Niyazov's foreign policy had been embodied in the Declaration of the Permanent Neutrality of Turkmenistan, adopted by the People's Council in 1995. Turkmenistan is nominally a member of the CIS, but kept its distance both from those member states that cooperate closely with Russia and from those that opposed Russian domination. In 2005, Turkmenistan downgraded its participation in the CIS to “associate” member status.
Niyazov became increasingly isolated and insecure on the international scene. In response, he fortified Turkmenistan's borders and coastal defenses and engaged in a troop buildup and rapid modernization of the army and air force.
Bilateral ties with Russia
Turkmenistan has maintained important bilateral economic and military relationships with Russia. Above all, it exports oil and gas to and through Russia—a crucial form of dependence.
In 2006, Russia’s gas monopoly Gazprom agreed to buy 50 billion cubic meters of gas from Turkmenistan annually from 2007 to 2009.
Berdymukhamedov hosted a summit with his Russian and Kazakh counterparts in Turkmenbashi City in 2007, agreeing on a declaration of intent to construct a new gas pipeline along the Caspian coast. (This seemed to exclude participation in a Western-backed Trans-Caspian pipeline to the Caucasus and Europe that would bypass Russia.) He also made his first trips out of Turkmenistan to Russia and Kazakhstan.
Strengthening links with neighbors and the West too
Much more interested in international contacts than Niyazov, Berdymukhamedov visited Brussels to meet with EU officials in 2007.
Berdymukhamedov visited Turkey in 2008, the first high-level contact between the two states in seven years. There were no statements of possible energy transit cooperation, such as on the U.S. backed Trans-Caspian Pipeline (that would bypass Russia). He also visited Uzbekistan, warming the chilly bilateral relations that had existed prior to Niyazov’s death. His talks with Karimov focused in improving bilateral economic cooperation, including gas and oil transit. The two states continued to differ over the use of water from the Amu Darya River, and how to share the Kokdumalak gas condensate deposits on their shared border.
Berdymukhamedov also attended NATO’s 2008 Bucharest Summit, suggesting that he is serious about balancing his country’s security relationships. (Turkmenistan has been a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace since 1994.)
Also in 2008, EU officials visited Ashgabat to conclude an agreement to export natural gas to Europe through the Nabucco pipeline. This visit was part of the EU central Asian Strategy, which seeks to deepen ties while advancing human rights and democratization in the area, and contribute to Europe’s energy security. Earlier, in 2006, the EU and Turkmenistan had signed a Memorandum of Agreement to strengthen energy cooperation.
Berdymukhamedov made a state visit to Uzbekistan in 2009, signaling an improvement in relations between the two states. He announced during the visit that he had agreed to open Turkmen airspace for the transit of nonmilitary cargo to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
The end of Russia’s export monopoly over Central Asia gas exports
The presidents of Turkmenistan and China inaugurated an 1833 km gas pipeline in 2009, joined by the presidents of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan (whose territory the pipeline also transited). The pipeline reached its full 40 bcm capacity by 2012. This was the first high-volume gas export route that did not go through Russia, essentially ending Russia’s near monopoly over Central Asian gas exports. Gas pipeline capacity is expected to reach an agreed throughput of 55 bcm by the end of 2015.
Turkmenistan and Iran inaugurated the new Dauletabad-Sarahs-Khangiran gas pipeline in 2010, which complements the Korpeje-Kurt Kut line laid in 1997. When the pipeline is up to full capacity, Turkmenistan will be able to deliver 20 bcm annually to Iran.
Ukraine was a big purchaser of Turkmenistan gas until 2006, when pricing disagreements ended the relationship. Ukrainian President Yanukovych visited Turkmenistan in February 2013, seeking to resume gas purchases, and looking toward a longer term relationship to reduce Ukraine's dependence on Russian energy sources.Turkmenistan also sees this relationship as part of a long term effort to diversify its gas deliveries to the EU through the Nabucco project (i.e., away from the Russian pipelines).
In 2012, Turkmenistan's state gas company Turkmengaz signed gas sales and purchase agreements with Pakistan's Inter State Gas Systems and Indian state-run utility GAIL. This is a significant signal that Turkmenistan will be an active partner in supplying gas to the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline (also known as Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India Pipeline, TAP or TAPI). The Asian Development Bank is funding the development of the proposed 1,735-km (1,085-mile) natural gas pipeline , which has the capacity to carry 1 trillion cubic meters of gas over a 30-year period, or 33 billion cubic meters a year. The pipeline will transport Caspian Sea natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan into Pakistan and India.
An OSCE Centre was opened in Ashgabat in 1999 to promote the implementation of OSCE principles and commitments in all dimensions.
In spite of the invocation of the Moscow mechanism to investigate human rights violations and attacks on journalists, Turkmenistan resisted OSCE pressures to reform its political system or human rights practices.
Law students from Magtymguly Turkmen State University attend an OSCE-organized course on comparative criminal law, 19 December 2012. (OSCE/Svetlana Ostroushenko)
The OSCE Centre has been more active in organizing seminars in Turkmenistan since Niyazov’s departure from the scene. The Centre has also provided assistance in border security and countering trafficking. OSCE is delivering a series of border patrol trainings at Imamnazar crossing point on the Turkmen-Afghan border and elsewhere during 2014-2015. Illustrating the various ways OSCE implements programs, this is an extra-budgetary project funded by Luxembourg and the United States.
Visit of OSCE Freedom of the Media Representative in 2011
OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatović, with journalism students after a lecture on the activities of her office, at the Institute of International Relations, part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat, 19 September 2011 (OSCE).
OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Mijatovic visited Ashgabat in 2011 and met with senior Turkmen officials to highlight the OSCE Centre’s two-day event on media legislation reform.
Visit of OSCE CiO in 2013
OSCE Chairs-in-Office traditionally make at least one swing through central Asia every year. Ukrainian Foreign Minister and CiO Kozhara visited the five countries of central Asia in October 2013, meeting with presidents, ministers, parliamentarians, civil society, and OSCE field missions. Kozhara focused on regional security and OSCE engagement with central Asia.