Staunton, May 11 – During his visit to Dushanbe last week, Turkmenistan President Serdar Berdymukhamedov said that his country, with its port on the Caspian Sea, should do everything in its power to serve as a gateway to the world for Tajikistan and the other landlocked countries of Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.
He signed an agreement on this point with Tajikistan President Emomali Rahmon; but his words at their session suggest that Ashgabat wants to play a far larger role in east-west and north-south trade than at any point in the past and that Ashgabat will approach Bishkek, Tashkent and Kabul as well in the near future (ng.ru/cis/2023-05-11/5_8721_turkmenistan.html).
This Turkmenistan initiative may break the logjam in the region that has existed both because of tensions between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and because of problems of financing both rail lines and pipelines in the region. But to the extent it makes progress, it will require Ashgabat to develop its Caspian ports and shipping capacity even more rapidly than it has.
Consequently, what may appear to be the kind of declaration that visits by foreign leaders often make, this declaration and the agreement of the two sides could affect the balance of trade and influence around the Caspian and across Central Asia. It could even prove more important than many of the more widely hyped initiatives by Russia and China.
For background on Turkmenistan’s Caspian strategy and its implications, see jamestown.org/program/russias-caspian-flotilla-no-longer-only-force-that-matters-there/, jamestown.org/program/baku-ashgabat-accord-transforms-geopolitics-of-caspian-region/ and jamestown.org/program/competition-among-ports-in-the-caspian-sea-and-the-significance-of-the-port-of-baku/.