MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Dmitry Kosyrev) - President Dmitry Medvedev and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will miss each other in Ashgabat, although the Iranian President will visit the capital of Turkmenistan only a week after his Russian counterpart.
Chinese President Hu Jintao was in Ashgabat the previous week to inaugurate a gas pipeline linking Turkmenistan with China.
Each of these three guests has received a portion of Turkmen gas. China will get 40 billion cubic meters of gas per year, and Russia 30 billion cubic meters (although Mr Medvedev and Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov have recently agreed to restore gas supplies to the former amount of 50 billion). Iran will import 20 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas (Mr Ahmadinejad, just like Mr Hu, is coming to launch a gas pipeline).
A 40-30-20 combination is a good symbol of Turkmenistan's return to the international arena as a state which plays an important role in the affairs of Central Asia and the rest of the world. China, Russia and Iran are some of this Caspian country's partners, but lets not forget other important countries such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which are also involved in the Chinese-Turkmenian gas pipeline project.
Afghanistan, Turkmenistan's remaining neighbor, has indirectly caused the Caspian republic's relative self-isolation. The main reason lay in the special ties between former Turkmen leader Saparmurad Niyazov and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. When the United States started its war in Afghanistan in the winter of 2001-2002, Turkmenistan fell into complete isolation, as if it did not exist.
However, when the George W. Bush administration asked Mr Niyazov to allow it to transport aviation fuel by railway from Ashgabat to Hairaton, he agreed. In addition, American aircraft were allowed to refuel in the Turkmen capital. Under the new agreement, which also mostly deals with refuelling, a group of seven U.S. service members are permanently stationed in Ashgabat.
Nevertheless, it was the Afghan war that consolidated the Niyazov regime in its "quiet" policy. Turkmenistan did not join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) or the Collective Security Treaty Organization, was generally inactive in international affairs and, unlike Kyrgyzstan, did not allow itself to be turned into the main base of the U.S.- and EU-financed non-governmental organizations (NGOs)
At the same time, Mr Niyazov finally froze the country's domestic politics, making Turkmenistan a Caspian version of North Korea. However, it became clear after he died in December 2006 that the regime, which erected golden statues in his honor and required students to read his book "Rukhnama," was not destined to last for a long time.
Moscow wondered how to build relations with Ashgabat several times. This was essentially an ideological issue, especially considering that ethnic Russians (8% of the country's 5.5 million-strong population) were plainly being harassed by the former regime. One option was to follow Bush's example and subject the regime to isolation and sanctions for human rights violations. But as was mentioned earlier, Bush himself had ties with the regime. The main point was that U.S. ideology, which favored regime change in Central Asia, made America an unwanted guest in the region. Importantly, this ideology also isolated America from countries like Burma (Myanmar), where Moscow made the same choice as with Turkmenistan, and which recently reached an agreement with Moscow on the sale of a large consignment of military aircraft.
Essentially, in the early 1990s Moscow opted for gradual development of contacts with Turkmenistan, particularly regarding gas supplies. If it had not been for the regrettable episode last spring when Moscow and Ashgabat openly quarrelled over the price of gas and other gas-related problems, Moscow's choice of policy could confidently have been called correct.
Important figures were made public on the eve of Medvedev's visit to Ashgabat. During the first nine months of this year, bilateral trade (without counting gas) reached $900 million, which is a 20% increase compared to the same period of the previous year. Russia has become Turkmenistan's biggest trade partner (in 2008 it accounted for 39.2% of Turkmenistan's trade). These results were produced by the right policy.
Now Ashgabat can quietly concentrate on its policies towards the West. Ashgabat may not have enough gas for the West, but Western and Japanese investment is being already discussed. In November, the U.S. Congress set up a bipartisan Caucus on Central Asia in order to promote U.S. relations with this region. Some participants in its meetings continue talking about the need to help the region's countries "make the transition to democracy" but councils on trade with each country (but not with Turkmenistan) have already held investment seminars.
In addition, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake has already announced a series of talks with each of the region's countries. He made a point that the United States will conduct these talks in the spirit of mutual respect, without claiming a monopoly on the truth or attempting to impose its system on anyone.
This approach will inevitable bring success to the United States, and life in the region will become really interesting. President Medvedev's visit to Ashgabat fits well into the common trend of change.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.