At the end of March 2011, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov paid an official visit to Iran. The visit, timed to the celebration of Nowruz, was called to testify the consolidation of "good neighborliness and brotherhood" between the Iranian and Turkmen peoples. In order to emphasize particularly close relationship between the two countries, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad exchanged gifts of signs - the president of Turkmenistan on the eve of the holiday ordered to send 1,000 tons of flour to neighboring Iran, and the Turkmen president during his stay in Iran was presented with a two-seater sports plane produced in Iran worth about 120 thousand U.S. dollars. Nowruz Celebration 2011 was another indication of a thaw in relations between Turkmenistan and Iran that had recently cooled because of the differences related to the question about the status of the Caspian Sea, as well as the strengthening of US-Turkmen relations.
The reason for the visit of sign and statements about the "brotherhood", "centuries-old friendship," and "good neighborhood" wasn’t chosen by chance. Perhaps, Nowruz holiday is one of the few moments that unite the peoples of Turkmenistan and Iran. This ancient Persian festival in the Middle Ages was regarded by Turkic peoples, who worked closely with the Persians. The Persians had a strong influence on the culture of the Turks of Central Asia both in the pre-Islamic and Islamic periods, thus they successfully assimilated some of the Turkic tribes.
However, as we know, a time when geopolitics was based on cultural and civilized community (or dislike) was left far behind. Today, global politics is determined by pure pragmatism, which was demonstrated by the failed integration of Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan in the sphere of Turkey influence. Pun-Turkism movement, launched by Turkey in the early 90s in the post-soviet space, met political and economic contradictions, resulting from the differences in the strategic interests. Objectively, Iran is much less "brotherly" to Turkmenistan than to Azerbaijan, including the reason of uneasy coexistence between Turkmens and Persians in the historical past. The religious factor is unlikely to contribute to a serious deepening of the Turkmen-Iranian integration - the Turkmens, in contrast to the Persian Shiites, are traditionally Sunni Muslim, and also they are very far from religious fundamentalism. The more interesting the current official statement about the brotherhood and friendship are, almost word for word repeating the statement of the late President Niyazov, who declared in 2003 that the Turkmens have "fraternal relations with the Iranian people, devoid of mutual suspicion".
Of course, Turkmenistan is not Tajikistan, who has the ethnic and linguistic community with Iran, so we can not say about the brotherhood and friendship in a literal sense. Turkmen-Iranian relations are more like the relationship of business corporations, built on mutual economic and financial benefits. These relations acquired this format since the mid 90s. Then it was decided to build the first branch of the Turkmen-Iranian gas pipeline, 80% of which were funded from Tehran. Despite the crazy costs, the project was beneficial for the Iranian side, since the issue was solved by the gas supply of the Northern provinces. Today, Turkmenistan and Iran are already connected by two natural gas pipelines, by which Iran received about 14 billion cubic meters of gas with the possibility of increasing this number to 20 billion cubic meters per year. It is the pipeline Korpedzhe - Kurtkui opened in 1997, by which Iran is delivered 8 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually, as well as the pipeline Dovletabad - Sarahs - Hangeran launched in early 2010 with a total capacity of 12.5 billion cubic meters of gas per year.
In addition, Turkmenistan and Iran are connected by trade relations in non-oil sector. For example, in 2010, total volume of Iranian non-oil export to Turkmenistan was $ 386 million and import volume was 403 million dollars. Totally for 2009 and 2010, bilateral trade grew by 15% compared to previous years. Currently, according to the Minister of Trade of Iran Mehdi Ghazanfari in February 2011, the total trade volume between Iran and Turkmenistan has exceeded $ 4 billion, and according to the parties, there are opportunities and prerequisites for increasing this figure in the next 5 years to 10 billion a year. In addition, in the relationship between Turkmenistan and Iran a big role is played by the implementation of major projects. The last of those projects is the railway construction of Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran, started in 2007.
