President of Russia Vladimir Putin will travel to Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan shortly. The Russian leader will be in Ashgabat on October 2. The exact date of the visit to Astana has not been announced yet, diplomatic sources at Foreign Ministry of Turkmenistan told EADaily. Director of the Analytical Center of MGIMO Andrey Kazantsev has shared his views about the Russian president’s upcoming visit.
Judging from the recent developments, Russia’s problems with Kazakhstan are resolvable. As for the relations with Turkmenistan, they have worsened during the recent years. What do you think will be the priority issues of agenda of the two leaders’ talks?
Firstly, note that visits to Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan contain along with routine problems an important event – the anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between Russia and Central Asian states.
A series of events have been held on that occasion both in Russia and the region’s countries. Russia pursues policy of recognizing independence of these states and supporting their stability, economic development, security etc. This component will evidently be included in the agenda of Vladimir Putin’s visits. General instability is currently observed throughout the post-Soviet space, and Russia relations with many post-Soviet countries are not as good as before. Noteworthy that the problems with Central Asian countries, if there are such, are being settled gradually. For instance, the problems with Uzbekistan.
Are relations with Turkmenistan complicated? Something should have changed to make the Russian president travel to Ashgabat.
The recent period appeared to be crucial for the relations of Moscow and Ashgabat. Everyone remembers the anti-Russian information campaign in Turkmenistan. An ongoing thaw in the relations is evident.
Vladimir Putin is reportedly visiting Turkmenistan at the invitation of the Turkmen side. Should we anticipate signing of any important agreements? According to a source in the Turkmen government, the presidents are not going to discuss gas issue. What areas of cooperation may seem promising to Russia?
It is high time to enhance economic cooperation and boost social and cultural contacts. In fact, the economic part of talks will hardly include gas issues. The presidents may discuss supplies of agricultural products, for example. We can hardly find Turkmen products in Moscow, though the country produces rather good quality fruits and vegetables. That country even marks a Melon Day. Experience shows that supply of agricultural products can be increased within half a year or within one year through revising and facilitating customs procedures. Cooperation in the field of oil and chemical industry seems quite promising as well. The presidents will touch upon security issues, the situation in Afghanistan, Middle East. What they will not discuss for sure is resumption of the Turkmen gas supplies to Russia.
At the same time, the host country may offer Russia some new gas pipeline construction projects, though Russia is not likely to take an interest in such projects. For instance, Moscow will hardly need a gas pipeline via Afghanistan. Meantime, Ashgabat has not refused from TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline. Anyway, Turkmenistan will hardly manage to catch the interest of Russia with such offers or projects.
What should we expect from the visit to Kazakhstan?
They are likely to discuss Kazakhstan’s mediatory efforts in the Syrian crisis. The presidents may discuss the situation in neighboring Kyrgyzstan that will see presidential election on October 15. Note that Gazprom has intensified its investment efforts in Kyrgyzstan. It is a kind of use of “soft power.” Russia has strong economic positions in Kyrgyzstan: Gazprom’s investments, subsidized fuel supplies, Russian labor market for the Kyrgyz citizens and monetary remittances of Kyrgyz labor migrants in Russia that account for up to 30% of that country’s gross domestic product.
Considering the current situation, any government in Kyrgyzstan will be pro-Russian. These are some things that cannot be ignored. Besides, there is external threat and Russia’s military presence prevents penetration of international terrorists as it happened during the so-called Batken war (in 2000 and 2011, militants of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the group banned in Russia and other countries, twice attempted to penetrate Uzbekistan from Batken region, Kyrgyzstan - EADaily). The political situation in that country is always complicated.
What particularly about Syria will the Russian and Kazakh presidents discuss?
First, they will be discussing implementation of what they agreed upon in Astana. Talks are not over yet and the issue should be further discussed. There are zones were military actions has stopped, but not all the oppositionists have ceased arms. I am speaking about the so-called moderate opposition.
We need to develop the dialogue. In Syria, there are three spots of foreign interference now. One the one hand, Russia and Iran support the government in Damascus. On the other hand, Turkey conducted a military operation and built-up its military presence on part of Syria’s territory. And there are Kurds that help U.S. Actually, there is an everlasting problem that needs constant coordination. Turkey was an important involved partner. Kazakhstan here is a mediator not only between Russia and Turkey, but also between Russia and some other Muslim countries of the Persian Gulf. Nazarbayev, in turn, is trying to bring closer the positions of Moscow and Washington. This is a very important issue for Kazakhstan and that country actively promotes it, including through personal talks with Donald Trump.
Will Kazakh president succeed in that difficult undertaking?
I don’t think the issue will be resolved at the upcoming meeting in Astana. The presidents are likely to discuss Kazakhstan’s efforts and I think, Putin will appreciate Kazakhstan’s efforts. Nazarbayev has close and trust-based relations with Putin and the west reckons with him. unlike other post-Soviet leaders, and particularly, Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, having close relations with Moscow. This is one of the dialogue channels, one of the mediators that proved its efficiency during the “hot phase” of the Russian-Turkish conflict.
EADaily’s Central Asian Bureau