Russia and Turkmenistan want to strengthen their cooperation and partnership

The Russian Embassy in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan (Credits: AltynAsyr, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The strengthening of relations between Russia and Turkmenistan is a sign that the Kremlin wants to increase its presence in the Turkmen and Central Asian markets and take advantage of the local opportunities, especially in the energy sector.

On the day of the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Turkmenistan and the Russian Federation (April 8th, 2022), the President of the Republic of Turkmenistan, Serdar Berdimuhamedov, had a telephone conversation with the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, to discuss the bilateral agenda in several areas and the planned government visits.

On April 9th, 2022, as local Turkmen sources reported, the Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Aleksey Overchuk, led the delegation in Ashgabat to participate in the Intergovernmental Turkmen-Russian Commission on Economic Cooperation, where he met the Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan, Rashid Meredov, to discuss further development and strengthening of bilateral ties in the political, diplomatic, trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian spheres. In this context, the parties considered a priority the cooperation in the field of energy, gas chemistry, industry, transport, logistics, trade, engineering, and agriculture.

During the meeting, a presentation of the strategic vectors for developing the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) until 2025 was held. The parties also discussed partnership priorities in the banking sector, in the field of land cadastre, and in tax administration.

Risk Assessment

The ongoing Ukraine conflict and the Western sanctions against the Russian Federation (Russian invasion of Ukraine and economy) have pushed Moscow to strengthen its presence and economic partnership with Central Asian republics since the region plays a strategic and logistic role in Eurasia. Currently, although the Kremlin might use the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) as a tool to influence Central Asia, considering that Turkmenistan has never been part of these organisations, Moscow should elaborate a direct approach toward Ashgabat, exploiting the Turkmen necessity to export its natural gas, attract investors and boost its trade and promoting cooperation between Ashgabat and Russian republics or administrative entities which shares a common cultural and religious background with Turkmenistan (Turkmenistan and Tatarstan strengthened their economic cooperation). As a consequence of this strategy, Turkmenistan-Russia relations are noticeably strengthening in the trade, economic, energy, cultural and humanitarian fields. The trade turnover between the states has increased significantly in recent years. In addition, the countries are successfully in contact at the diplomatic level. Recently, Russian companies expressed their interest in investing in the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) natural gas pipeline projects that Asghbabat considers fundamental for its economy and stability (Russian companies’ interests in Afghanistan and TAPI).

Stronger political and economic relations between Russia and Turkmenistan should alarm the European Union because Brussels has often looked at Ashgabat as a potential strategic partner to diversify its natural gas import and decrease the European dependence on Russian gas. Since the beginning of the Ukraine conflict, the European countries have analysed all the potential markets available and valuable to diversify their energy import. In this context, if the European Union or the United States will manage to realise the Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP) between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, Ashgabat will export its natural gas to Europe, exploiting the existing pipelines which connect the Azeri gas market to the continent crossing the Caucasus, Turkey, Greece, Albania and arriving in Italy.

If the TCP project has been considered a ‘dream’ for decades, the TAPI project seems now apparently possible because the countries involved and regional actors such as India, Russia, and China are interested in implementing this pipeline (India and Turkmenistan discussed the Afghanistan situation and the TAPI natural gas pipeline project). Consequently, if Ashgabat manages to complete the TAPI pipeline, the European Union might lose the opportunity to exploit Turkmen’s natural gas deposit for its Security Energy Strategy in a period characterised by harsh confrontation with the Russian Federation and an energy crisis.

Author: Giuliano Bifolchi