Moscow can be guarantor of security for nonaligned Turkmenistan
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov completed his Central Asian tour with a visit to Ashgabat. During the talks with President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, matters on the bilateral agenda, as well as a number of international and regional issues affecting the interests of the Caspian states were discussed.
The Caspian issue emerged as a key theme of the meeting. Speaking with the Turkmen state agency TDH, the head of the Russian foreign ministry recalled that the negotiating process between the heads of the Caspian states started in Turkmenistan in 2002, which ended with a historic event in 2018 - the signing of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea. "Agreements on trade and economic cooperation and interaction in the transport sector, initiated by President Berdymukhamedov, play great importance in strengthening the interaction of the five littoral states," the Russian minister said. He noted that "in general, Russia has good plans for further cooperation with Turkmenistan, including within the framework of the upcoming First Caspian Economic Forum and 6th Summit of Heads of Caspian states."
Experts explain Moscow’s concern that the EU-U.S. cooperation has recently intensified in the Caspian region. One of the participants in these projects was Ashgabat, which wants to diversify its gas supplies. The talks with Gazprom, which promised to buy Turkmen gas from January 1, 2018, are still underway. But as Lavrov noted, "Turkmenistan is satisfied with the continued contacts with Gazprom."
The European direction should be next. This intention coincides with the plans of Brussels, which expects an increase in gas supplies through the Southern Gas Corridor, which currently exports Azerbaijani gas. To implement these plans, it is necessary to connect Turkmenistan to the Southern Gas Corridor. This can be done by building the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline.
The project is most likely to be funded by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). On January 31, the EBRD delegation led by Managing Director for Central Asia Bruno Balvanera visited Ashgabat. Simultaneously, EU Special Representative for Central Asia Peter Burian visited Turkmenistan. "The high dynamics of the development of relations between Ashgabat and Brussels, based on dozens of joint projects and programs already implemented and those in progress", were noted at meetings with President Berdymukhamedov. It was also reported that the European Union will open its office in Ashgabat.
Deputy Director General of the Center for Strategic Estimations and Forecasts Igor Pankratenko said that the main geopolitical approach has changed in relations between Russia and Turkmenistan, as well as other countries of Central Asia. "If before there were some joint economic, energy, transport projects, in particular, the North-South road corridor, then now Moscow has only one commodity left - security," Pankretenko told Vestnik Kavkaza. Moscow offers to act as a guarantor of the security for nonaligned Turkmenistan. But it's not just about security of Turkmenistan's gas production and gas transportation infrastructures, but also of those recently built there by China. Today's well-being of Turkmenistan largely depends on them. Lavrov’s job is to convince the Turkmen leadership that appealing for help to Russia would be the best way to maintain neutrality. "Security in exchange for loyalty. Testing the waters regarding the opening of the second Russian military base in Kyrgyzstan was part of the same story," the expert believes. In his opinion, it is possible that Ashgabat will agree, but since neutrality is the basic principle of Turkmenistan, and the abandonment of the basic principle is very expensive: no-interest loans, commodity loans, especially food ones, which urgently need to close the trade deficit existing in the country. "This bargaining can take a very long time. The thing is that Russia is already an extra player in Turkmenistan," the expert emphasized.
Turkmenistan and Romania are promoting the Caspian Sea - Black Sea transport and transit corridor. The Lapis lazuli corridor became the second transport link, the main participants of which were Afghanistan-Turkmenistan through the Caspian Sea - Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey. It is assumed that this route will export cargo to/from Afghanistan. According to Turkmen expert Serdar Aitakov, by these cargoes is meant "Afghan transit." The fact is that Afghanistan has nothing for export. "A few dozen containers of saffron, as much wool, dried fruit. But Afghanistan needs a lot weapons. And a lot of food for NATO soldiers. Therefore, the context of probable transit of goods in the interests of the military (and other) presence of Western countries in Afghanistan, across the Caspian Sea, is important. The spirit and letter of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea, as well as the agreements (and objectives) of the signatories, also ban the presence of military forces of non-regional countries and military blocs on the Caspian Sea. However, it's possible that the entire propaganda entourage is intended to disguise the organization of the systemic transfer of goods in the interests of the U.S. and NATO grouping in Afghanistan. It is not clear from the Convention's text whether such transit is possible, but all experts and government officials are denying this idea, although there are enough direct and indirect leaks on this topic," Serdar Aytakov told Vestnik Kavkaza. At the same time, according to the expert, it is possible that all goods will be processed as commercial and humanitarian. Judging by the organizers' plan, they should not attract the attention of Russia and Iran, and the fact of their movement across the Caspian Sea should not raise any suspicions or objections.