning here that "Trans-Afghan" is not just a pipeline but also an infrastructure, communications and subsidiary facilities. Russians have openly spoken out their interest to provide for its machinery, spare parts, which are well-known to Afghans and not as expensive as western ones. The sides have also reached an agreement on Russian investments in processing industry of Turkmenistan, in particular, in reconstruction of Seyidi oil refinery, on renewal of cotton fibre deliveries to Russia, joint construction of a railroad along the Caspian sea coast and on a number of other important issues. The Turkmen-Russian Intergovernmental Commission represented by dozens of companies, establishments and organizations from both sides was set up to deal with this package of agreements. Many of the Commission's members know each other very well from the Soviet time and it will be easy for them to communicate.

Today it is absolutely clear that the exercises of stilted political scientists with their invented and quite tiresome "geopolitical" scenarios regarding Turkmen-Russian relations simply harm bilateral cooperation. According to Igor Yusufov this is a "gone day". The time of specialists is coming.

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Serdar Muradov

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