Astana - Ashgabat: trajectory of partnership
Historically Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are fraternal nations, neighbors and partners.
In his interview to KP, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Kazakhstan to Turkmenistan Orman Nurbayev talks on the current state and outlook for bilateral cooperation.
-Our talk is ahead of the state visit of Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov to Kazakhstan. How would you describe the current state of Kazakh-Turkmen relations?
- First of all, I would like to note that Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are connected not only geographically. The centuries-long cultural and historical proximity made us fraternal nations. It is gratifying that in a historically short time of 25 years of independence, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan managed not only to preserve, but also to enhance the mutual respect and good neighborliness bequeathed by our common ancestors. During this time, no problem or unsolvable issues arose in the relations between our countries. Our positions on the main areas of world politics coincide in many respects, and we have mutual understanding in the framework of international organizations. Turkmenistan was one of the first countries to officially confirm participation in the EXPO-2017 in Astana and to support Kazakhstan candidacy for non-permanent membership in the UN Security Council for 2017-2018.
In turn, Kazakhstan supported Turkmenistan's candidacy for a number of UN structures and co-authored the UN General Assembly resolution on declaring December 12 the International Day of Neutrality. On that day in 1995, the UN General Assembly expressed recognition and support for the status of permanent neutrality proclaimed by Turkmenistan.
Astana and Ashgabat are fruitfully cooperating in other international organizations, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Kazakhstan welcomes the important international initiatives of Turkmenistan on holding summits of the International Fund for Saving the Aral Sea and the Energy Charter, in which Ashgabat is currently chairing. Both countries hold similar positions on most aspects in the multifaceted process of determining the Caspian legal status.
In a bilateral format, both states are clearly following the course for building friendly, equal and good-neighborly relations. Over the 25 years of relations, a solid legal framework has been formed out of more than 60 documents covering various areas of bilateral interaction.
In general, our trade-economic interaction is stable and consistent, but is still short of the available potential. Of course, the negative trends in the world economy over the recent years have impacted mutual trade. In 2014 the mutual trade turnover approached a half-billion mark, but in 2015 it was only 178.25 million dollars, falling by 62.5%. Last year, the trade turnover reached $ 283.5 million.
We certainly need to tap all possible resources and establish closer business ties. Kazakh-Turkmen intergovernmental commission on economic, scientific, technical and humanitarian cooperation should contribute to it. During the oncoming state visit of the Turkmen leader to Astana, scheduled April 18-19, a new intergovernmental agreement on this commission is to be signed, and the level of the co-chairs has been raised to the deputy heads of the government by the recent decisions of the parties.
Bilateral Task Group for increasing trade turnover, whose next meeting is scheduled this year in Astana, will be conductive to the strengthening of trade-economic cooperation.
A good tradition has been developed to conduct annual trade missions of Kazakhstan and meetings of the Kazakh-Turkmen business forum in Ashgabat, where Kazakhstani enterprises can present our country’s export opportunities in engineering, chemical, construction and food industries.
Cooperation is fruitful in the large transnational fuel and energy projects that are of great importance for ensuring energy security on a global scale. An illustrative example in it is the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan-China gas pipeline launched in December 2009, which allows providing southern regions of Kazakhstan with fuel and exporting Turkmen gas to China.
Undoubtedly, of particular significance is the joint strategic project, Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran railway, launched December 2-3, 2014.
This international railway will enable unlocking of our countries’ transit and transport potential, reducing the transportation distance of oil products, grain and other cargoes from the Caspian basin to the countries of the Middle East and South Asia, and should become a popular transit route for dozens of countries on several continents.
Kazakh diaspora in Turkmenistan and Turkmen diaspora in Kazakhstan is a bridge for culture-humanitarian cooperation
Inter-parliamentary cooperation is one of the tested instruments of people's diplomacy: parliamentary groups of friendship between the Majilis of Kazakhstan and the Mejlis of Turkmenistan have been established, and there are plans to build joint activities to strengthen the atmosphere of mutual understanding between our peoples.
- What are your expectations of Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov’s state visit to Kazakhstan?
- Speaking about the expectations of the forthcoming visit, I suggest focusing on the political content of the meeting, which is to synchronize positions on topical issues of the regional and international agenda and discuss bilateral cooperation directions.
