Ašgabat divided between Russia and Turkey
Wooed by Moscow and Ankara, the Turkmen want to maintain their traditional neutrality. The passage of Turkmen gas to Europe and South Asia at stake. The Turks aim to become a primary energy hub. The Russians seek alternatives to the European market.
Moscow (AsiaNews) - The first trilateral summit between the presidents of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan was held a few days ago in Ašgabat. Energy, transport and trade issues were at the centre of the discussions. According to commentators, Turkish Erdogan's main aim was the involvement of the Turkmen in regional cooperation, under Turkish auspices.
Several meetings preceded the one in Turkmenistan, both between the three countries concerned and at the broader level of the Organisation of Turkmen States, where Ašgabat was expected to join as a full member in Samarkand on 11 November. The Turkmen preferred to maintain their traditional neutrality, limiting themselves to the role of observers. Ankara, however, needs to involve Ašgabat, even in the face of various reluctance on the part of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to Turkish political lines.
Even for the summit that has just taken place, the Turkmen chose the date close to Independence Day, further emphasising their status as a neutral country. President Serdar Berdymuhamedov greeted the other leaders by extolling the Turkmen model of neutrality as "an example for the whole world", which in recent years has enabled the country to "gain valuable experience in creating new and effective forms of international cooperation".
Ankara particularly needs access to Turkmen gas supplies, in order to succeed in imposing a large energy hub in the region under its control. Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Önal spoke on the eve of the summit, declaring the 'great importance' of including Turkmen natural gas in the hub system. The aim is to secure the corridors across the Caspian, thanks to the strategic location and reserves that make Turkmenistan the fourth largest country in the world for this sector.
It remains to be clarified what Turkey can offer Turkmenistan in return for its consent. The summit was prepared by intensive negotiations conducted by Turkmen Deputy Foreign Minister Rašid Meredov in Ankara, Baku and also in Moscow, as a result of which the possible inclusion of the 'Dostuluk' field in a new Turkmen-Azerbaijani trans-Caspian gas pipeline project was indicated: it would move 60 million tonnes of oil and 100 billion cubic metres of natural gas. However, the Azeris and Turks have not supported the project, which has been agreed with Moscow and contradicts Ankara's plans, while an overland route through Iran and Azerbaijan seems more realistic.
Tensions between Baku and Tehran in turn prevent the implementation of this plan, which is also complicated by the Azerbaijanis' technical and economic difficulties in organising the logistics needed to transport the gas. Turkmenistan therefore tries to insist on the trans-Caspian route, the 'eastern north-south route', which would increase transport possibilities especially in the Sarakhs area on the Turkmen-Iranian border.
Here, too, there is no shortage of logistical obstacles on the part of Iran, where the Persian Gulf ports of Chabahar and Bander-Abbas are not connected to the rail network by the necessary sector, although the Iranians are already working to resolve this issue. Cargoes connecting to Russia would flow this way.
Beyond the many technical and logistical issues, Turkmenistan must therefore decide whether to favour Russia or Turkey, in a crucial turning point not only for Ašgabat, but for the whole of Central Asia and beyond, because Russia could exploit the new routes to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the whole of South Asia, finding the real alternative to the Western markets that are now barred, reversing the movement of resources right from Turkmenistan.
Notwithstanding the difficulties, including economic ones, arising from the sanctions policy, money from Russia would arrive for this project.