By Tavus Rejepova (03/04/2015 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Azerbaijan's, Turkey's, and Turkmenistan's Ministers of Foreign Affairs Elmar Mammadyarov, Mevlut Cavusoglu and Rashid Meredov gathered in Ashgabat on January 29 to discuss regional energy and transportation issues.
Cavusoglu, leading a big delegation, arrived in Ashgabat on January 28 to meet with President Berdimuhammedov and discuss the next day's trilateral meeting as well as Berdimuhammedov's expected visit to Turkey on March 3. Cavusoglu also met separately with his counterpart Meredov to discuss energy security, transportation and expansion of the current state of commercial ties. Turkey is Turkmenistan's main trade partner and Turkey represents the highest presence of foreign companies in Turkmenistan, at over 600 companies.
Mammadyarov met with President Berdimuhammedov on January 29 before the trilateral ministerial meeting and discussed enhancing commercial ties between the two countries. Referring to his last visit to Ashgabat five years ago, Mammadyarov expressed satisfaction with the current level of relations between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.
During the trilateral meeting between the ministers of foreign affairs, the sides discussed cooperation in the areas of trade, energy, transportation and education. In particular, the ministers stressed the Afghanistan-Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey transportation link project aimed at increasing trade and reducing cargo transit expenses among these countries, as an important objective. Representatives of these five countries met in Ashgabat in November 2014 over the draft agreement of this transport corridor.
Following the talks, the sides also decided to create a trilateral format for the oil and gas company representatives of the three countries. The ministers of Turkey and Azerbaijan reportedly invited Turkmenistan to join the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP) project, which envisages delivering gas from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz field to Europe via Georgia and Turkey.
President Berdimuhammedov has stated earlier stated that the trans-Caspian pipeline, intended to bring Turkmen gas to Europe via TANAP, only requires the consent of two countries (Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan) whose seabed sectors these pipelines would cross. But Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov has stated that "the project of the trans-Caspian gas pipeline falls into the category of projects that affect the interests of countries that do not participate in it" expressing concern over the project. Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission's Vice President in charge of Energy Union, stressed the importance of addressing the technological and legal issues of transporting Turkmen gas to Azerbaijan in his address to reporters on February 12. Speaking at Turkmenistan's Oil & Gas Conference in Ashgabat in November 2014, Rovnaq Abdullayev, the CEO of Azerbaijan's energy company SOCAR, expressed readiness to provide Azerbaijan's developed infrastructure, diversified oil and gas pipeline network, warehouses and terminals, fleet of ships and other assets needed for implementing projects in the oil and gas industry to its neighbors in the region, primarily to Turkmenistan.
During the trilateral meeting in Ashgabat, Mammadyarov also met with Cavusoglu to discuss regional cooperation, highlighting President Ilham Aliyev's visit to Turkey on January 14-15, 2015.
The first trilateral meeting between the foreign ministers of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan took place in Baku on May 26, 2014, when the "Baku Statement" was released, expressing the three countries' determination to develop trilateral relations in various fields, particularly in energy, trade, transportation, culture, tourism, education and environmental protection through joint projects and cooperation initiatives.
As a result of the Ashgabat meeting, the foreign ministers signed a joint declaration and adopted a trilateral framework cooperation program for 2015-17. The foreign ministers also agreed to organize a trilateral meeting between the presidents of Azerbaijan, Turkey and Turkmenistan in Ashgabat, planned for October of 2015, which is expected to expand the trilateral partnership in energy, transportation and communication sectors to new levels. The next trilateral meeting between foreign ministers is slated to be held in Turkey.
By Tavus Rejepova (12/10/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
President Almazbek Atambayev, leading a large government delegation from Kyrgyzstan discussed the possibility of importing electricity and petroleum products from Turkmenistan during the official talks with his counterpart President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov in Ashgabat on November 11, 2014. Within the framework of the visit, a package of numerous bilateral agreements was signed to increase the level of commercial and economic ties between Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan.