As for the global politics, Iran, because of the situation of the pariah country, is forced to lead a very limited, almost jewelry political game. Trying to play more actively in the Central Asian field, Tehran aims to consolidate its presence in all the forms. In the case of Turkmenistan, it is just trade and energy. It is clear that for Iran, being in the external blockade and the constant threat of war by the Western coalition, it is important to have not only allies, but to find more points of support. In this regard, the fact that Ashgabat recently is consistently drifting toward rapprochement with the United States, can not but cause concern in Tehran.
The last steps of the official Ashkhabad clearly indicated about this convergence, they almost entirely directed to the U.S. support for a variety of issues. We can see this in the building-up of cooperation between Turkmenistan and the United States in the field of fuel supplies and logistical support of coalition forces in Afghanistan, and deepening cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking and terrorism. We can also say about almost full and unconditional support of initiatives of the United States and the EU, relating to the construction of gas pipelines TAPI and Nabucco, and, when drafting the latter project under the Caspian, Iran’s opinion was consistently ignored. Picture is completed by the regular consultations of representatives of the Foreign Ministry of Turkmenistan with the USA on humanitarian and economic issues, and also the security situation.
Security situation deserves special attention. Close US-Turkmen military-technical cooperation, which began shortly after coming of the President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov to power in Turkmenistan, in early 2011 received a new impetus – for the first two months of this year Ashgabat was visited three times by the high-ranking military and diplomatic officials from Washington. Experts say that Turkmenistan is a profitable destination for the USA in the region for several reasons - an impressive reserve of energy resources, geographical location, the presence of several airfields, runways that are capable of receiving heavy-lift aircraft. For this reason, the United States intend to continue pulling Turkmenistan in the orbit of influence, putting the country's leadership in the increasingly narrow confines. Especially, if to take into account the fact that the question of placing an American military base in the town of Mary in the south of Turkmenistan is still open.
As you know, negotiations with the USA about the military base in Turkmenistan began in 2002, and three variants were considered: military airfields near Nebit Dag, Ak-Tepe, Mary-2. Turkmens then charged that it casts a shadow on the status of neutrality of his country that is secured the UN. However, talks about placing the U.S. military base under Niyazov were not implemented, and a new impetus of this initiative was already under the current president of Turkmenistan. Being keenly aware that the placement of military bases across the country would mean the actual collapse of neutrality and a serious deterioration in relations with our closest neighbors - China, Iran and Russia, the current president does not hasten the deployment of databases, preferring to maneuver and play for time. Later, however, taking into consideration the upcoming presidential elections in Turkmenistan in 2012, and in light of the current geopolitical situation, it will be harder to maneuver.
By the way, some foreign analysts attribute the recent warming in relations between Ashgabat and Washington with the forthcoming 2012 presidential elections - they encourage the neutral Turkmenistan to negotiate about the military-technical issues. And in this case, Washington is becoming a guarantor of not only the re-election of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov for the new term, but further undeveloped events in the country according to the scenario of the "Arab revolution". In turn, the United States will expose their claims - unhindered transportation of goods, fuels, and increasing of American and NATO presence.
It is certainly understood in Tehran. It is also understood that Iran is on the line of the script of "Arab revolution" and, if necessary, its version of the Libyan. Therefore, the opening of the U.S. military base in the territory of its northern neighbor in addition to existing bases in the Persian Gulf will pose a serious threat to Iran's security. However, in the absence of Tehran's real political leverage in Central Asia, Iran can only hope that Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, as well as its predecessor, will be able to delay the deployment of the U.S. bases in their country for an indefinite period.
Gapur Tadjiev in the article "The Turkmen-Iranian friendship in the light of current geopolitical realities" presents a structured and fact-based analysis of the Iran-Turkmenistan relations through the prism of global political processes, a key figure in which is the USA. The author considers the prospects for strengthening economic ties between Turkmenistan and Iran in the circumstances, where the aggressive plans of America may lead to the overthrow of the Islamic regime in Tehran and the beginning of a new war in the region. The main message of the author is warning the Turkmen government not to give consent for the construction of the U.S. base in the city of Mary, since it would complicate relations with Iran and could be a step in the direction of unfavorable military conflict for Ashgabat.