Turkmenistan, Relations with

Turkmenistan, Relations with
   The territory of modern Turkmenistan was annexed by tsarist Russia in the late 1800s. The incorporation of the region, which was dominated by Turkmen nomads, extended Russia’s border with Iran and its influence over much of the Caspian Sea. Originally part of Soviet Turkestan, the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) was established as part of the national delimitation of Central Asia on 27 October 1924. After the 1991 August Coup, the Turkmen population voted overwhelmingly for independence from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The local Communist Party of the Soviet Union leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, despite his support for the coup and desire to maintain the Soviet Union and Turkmenistan’s place within it, refashioned himself as a reformer and declared his country’s independence on 27 October 1991. In 1992, Niyazov ran unopposed to become the country’s first popularly elected president. He also took the grandiloquent title of Turkmenbashi or “Leader of All Turkmen.” He was declared president for life in 1996 and held the position until his death in late 2006. His rule was characterized by a bizarre cult of personality based on his spiritual and political opus, the Ruhnama (Turkmen: “Book of the Soul”). Political dissention was unknown, and the government maintained totalitarian restriction on the press, the Internet, and travel.
   Unlike other Central Asian states, Turkmenistan adopted a policy of strict neutrality after independence, though the country did join the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). In 2005, Turkmenistan reduced its affiliation to that of associate member in accordance with United Nations rules for international recognition of a state’s status of neutrality. Ashgabat eschewed membership in the CIS Collective Security Treaty during the 1990s and has not joined its successor, the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Despite the signing of a treaty of friendship and cooperation between the two countries on 31 July 1992, Russo-Turkmen relations declined throughout the decade due to Niyazov’s erratic domestic policies, disputes over Caspian oil rights, and his intransigent foreign policy. In 1997, Turkmenistan halted gas exports to Russia in protest over unpaid balances from other post-Soviet republics; shipments were resumed again in 1999. Moscow’s concerns for the ethnic Russian and Russophone minorities in the country also complicated relations during the late 1990s. In fact, Turkmenistanis could hold dual citizenship with the Russian Federation until 2004, when the provision was abolished in a row precipitated by Niyazov’s exaggerated claims that Russia was engaging in a campaign to discredit him. Shortly before the incident, Vladimir Putin and Niyazov had signed an oil and natural gas deal that heralded a new era in bilateral relations. Relations with Russia had previously been strained over Niyazov’s ire that his enemies had been given refuge in the country after a failed 25 November 2002 assassination attempt (which many outside observers believed to be orchestrated by the president himself); similar complications affected relations with neighboring Uzbekistan. Niyazov’s governance reached its nadir in 2006 with constant purges, closing of hospitals, and reduction in oil and gas output. His unexpected death on 21 December 2006 opened the door for a revival in relations. After making the hajj to Saudi Arabia, the new president, Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, flew to Moscow for meetings with Putin. Shortly after his accession, Berdymukhamedov also signaled he would attenuate his predecessor’s restrictive policies on the Internet, as well as improving social programs.
   Since Dmitry Medvyedev assumed the Russian presidency, relations have remained cordial, with no significant changes. Turkmenistan possesses the world’s fifth-largest natural gas reserves and produces approximately 60 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year. Two-thirds of its natural gas exports go to Gazprom. In 2006, a long-running dispute on pricing was settled, with the Russian company agreeing to increase its purchase price by more than 50 percent. Much to the Kremlin’s dismay, China and the European Union have both competed aggressively with Russia to develop routes for the export of natural gas. The United States–led war in neighboring Afghanistan has also accelerated the process of developing a transshipment route to the Indian Ocean. Good relations with Iran have also been used by Ashgabat to offset Russian dominance in the region.
   See also Foreign relations.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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