Russia and Turkmenistan have reached two deals one on long-term energy exports, the other on bilateral security that may have a broad impact on Central Asian geopolitics. The economic pact captured the bulk of the headlines, but experts in Moscow say the security agreement marks an important shift in Russian foreign policy in the region.
The economic component of the energy deal is undoubtedly significant, as Russia badly needs Turkmen natural gas deliveries, while Ashgabat is keen to secure a stable market for its main hard-currency export. However, both the gas contract and the security accord should also be viewed within the context of recent developments in Iraq, political analysts in Moscow say.
Moscow is keen to monopolize the transit of the Turkmen gas. Such a monopoly would enhance Moscow's ability to project its influence across Central Asia. "Moscow hopes to broaden its influence in Central Asia and restore its weakened geopolitical position," said an editorial published by the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper.
For his part, Turkmen leader Saparmurat Niyazov, who presides over one of the world's most repressive governments, appears to feel endangered following the collapse of Saddam Hussein's authoritarian government in Iraq. Looking for allies and possible protectors, Niyazov appears to have turned to Russian President Vladimir Putin for support.
The accords were signed during Niyazov
Igor Torbakov is a freelance journalist and researcher who specializes in CIS political affairs. He holds an MA in History from Moscow State University and a PhD from the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences. He was Research Scholar at the Institute of Russian History, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow; a Visiting Scholar at the Kennan Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington DC; a Fulbright Scholar at Columbia University, New York; and a Visiting Fellow at Harvard University. He is now based in Istanbul, Turkey.