In fact, the oncoming state visit of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov is intended to lift bilateral relations onto a qualitatively new, strategic plane. Besides, this year is 25th since the establishment of diplomatic relations between our states.
Among the most important documents to be signed during this visit, I would like to mention the Treaty on Strategic Partnership between the Republic of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, which, in fact, will turn a new page in the history of relations between the two neighboring countries.
The expected signing of the Agreement on Kazakh-Turkmen state border demarcation is a clear confirmation of the progressive development of the dialogue in the spirit of openness and trust. The signing will complete the legal registration of our common border.
Following the strategic partnership course, our states are determined to actively cooperate in countering modern challenges and threats, including reconstruction of the long-suffering Afghanistan, with which Turkmenistan has a long common border, and in this regard has an additional geopolitical load. Astana and Ashgabat agree that the settlement of the situation in this country is achievable only by peaceful, negotiating means. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan actively contribute to the international political and diplomatic efforts to establish dialogue on Afghanistan.
The ultimate goal of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan leaders’ joint efforts is to consistently improve the peoples’ well-being. And I would like to express my belief that we are on the threshold of new joint projects, which will be further developed after the visit.
- What cooperation areas between Astana and Ashgabat, should be focused on more in future?
- Both countries, possessing large hydrocarbon reserves, do not have direct access to the sea. Obviously, under these conditions only joint coordinated actions can provide access for our hydrocarbons to the international markets.
Fuel-energy sector is a strategic cooperation area, given both countries’ huge resources and transit-transport potential.
Cooperation in transit-transport sphere is conditioned by the geographical location of the two countries. In addition to the already implemented North-South railway project, modernization of the existing and building of new Turkmen railways and roads with associated infrastructure deserve attention.
Ashgabat is carrying out construction of the merchant marine fleet and reconstruction of the Turkmenbashi Caspian seaport, which opens up ample opportunities in the freight and passenger sea traffic between Aktau and Turkmenbashi, including the ferry service.
Kazakhstan's enterprises’ potential opportunities are impressive too: according to available estimates, the potential annual volume of our exports to the Turkmen domestic market exceeds $ 2 billion and there are about 100 commodity items. These include Kazakhstan’s high-quality flour and confectionery products, cars, equipment and spare parts for the petrochemical and agricultural industries, IT technologies and complex information offers, including remote Earth sensing products, services of Kazakhstan telecommunications satellites and a lot more.
In turn, the famous Turkmen handmade carpets, and highest quality cotton articles are a kind of Turkmenistan’s hallmark. I am confident that these goods will be in high demand in Kazakhstan. Special attention should be paid to complex oil and gas projects implemented in Turkmenistan with foreign participation, focused on the export of refined oil and gas products.
Our embassy believes that establishment of trading houses and trade representatives on the two states’ territories, would facilitate the joint economic projects.
As Herbert Wells said, history of mankind is basically a history of ideas. Indeed, an era has come that calls for new innovative ideas for the consolidation of our region’s nations.
For example, in recent years Turkmenistan has built its own space industry, and in our opinion, we could establish mutually beneficial and complementary cooperation in this field. This strategic direction in our interaction carries a complex unifying effect: the problems of desertification, which impacts almost the entire region, sensitive issues of water use and ecology, cooperation in combating drug trafficking and human trafficking, monitoring of state borders and a lot more.
The educational cluster deserves attention as well, given Kazakhstan’s potential in the export of educational services, mental and linguistic similarity, geographical proximity. In particular, the embassy is currently working with the Turkmen side to organize and hold the first educational fair in Kazakhstan for the presentation of Kazakhstani humanitarian model in Ashgabat.
Important role is played by the regions that can help pool the two countries’ economic opportunities. The main accents in the economic cooperation between the border regions, specifically Mangistau region and the Balkan velayat, could be development of trade and the implementation of joint investment projects in the context of bilateral agreement between them of December 2, 2014. It is in the tideway with the creation of free economic zones in Turkmenistan, announced by the Turkmen President.
In conclusion, I would like to note that in this jubilee, 25th year of the diplomatic relations, our capitals will hold major landmark events of the world scale - EXPO-2017 in Astana and the Fifth Asian Games in Indoor and Martial Arts in Ashgabat.
I believe the results of the two fraternal states leaders’ talks will lay a solid foundation for the development of Kazakh-Turkmen relations in a new, strategic format.