Today, on Apr 18, President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov is expected to visit Astana. Experts say that this visit will be mostly ritual even though it could serve as a basis for a new Central Asian alliance comprising Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and focused on security and transportation.
“The last visit of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev to Astana has shown that Uzbekistan is ready to cooperate in different fields – be it water resources or security. Turkmenistan could be one of the partners here,” Director of Risk Assessment Group Dosym Satpayev says in an interview to EADaily. “The key factors here are that Uzbekistan has changed its foreign policy and that Kazakhstan wants to reanimate some integration projects. The Kazakhs have always been interested in integration, simply, their neighbors have shown no interest so far. If they do, the Kazakhstan will reanimate the idea to create a Central Asian Union,” Satpayev says.
First Uzbek President Islam Karimov actively contacted both Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. His goal was to unite Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan into an alliance opposing Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Such an alliance would benefit the Turkmens as it would give them access to new projects and investments. But this would work only on a regional level. Turkmenistan has one of the worst investment climates in Central Asia and is all but attractive for investors. “Kazakh investors have much better alternatives. Recently, Mirziyoyev promised to open the Uzbek market for them. So, the only thing Berdymukhamedov can offer is transportation projects and support for Kazakhstan’s regional projects. If the Kazakhs feel that support, they may even offer some economic benefits in exchange,” Satpayev says.
Today, Berdymukhamedov is looking for funds for his budget and is seeking to make best of his country’s transit capacities. A year ago, together with Kazakhstan and Iran, Turkmenistan built a railway – Uzen-Bereket-Gorgan, which is part of the transport corridor to the Gulf. The Iranians are interested in this corridor and want it to go as far as Russia. Now that it is facing no more sanctions, it has excellent prospects in export, transit and transportation.
According to experts, transportation is the key field where Central Asian nations could cooperate. “Kazakhstan want to get access to the Gulf and Turkmenistan would like to be a transit country here. This seems to be the only source of income for the Turkmens for the moment. Since last year, they have been short of currency and their gas fields are not as attractive as they were a year ago,” Satpayev says.
Expert on Central Asia and Middle East Alexander Knyazev is skeptical about the Central Asian Union project. “There are lots of multilateral formats that limit such possibilities. The last visits should be regarded as a wish to develop bilateral relations rather than an effort to create a region alliance. I think that the region’s nations should first improve their bilateral contacts so as to be able to settle their disputes. For the Kazakhs and the Turkmens the key problem is the status of the Caspian Sea, for the Uzbeks and the Kazakhs the problem is that the former envy the latter’s leading status in the region. Altogether, those nations are a territory for transnational transit from China to the Caspian Sea and farther to the Caucasus, the Middle East and the Gulf. In this field and also in security, such an alliance might be possible,” Knyazev says.
EADaily’s Central Asian Bureau