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.