The agreements include an agreement on establishing a Turkmen-Kyrgyz Intergovernmental Commission for trade, economic, scientific, technical, and humanitarian cooperation; an agreement between Turkmenistan’s State Committee for Sports and the State Agency for Physical Culture and Sports under the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic on cooperation in the sphere of physical culture and sports; a cooperation agreement between the ministries of culture of Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan; a cooperation agreement between the Chambers of Commerce of Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan; a Memorandum of cooperation between the Diplomatic Academy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kyrgyzstan and the Institute of International Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan; an agreement between the governments of Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan on cooperation in providing reciprocal assistance over tax legislation compliance; an agreement between Kyrgyzstan’s State financial Intelligence Service and Turkmenistan’s Ministry of Finance on cooperation against money laundering and terrorism financing; and an agreement on cooperation in physical training and sports.
During the high level talks, President Berdimuhamedov said that Kyrgyzstan is Turkmenistan’s strategic partner in the yet-to-be constructed pipeline (Line D of the Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline) that will be constructed through the territories of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to eventually reach China. Within the framework of the top level talks, Kyrgyz President Atambayev mentioned that Turkmenistan is currently ready to help Kyrgyzstan with electricity supply in the amount of 700 million kWh per year and increase this amount up to 1 billion kWh next year. Though this announcement came out during the press conference, no agreement, either on cooperation in the electricity sector or purchases and sales, was signed during the visit. The sides have not made it clear how and which route they would go to sell the promised electricity.
The only viable route to import electricity from Turkmenistan to Kyrgyzstan is through Uzbekistan but it was not clear how Kyrgyzstan was going to address the problem of transit via Uzbekistan. It is noteworthy that in 2009 Uzbekistan cut Turkmen electricity exports to Tajikistan across its territory when Uzbekistan withdrew from the united power grid of Central Asia’s electricity system. No electricity cooperation was mentioned during Uzbek President Islam Karimov’s visit to Turkmenistan on October 23-24. The Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Valery Dil visited Ashgabat on October 25-26 to meet with President Berdimuhamedov and other government officials but no announcement was made to possibly addressing this standing issue.
Turkmenistan currently sells electricity to neighboring Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey, and has held talks to sell to Pakistan in the future. In April 2013, the country introduced a US$ 5 billion plan to develop Turkmenistan’s power industry for the period 2013-2020 and announced plans to increase the current export amount of about 2.5bln kWh by five times within this period.
President Atambayev’s visit to Ashgabat followed his state visit to Kazakhstan on November 7 where he and his counterpart Nursultan Nazarbayev agreed on the import of one billion kWh of Kazakh electricity to Kyrgyzstan during the winter. This is in addition to an earlier report saying that Kazakhstan was going to supply 500 million kWh for water provided by Kyrgyzstan during the irrigation period. Kazakhstan is expected to produce an estimated amount of about 100 billion kWh of electricity in 2014. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan’s possible electricity supply could significantly help Kyrgyzstan address its serious power deficit during the winter. The cost of electricity in Kyrgyzstan is expected to increase given that the reservoirs feeding hydropower dams are about twenty percent lower than usual. Kyrgyzstan’s power shortage is further exacerbated by uncertainty regarding the winter gas tariffs after Russia’s Gazprom bought 100 percent of Kyrgyzgaz for a symbolic US$ 1 with its estimated US$ 40 billion debt.
Atambayev has also expressed Kyrgyzstan’s interest in importing petroleum products from Turkmenistan such as gasoline. Relations between the two countries started improving this year, manifested in President Atambayev’s first-ever official visit to Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan appointed an ambassador to Kyrgyzstan in August this year, following Kyrgyzstan’s appointment of a new ambassador to Turkmenistan in July.
By Micha’el Tanchum (10/29/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
While energy-rich Turkmenistan is poised to become the next economic tiger of Central Asia, it has come under a growing threat from the Taliban since NATO’s troop drawdown in neighboring Afghanistan. Forces from the Taliban and various multi-ethnic, Central Asian jihadist militias associated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) have been concentrating in northern Afghanistan near the Turkmenistan border, producing unprecedented border clashes with Turkmenistan’s military during 2014. IMU leader Usman Ghazi’s recent declaration of allegiance to the Islamic State raises the concern that the Islamic State might assist the opening of a new jihadist front.
By Tavus Rejepova (09/03/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
During the first session of the Commission on Improvement of the Constitution of Turkmenistan on August 6, President Berdimuhamedov stated a need to amend and introduce new articles to the country’s constitution.
