Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made his first visit to Central Asia since becoming president earlier this year, to Turkmenistan. And while the headline news from the visit was a deal to supply Turkmenistan natural gas to Turkey, boosting military cooperation likely was on the agenda as well, regional analysts say.
During Erdogan's visit, he signed an agreement with his counterpart, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, to supply gas to the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) project. That project, which is scheduled to be completed in 2018, would take gas from the Caspian shore of Azerbaijan to Turkey's western border. How Turkmenistan would get its gas to the pipeline was left unsaid, but Russia has expressed strong opposition to the idea of a pipeline being built across the Caspian, and should such a pipeline be constructed it would really ramp up tensions on the sea. From a Reuters story on the visit:
[T]o join the pipeline Turkmenistan will have to lay another pipeline across the Caspian Sea.
Asked how Turkmenistan could join the TANAP project, Atagas head Osman Saim Dinc told Reuters: "We are working on all alternative routes." He did not elaborate.
But there seem to have been more immediate security issues discussed as well. Just a few days before, Berdymukhammedov held a meeting of the national security council where he expressed the need to acquire "the most advanced, modern military equipment" and "the newest training [methods] for our soldiers."
Those may well have just been platitudes, but it's also the case that Turkmenistan has been taking unprecedented measures to shore up its defenses along the border with Afghanistan after a worrying spate of Taliban incursions. And as analyst Azhdar Kurtov told Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Turkey might have just what Turkmenistan needs:
Turkey has a relatively developed military-industrial complex. It exports various types of weaponry, in particular to the post-Soviet states. And Turkmenistan's army badly needs reequipping, regardless of the modernization that has been taking place with Russia's help. Meanwhile, over the last decade the character of possible military activity has changed and requires equipment that Turkmenistan simply doesn't have. For example, unmaned aerial vehicles, which are used for guarding long borders. So Turkmenistan's leadership is concerned about the state of its armed forces, and Turkey can help raise the level of its military capability. In addition, the Turks can help train the officer corps; Turkey has an analogous program with Azerbaijan.
Turkey also has a diplomatic role to play in helping Turkmenistan secure its border, analyst Arkady Dubnov told the paper:
One of Erdogan's first visits after being elected president was to Kabul for a meeting with his newly elected Afghan colleague. Ankara has serious influence on the leaders of the northern provinces of Afghanistan, precisely the ones where rebels have recently been threatening attacks on Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan has already been cooperating with Turkey on military procurement, buying ships for its new navy (and that's what we know of -- Turkmenistan is very secretive, not least when it comes to buying weaponry). Are more deals in the pipeline?