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2009 †N3(48)
The countdown of interrelations between Turkmenistan and Russia in the newest history started on April 11, 1992. On this day, two countries formally established diplomatic relations. Not only the approaching anniversary of the establishment of the diplomatic relations but the State visit of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov to the Russian Federation gives occasion to reflect on the accumulated experience of diplomatic, political, economic and cultural contacts between Turkmenistan and Russia. The editorial board of the magazine turned to Khalnazar Amannazarovich AGAKHANOV, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Turkmenistan to the Russian Federation, with questions regarding the development of bilateral relations in recent years.

Question: Mr. Ambassador, can we say that there are some trends in changing of relations between two countries in the contemporary period?

Answer: Throughout the whole period of existence of diplomatic relations between Turkmenistan and Russia we have been talking about the strategic nature of cooperation. It was supported by the creation of the weighty basis of bilateral relations: the sides developed and signed over 110 different documents at the interstate, intergovernmental and interdepartmental levels.

However, I should note in the last two years the dynamics and productiveness of the Turkmen-Russian dialogue have considerably grown. Traditionally good neighborly relations between two countries, common stages of historical development underlie this process. On the other hand, the ideas of the mutually beneficial economic and humanitarian cooperation initiated by President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and supported by the Russian leadership received a new content. It is important to stress that the Russian side actively responded to the newly opened prospects of building up the intensity of the political and economic dialogue, demonstrated the deep understanding of the viability of the Turkmen-Russian partnership.

Q: What events and accomplishments can vividly illustrate the modern level of the bilateral relations of Turkmenistan and Russia?

A: Last year only, the heads of our two states met with each other four times. Twenty three bilateral meetings at the level of vice-premiers, heads and representatives of parliaments, ministries and departments, regions and business circles were held. All these meetings were not courtesy calls; each time they produced concrete results.

The extent to which the effectiveness of the bilateral cooperation has grown is vividly demonstrated by the figure of the increased trade turnover between two countries. In 2007, it grew by 30% as compared to the previous year and totaled $4.8 billion. In 2008, this figure increased by 46% and amounted to $7 billion.

Q: However, currently, as in all previous years, high indices of the turnover are reached, first of all, at the expense of Turkmen gas imports by Russia…

A: Gas is not the only determinant in the turnover volumes between two countries. This circumstance can be also referred to the specifics of the bilateral relations development in the last two years. The Russian business has expanded its presence in the intensively developing Turkmen market. Nowadays, about 120 enterprises with Russian capital operate in the territory of Turkmenistan. Multimillion contracts are successfully realized between Turkmen and Russian companies. The business structures of two countries are negotiating dozens of new mutually beneficial economic agreements.

The wide geography of business partners representing Russian interests in Turkmenistan tells about the considerable expansion of business contacts. First of all, it refers to enterprises and companies of those Russian regions that signed partnership agreements with Turkmenistan at the intergovernmental level. The Turkmen President’s visit to Tatarstan last year and the subsequent intensification of the business cooperation between Ashgabat and Kazan have demonstrated how effective the cooperation with the Russian regions may be. The business contacts with enterprises of Saint Petersburg, Astrakhan and Sverdlov regions are fruitfully developing. Partnership relations with business circles of Altay region, Chelyabinsk, Volgograd and Tomsk regions are being established.

The first national exhibition of Russia “The economic growth and mutually beneficial partnership” held in Ashgabat last August has stimulated the business cooperation of two countries. It provided new opportunities for establishing of direct business contacts among companies and enterprises of two countries.

All these steps would have been impossible without the powerful assistance of the permanently active intergovernmental economic cooperation commission chaired by the vice-premiers of the Turkmen and Russian governments. The presidents of two countries pay great attention to the work of this commission.

Q: It is clear that in pursuing pragmatic interests the economic cooperation becomes a priority. Is the present-day dialog of two countries limited to the business contacts only?

