The love affair between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan shows every sign of intensifying, and in ways that could stand to benefit the region.
In perhaps the most arresting news, the state energy companies of the two countries over the weekend reached a loose and non-binding agreement to jointly develop Caspian Sea oil and gas deposits.
A memorandum of understanding to that effect was signed on May 20 on the sidelines of a working meeting in Turkmenistan’s Caspian resort of Awaza between Turkmen leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov and his Uzbek counterpart Shavkat Mirziyoyev.
The memorandum envisions extracting hydrocarbon resources under a production sharing agreement. With the terms of the same agreement, the state companies have pledged to cooperate in boosting hydrocarbon refining capacity in both countries.
Quite how either cash-strapped country plans to finance and operate what would likely be a costly and technically challenging undertaking is not revealed, but these are still early days.
Mirziyoyev even tentatively committed to involving Uzbekistan in the completion of the slow-progressing TAPI natural pipeline linking Turkmenistan to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. No details were provided as to what that involvement would involve exactly.
Another potentially meaningful agreement involved electricity.
Uzbekistan’s state power company Uzbekenergo and Turkmenistan’s Energy Ministry signed a memorandum envisioning cooperation in the transit of electricity from Turkmenistan to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan through Uzbekistan’s power grid. Under the terms of the memorandum, Turkmenistan will deliver electricity to Uzbekistan in exchange for the cancellation of outstanding debts to Uzbekenergo.
Uzbekistan’s willingness to be cooperative on electricity is meaningful as Turkmenistan has to date found itself stymied in its designs to export power to countries like Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, although the latter nation was not specifically mentioned in reports about the transit agreement. Both those countries suffer from seasonal power supply problems, so importing from Turkmenistan is a natural solution.
These were only part of a broader set of documents co-signed by Berdymukhamedov and Mirziyoyev. Another agreement, for example, will see the establishment of twin city status the capital cities of Tashkent and Ashgabat. There is also to be a program of cooperation between Turkmenistan’s Seidnazar Seydi State Pedagogical Institute and the Nizami State Pedagogical University in Tashkent.
Berdymukhamedov and Mirziyoyev certainly seem to have had a charming time of it in Awaza by the sound of the Turkmen state news agency’s account. After giving a joint statement on their talks, the pair hopped on bicycles and headed to the pier, “inspecting the attractions of Awaza on the way.”
Once at the pier, they jumped onto Berdymukhamedov’s Galkynysh yacht — named for the country’s mammoth gas field — and went for a spin along the Caspian coast.
“Examining the newly erected buildings along the Caspian coast … Shavkat Mirziyoyev expressed his sincere admiration for the dynamic development of the Awaza National Tourism Zone,” the state news agency reported.
Once Mirziyoyev was able to overcome his amazement, Galkynysh docked and the presidents made their way back to shore.
There is a temptation after such visits to imagine that flowery language about cooperation being raised to a “qualitatively new level” is little more than rhetoric that invariably founders in the execution. But early evidence suggests the Uzbek-Turkmen thaw is already showing positive results.
In March, when Mirziyoyev went to Turkmenistan for his maiden foreign trip, he joined Berdymukhamedov for a ceremony to inaugurate the new Ukrainian-built Turkmenabat-Farab railway bridge across the Amu-Darya River. A bridge for cars was inaugurated during the same visit. As a result of these transit points, according to Mirziyoyev’s press service, the volume of goods traded across the border has increased two-and-a-half-fold.
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