Speaking during the session, the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan’s chairman Kasymguly Babayev noted that a constitutional reform is a “historical necessity” and assured that the members of his party will run a full scale public awareness campaign on the issue.
The last time Turkmenistan’s constitution was amended under the current administration was in September of 2008, when Turkmenistan’s 2,500 member legislative body, the Khalk Maslahaty (people’s council), was abolished and its powers were transferred to the president and the Mejlis (parliament). In addition, amendments were made to reflect the country’s commitment to market economic principles, various types of property ownership and principles of democratic development.
In May 2014, President Berdimuhamedov signed a decree “On establishment of the Constitutional Commission and its composition for improvement of the Constitution.” The Mejlis Speaker Akja Nurberdiyeva said the creation of this commission on constitutional reform has gained wide support among the population. Nurberdiyeva pledged that the Members of Parliament will hold meetings and seminars to solicit public opinion on the constitutional reform. “With the development of market economic relations and private entrepreneurship, there is a growing necessity to improve issues of ownership and property relations to bring them up to modern methods and standards,” Nurberdiyeva said.
President Berdimuhamedov noted that the Constitution, adopted in 1992, has successfully passed the test of time and that the deep socio-economic transformations or changes the Turkmen nation is undergoing over the course of the latest years need to be written down and regulated by law. “The new articles in the Constitution will not only reflect today’s political, economic and social issues, but also address the directions of the near and distant future,” said the president. He called for a need to bring the Constitution up to contemporary world standards and noted that the upcoming constitutional reforms are aimed at step-by-step development of socio-political relations and drawing clear lines among the legislative, judicial and executive branches of the government.
The Mejlis will be the main state body responsible for organizational issues and necessary documents in connection with the upcoming constitutional reform. The President suggested that the Parliament creates two inter-sector committees. The first committee, to be established by the Mejlis’ decree will receive, study and categorize the public recommendations to the Constitutional Reform Committee on improving the constitution. While the draft reforms are being prepared, the second committee or Mejlis Working Group will consist of scientists, representatives of ministries, public organizations, and experts and will do a political, legal evaluation on the draft project. The president mentioned that the deep meaning and purposes of the constitutional reform should be explained to the public.
Though the government has not released any timeline for the suggested constitutional reform, some sources claim it will be completed sometime close to the session of Yashulylar Maslahaty (Council of Elders) scheduled for October 20, 2014. Once the reforms are prepared, the draft constitution will be published in all state newspapers and internet websites for public discussion and input. Maysa Yazmuhamedova, Deputy Chairwoman of the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan covering culture, TV, and the press was tasked to raise the public awareness through mass media in ways easily understandable to the public.
President Berdimuhamedov also gave specific directives to various ministries in support of the upcoming constitutional reform. Turkmenistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its International Relations Institute, and the Turkmen National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights under the President of Turkmenistan, were tasked to study whether the upcoming constitutional amendments meet the UN Human Rights Conventions to which Turkmenistan is a signatory, and also suggested that these agencies raise the public awareness of the constitutional reform abroad.
Deputy Chairmen in the oil and gas sector, trade and economy were told to create special working groups that will study the public input related to their respective portfolios. Deputy Chairman Annamuhammet Gochyev covering economy and finance will provide financial support for conducting the constitutional reform and also prepare a proposal for the President’s consideration on any possible additions to the constitutional amendments deriving from the economy, banking and finance sectors.
The president also recommended seeking the expert views of the local offices of international organizations on the new constitution draft. Satlyk Satlykov, the Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers who covers the transportation and communications sectors in the government, was tasked to make Internet communication widely accessible in receiving public opinion on the draft constitution and Deputy Chairman Sapardurdy Toylyev was tasked with seeking the input of the scholarly community.
By Oleg Salimov (05/21/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)
Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov visited Tajikistan on May 5-6 2014. During his visit, Berdimuhammedov met with Tajikistan’s president Emomali Rakhmon and the speaker of the lower chamber of Tajikistan’s parliament Shukurjon Shukurov. The transportation and energy sectors, and cooperation in the socioeconomic sphere dominated the bilateral dialogue.
