Relations with Uzbekistan have long been characterized by tensions, some of which have not yet been overcome. The resettlement of thousands of Uzbeks from the fertile regions in the north of the country to newly built desert settlements, some of which the United Nations have described as “inhospitable”, has a particularly negative impact.
Quote: The Committee notes with deep concern information that the State party has internally forcibly displaced populations, targeting in particular ethnic Uzbeks, to inhospitable parts of Turkmenistan.
The practice referred to as “forced relocation” is observed with “deep concern” in the same report. According to the OSCE, the chances of survival there are “very limited”.
Only since the Uzbek President Mirziyoyev came to power has a hesitant opening in the relationship between the two countries been felt. In 2017, the Uzbek President made two state visits to Turkmenistan, calling the neighbor a ” strategic partner ” in this context. Observers interpret the rapprochement between the two countries as symptomatic of the intensification of regional cooperation, which can also be observed between other Central Asian states (initially still very cautious).
Relations with Kazakhstan are stagnating at a low level. Political contacts are rare and economic exchange is reduced to a minimum. The only border crossing between the two states is far away from larger settlements and has no significant importance for the movement of goods.
Turkmenistan has no close relations with the two non-neighboring countries of Central Asia. In June 2012, for example, Turkmenistan sent an ambassador to Kyrgyzstan for the first time. With regard to Tajikistan, the focus of relations is on humanitarian engagement. In this way, the superiority of one’s own economic policy model can be demonstrated without the international isolation being exposed to the risk of being compromised.
The transfer of energy and relief supplies from Turkmenistan to Tajikistan takes place via Uzbek territory. Until 2016, such transports were regularly delayed or completely blocked by the Uzbek side.
States of the former Soviet Union
Turkmenistan has particularly close relations with Belarus. The basis for this is the mutually pronounced political understanding and the correspondingly good political relations between the two countries. Close economic relationships developed on this basis. Here it turns out to be advantageous that Turkmenistan is ready to surrender its gas in an exchange transaction. In this way, the Belarusian economy, which is chronically scarce in foreign exchange, succeeds in exporting its own production machines that are otherwise difficult to sell internationally. To this end, numerous supply and maintenance contracts were concluded, especially in the agricultural sector – for example in the area of agricultural products (purchase of Belarusian agricultural machinery) or the supply of energy sources (sale of Turkmenistan natural gas).
On this basis, a very close cultural exchange has now developed. The approximately 6,000 Turkmenistan students currently studying in Belarus are emblematic of this. For comparison: the number of Turkmenistan studying in Germany has not exceeded the double-digit range for years.
Political and economic relations with Iran are not always straightforward. The political, economic and cultural exchange between the two countries is developing slowly despite the long common border and the sometimes close cultural ties.
Political relations are partly due to the unclear course of the borders in the Caspian Sea. Here Turkmenistan insists on observing the unilaterally declared course of the border. Crossing the (internationally not recognized) border is severely punished by the Turkmenistan side. In December 2015, for example, an Iranian fishing boat was shot at and sunk by the Turkmenistan Navy without prior notice, immediately after crossing the border. The surviving fishermen were taken prisoner, interrogated and only released several months later. The extent to which the contract, which Iran had already questioned shortly after it was signed, will help clarify the status of the Cape Sea cannot yet be foreseen.
At the center of economic relations are two gas pipelines from Turkmenistan to Iran, which supply parts of northern Iran with energy. As a result of ongoing disputes over the price of the natural gas to be sold to Iran, deliveries have currently been suspended. This is associated with a significant cooling of all economic contacts with the neighboring country.
The cultural relationships also show clear potential for expansion. This is all the more remarkable considering the Turkmenistan Sahra region bordering Turkmenistan. About 2-3 million ethnic Turkmens live – thus the largest group of Turkmenistan exile in the world. This population is made up of a part that has lived in the region since the Seljuk period and a part that immigrated in the early 20th century (see above). However, the Turkmenistan Iranians are more oriented towards Iran than towards Turkmenistan. The cultural exchange with the Turkmenistan living in Turkmenistan is minimal, despite the spatial proximity, and there are currently no known common cultural activities. Knowledge about the neighbor within the population on both sides of the border is very limited and characterized by resentment.
Relations with Afghanistan were excellent even under the rule of the Taliban. Turkmenistan was the only country besides Pakistan to maintain diplomatic relations with the Taliban government and had regular political contacts at the highest level. The focus here is on the Turkmenistan interest in the contractually agreed construction of a pipeline through Afghanistan to Pakistan (and possibly further to India). Since the planned route of the pipeline partly leads through tribal areas in Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban, Turkmenistan has both to ensure the smooth construction of the pipeline as well as for their trouble-free operation, appropriate protection and security contracts were concluded with the relevant Afghan actors. The Turkmenistan leadership is correspondingly concerned about the ongoing instability in the southern neighboring country. It has also not yet been conclusively clarified to what extent the Turkmenistan government regards the ethnic Turkmenistan in Afghanistan as enemies or allies.
In accordance with its regional political (and possibly also geopolitical significance), the economic and geopolitical implications of the pipeline are therefore closely monitored. Noria Research shows a map with the planned route of the pipeline and offers some background information on India’s interests in pipeline construction. However, after more than ten years of relative calm in the border area, there are again increasing incidents, some of them bloody.
In 2014 at least six border guards lost their lives. Ever since large parts of the provinces of Afghanistan bordering Turkmenistan fell into the hands of the Taliban during the summer and winter offensive of 2014 or the Taliban were able to consolidate their power in the region, ethnic Turkmenistan living in Afghanistan have systematically defended their residential areas against the Taliban started. In 2015 the fighting intensified and, as a result, the losses under Turkmenistan border guards and soldiers. In several heavy skirmishes or attacks with and by radical Islamic forces, at least 30 people lost their lives in the course of the year, and according to unconfirmed information even more than 50 people. At the same time, the IS militias south of the border succeeded in consolidating their power base, which they feared.
Furthermore, at least three training camps immediately south of the border are known, in which extremists from Central Asia are specifically prepared for their missions. The capacity of the camp is around 900 fighters per year. According to the assessment of international experts, the already existing and growing potential for violence is currently one of the greatest threats to the internal security of the countries of origin, especially in view of the experiences with the developments in Syria and Iraq. Some sources already suggest that IS is expanding -Militias adopted on Afghanistan. Also because the long Turkmen-Afghan border can hardly be completely controlled,the Russian ambassador warns of Afghanistan, the Central Asian states in view of this situation prior to the imminent danger of a sustainable spillover of the challenges of Afghanistan to the northern neighboring countries. However, some sources suspect that Russia could pursue its own geopolitical goals in the region with appropriate warnings. In 2015, the situation worsened to the extent that ethnic Turkmens in Afghanistan are exposed to considerable reprisals from radical Islamic groups and, in some cases, entire villages are under siege are located. Some very emphatic calls for help from the Turkmenistan population in northern Afghanistan addressed to the Turkmenistan government have so far been rejected by the Turkmenistan government with reference to national neutrality or have remained unanswered.