Putin's visit to Turkmenistan and the upcoming tripartite summit are seen by some observers as a victory for Russian energy policies toward Central Asia.
Moscow lost some of its dominance in Central Asia with the fall of the Soviet Union. Since then, Russia has been fighting for influence alongside other powers such as the United States, China, and the European Union.
Analysts quoted by Reuters suggested that Putin could be trying to lock Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan into a gas alliance to improve the gas- and oil-transport infrastructure along the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea to Russia.
Getting Down To Business
It is expected that during the May 12 summit in the port city of Turkmenbashi, the three leaders will discuss the proposed construction of a pipeline that would carry natural gas from Turkmenistan through Kazakhstan and Russia to Europe.
"This trip is a demonstration of how serious [Putin] is and how concrete he is," the director of RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, Merkhat Sharipzhanov, says, describing Putin's trip to Turkmenistan and the upcoming summit as an important development. "It's not just words -- he's physically there in the places where the new pipeline to be is suppose to go -- Turkmenbashi city, Aktao city -- and he is there not alone, he is joined by the Kazakh president."
Oguljamal Yazliyeva, the director of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, also thinks the tripartite summit could be decisive in the struggle for access to Turkmenistan's rich energy resources.
"This is a very important summit, because now we expect the response of Turkmenistan," Yazliyeva says. "Which way will Turkmenistan go? Will Turkmenistan open the way to the West using other alternative projects, or will it stay with Russia and expand the export of Turkmen gas to Russia?"
Seeing 'Eye To Eye'
Putin's visit to Turkmenistan is his first since the election of President Berdymukhammedov. It began today in the capital, Ashgabat, where Russian media claimed the two leaders had "eye-to-eye" talks.
Following the talks, Putin called Turkmenistan a strategic energy partner for his country. But he also encouraged increased bilateral cooperation in other spheres.
"We still have a lot to do in the energy sector and other areas," Putin said today in Ashgabat. "And initial steps have already been made by our large companies, such as [truck manufacturer] KamAZ, the Mobile Telephone Systems (MTS), [holding company] Itera, LUKoil, Rusal [aluminum company] and, naturally, Gazprom, which is your old-time, reliable partner."
"Of course, we'll be talking primarily about energy," Putin said ahead of talks. "We are, literally, strategic partners in this area and we have great plans for working together. But I think it will be right to reactivate the [Turkmen-Russian] intergovernmental commission that could show us the most promising areas of cooperation besides energy."
"I want to stress that this visit shows the friendly and open desire to strengthen our relationship that has developed historically between our nations," Berdymukhammedov said.
Putin and Berdymukhammedov also met during the Turkmen leader's official visit to Moscow in April, when they expressed a desire to "strengthen mutual trade and economic ties."
Prior to his trip to Turkmenistan, Putin met with Kazakh President Nazarbaev in the Kazakh capital, Astana. Both sides agreed on the creation of a joint uranium-enrichment center in Siberia.
On May 12, Putin, Nazarbaev, and Berdymukhammedov will meet in Turkmenbashi city for their official tripartite summit.
Then the three leaders will continue their energy talks in Kazakhstan.
Putin's visit has cast a shadow over an energy summit that began today in Poland. At that meeting, the presidents of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Lithuania, Poland, and Ukraine were expected to discuss a new oil-export route that would avoid Russia.
Work on a Kazakh pipeline (TASS file photo)
PRESSURE FROM THE KREMLIN? Columbia University political science professor Kimberly Marten told an RFE/RL briefing that Russia seems to be using its control of gas pipelines in the former Soviet Union to pursue its goals in Kazakhstan.
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