The visit of Turkmenistan’s president to Tajikistan was preceded by a meeting of the Turkmen-Tajik intergovernmental committee on trade-economic and scientific-technological cooperation in Ashgabat and Tajikistan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sirojiddin Aslov’s visit to Turkmenistan’s capital in April 2014. Both events were used to formulate and coordinate the points of interest to be discussed during the upcoming presidential visit.
The visit resulted in nine signed agreements out of a prospective ten, as reported by Tajikistan’s presidential administration. They included intergovernmental acts on cooperation in transportation, economics, tourism, culture, education, legislature, and foreign affairs. In a joint statement, both presidents emphasized the importance of expanding partnership in transportation, energy, industry, trade, and agriculture. As a separate item, the presidents mentioned socioeconomic development in Afghanistan as a prerequisite for mitigating regional threats including terrorism and trafficking in drugs and human beings.
In a separate statement, Rakhmon accentuated the closeness of both countries’ interests in a number of undertakings. At the same time, the evolving collaboration between Tajikistan and Turkmenistan is best described as intermediate cooperation with the final objective of reaching their principal economic partners – Russia for Tajikistan and China for Turkmenistan. Although the countries indicate their regional dependency and increased trade turnover, which reached US$ 119 million in 2013, they present insignificant political and economic value for each other.
The divergence of the countries’ interests can be seen in their distinct interpretations of the visit’s purpose. According to the official press release of Tajikistan’s presidential administration, the central theme and objective of the visit revolved around the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Tajikistan railroad. At the same time, Turkmenistan identified the expansion of its energy export capabilities as a substantial part of the dialogue. For Tajikistan, the railroad through Turkmenistan is a means for reaching Caspian seaways and reduced-tariff Russian oil reserves as a preference in return for stationing a Russian military base in the country. For Turkmenistan, Tajikistan’s territory is a shortcut for delivering its natural gas to China via a fourth pipeline and for diversifying its exports.
In September 2013, Turkmenistan and China reached agreement on a fourth natural gas pipeline which can potentially go through Tajikistan’s territory. According to China Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), Turkmenistan consented in a contract signed in 2007 to a yearly export of 30 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas to China in the next 30 years. In about 5 years, from 2009 to 2013, Turkmenistan delivered only 69 bcm, and thus lags behind in delivering another 81 bcm to China. The pipeline though Tajikistan can increase the amount of exported natural gas while reducing the price of delivery. Consequently, for Turkmenistan, which has already started the construction of its part of the railroad, questions regarding its energy export prevailed over other subjects in the agenda of the presidential visit.
For Tajikistan, the prospect of finalizing the three-country railroad is still murky. The project, which must be completed in 2015, was the object of a recent diplomatic mishap between Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. In a statement on January 2014, Amonullo Khukumatullo, the head of Tajik Railroad, announced that an agreement had been reached between Tajikistan and Afghanistan on the final version of the Tajik part of the railroad. Khukumatullo’s announcement provoked immediate protests from Turkmenistan, and was seen as excluding Turkmenistan from the decision-making process and as damaging to the three-sided project. Besides the absence of a compromise version of the Tajik part of the railroad, the lack of funding further reduces the chances of accomplishing the project as planned.
Regardless of whether the railroad objective is achieved, Tajikistan’s cooperation with Turkmenistan presents viable means for resolving its energy crisis. The transit of Turkmen natural gas to China can result in a bargain or preferences for Tajikistan. The discussion between the two presidents also included the possibility of extending a Turkmen electric energy line from Afghanistan to Tajikistan. In 2013, Turkmenistan produced over 18 billion kilowatts of electric energy, 2.6 billion of which were exported. Currently, Turkmenistan exports around 50 megawatt of electricity to Afghanistan and plans to increase it by up to 250 megawatt by the end of 2014, according to official Turkmen media. However, the possible financial constrains after the U.S. and NATO withdrawal can limit Afghanistan’s purchasing capacity. In such case, Tajikistan’s market will appear highly attractive for Turkmen electric energy export.
The Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst is a biweekly publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a Joint Transatlantic Research and Policy Center affiliated with the American Foreign Policy Council, Washington DC., and the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm. For 15 years, the Analyst has brought cutting edge analysis of the region geared toward a practitioner audience.