A: During the first visit to Moscow in April 2007, the newly elected President of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, proposed to considerably expand the humanitarian cooperation, and first of all, in education. As a result, the number of students from Turkmenistan studying in the Russian establishments of higher education has considerably increased. In 2008, in accordance with the intergovernmental and interdepartmental agreements, 275 young people were sent to study in Russia. In all, about 3 thousand citizens of Turkmenistan study in the Russian high schools.

In turn, the Russian higher education establishments make reciprocal steps in pursuing their opportunities in Turkmenistan. Last September, the Russian State University named after Gubkin opened its branch in Ashgabat. We expect that the Moscow State University named after Lomonosov will also open its branch soon.

Speaking about the humanitarian cooperation, one cannot help mentioning the process of mutual enrichment of two nations’ cultures. Over the last two years, the Russian masters of art visited Turkmenistan a number of times. The Turkmen culture and national traditions have become closer and understandable for many Russians due to a number of events held in the Russian regions with the active support of representatives of the Turkmen Diaspora.

The 275th anniversary of the classic of the Turkmen literature, Makhtumkuli Fraghi, was widely celebrated in Moscow, Kazan and Stravropol region last year. On May 16, in the village of Edelbay of the Blagodarensk district of Stavropol region, where ethnic Turkmen community lives, the monument to Makhtumkuli Fraghi, first in the territory of Russia, was opened. Last June, the international scientific conference “Makhtumkuli and his epoch” was held in Kazan.

By the way, in addition to historically existing Turkmen communities in Russia’s Stavropol and Astrakhan regions, new diasporas have emerged in many other Russian cities. The branches of the Humanitarian Association of Turkmens of the World were established in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Voronezh, Kazan, Ufa. The Turkmen Sunday School has been conducting Turkmen language and Fines Art lessons in Saint Petersburg’s House of Nationalities for year and a half already.

In turn, the Turkmen government pays attention to the interests of the large Russian-speaking ethnic community in Turkmenistan. The Russian language has got a status of the language of international communication and any guest from Russia may communicate without an interpreter in the territory of Turkmenistan. Nearly 20 per cent of general schools in Turkmenistan deliver lessons in Russian. The Russian Drama Theater named after A.S.Pushkin has been operating in Ashgabat for almost 80 years. The residents of Moscow and Moscow region were able to introduce themselves to the creative achievements of the theater’s company.

The Turkmen-Russian general education school named after Pushkin is a unique educational establishment. It has been operating for over 10 years now. This year, the school will move to the modern and technically equipped building in the center of the Turkmen capital.

The Turkmen government pays attention to the interests of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) in the territory of Turkmenistan. Last year, after the meeting of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov with the then Metropolitan and currently Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Cyril in Ashgabat the issue of the establishment of the Patriarchal Deanery in the territory of Turkmenistan was solved finally. It strengthened the position of the ROC organizationally and legally.

One can enumerate numerous facts characterizing the current status of relations between Turkmenistan and Russia as an example of real good neighborly relations. We have common historical past and are not going to give up the positive experience accumulated by our nations. Inseparability of historical bonds has found the confirmation just recently when the Russian astronaut, Oleg Kononenko, born in the Turkmen city of Turkmenabat (former Chardjew) visited his birthplace land after completing a complicated spaceflight that lasted half a year. He was received by President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and awarded with the state Order “Star of the President”.

Oleg Kononenko visited Turkmenabat, where he left the secondary school, and where his mother still lives. She is taken care of by the social services of the city. Everywhere in Turkmenistan, the Russian astronaut was welcomed as the national hero.

In addition to “common” astronaut our countries share a great number of joint interests and plans of their realization. The permanent dialog at the highest level that the leaders of our countries maintain during the regular meetings and consultations may serve as a convincing and bright confirmation. There is no doubt that Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov’s state visit to the Russian Federation will become the most important stage of the Turkmen-Russian dialog and will allow to raise the mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation to the new level of relations.

Interviewed by Mikhail PEREPLESNIN

©Turkmenistan Analytic magazine, 2005