Friday, June 21, 2024

Interview: EU and Turkmenistan are getting closer

Embassy of Turkmenistan, Brussels
Rashid Meredov, Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan, meets EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell in March.

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NE Global sat down exclusively with Sapar Palvanov, Ambassador of Turkmenistan to the Kingdom of Belgium, also accredited as the head of the Mission of Turkmenistan to the EU and NATO. Palvanov presented different examples of the growing cooperation between his country and the EU starting from trade, connectivity and energy. A positive achievement was the signing of the Protocol to the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) between Turkmenistan and the EU, which took place in March at the European Union Council building in Brussels.

NE Global:  Ambassador Palvanov, you have been in office as Ambassador of Turkmenistan to the EU since 24 April 2023. What is your assessment of the state of affairs between the EU and Turkmenistan this year?

H.E. Sapar Palvanov:  I arrived in Brussels in August 2022, and in April 2023, in accordance with protocol procedures, I presented my credentials to the President of the European Union, H.E. Charles Michel, and subsequently to the President of the European Commission, H.E. Ursula von der Leyen as the head of the Turkmen mission to the EU.

This coincided with the resumption of in-person contacts and all platforms of interaction between the EU and Turkmenistan after the COVID-19 pandemic. The main task has been to return to full-scale interaction and further activate bilateral formats. We are currently in a unique period of bilateral and interregional cooperation, characterized by the creation of new frameworks and the strengthening of existing ones between the EU and Turkmenistan, as well as between the EU and Central Asia. A significant achievement in interregional cooperation has been the elevation of the C5+EU ministerial format to the level of heads of state and the adoption of a roadmap last year—the first in the history of our regional cooperation.

Speaking about the level of bilateral cooperation this year, I would like to highlight the recent visit of Rashid Meredov, Minister of Foreign Affairs  of Turkmenistan to Brussels and his meetings with the EU leadership, as well as a round table with the participation of European companies and various institutions. These interactions have led to concrete, tangible results, including the activation of bilateral formats, the launch of an energy working group in April, and increased interest from European companies and investments in the Turkmen market. Our cooperation spans various sectors: from political dialogue and economic interaction to cultural exchange. This demonstrates close and multifaceted partnership relations.

A series of events involving Turkmenistan and the European Union is also planned for this year.  In particular, the next EU–Central Asia ministerial meeting is scheduled to be held in Ashgabat, which will provide further impetus for interregional cooperation. Dialogue in the humanitarian field is always on the agenda of bilateral cooperation. This year, Turkmenistan will host the next round of the human rights dialogue, which reflects the desire of both parties to develop mutual understanding in this area.

NE Global: You were appointed by President Serdar Berdimuhamedov, one of the youngest heads of state worldwide at 42 years old. He became Turkmenistan’s President on 19 March 2022; what has the change of leadership as well as the generational shift meant for Turkmenistan’s politics? For its foreign policy?

Ambassador Sapar Palvanov

Sapar Palvanov: The President of Turkmenistan, Serdar Berdimuhamedov is successfully continuing the balanced domestic and foreign policies of Turkmenistan. He builds on the doctrines established by his predecessor, the national leader of the Turkmen people and Chairman of the People’s Council of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. This transition has brought a renewed focus on innovation, modernization, and future-oriented policies. In terms of foreign policy, we are reinforcing our commitment to neutrality and peaceful cooperation, while actively participating in global and regional dialogues. President Serdar Berdimuhamedov’s foreign policy successes are evident in various ways. For instance, in March of this year, the General Assembly, at its 63rd plenary meeting of the 78th session, adopted the resolution “2025 – International Year of Peace and Trust,” initiated by Turkmenistan. This resolution aims at promoting the peaceful resolution of conflicts through diplomatic means and to strengthen trust between states, which is particularly pertinent in today’s world. Turkmenistan actively promotes this direction in its foreign policy and offers its platforms for peaceful negotiations. Under the current leadership, significant national programs are being implemented across all sectors. One of the president’s top priorities is enhancing social protection. 

Recently, the new smart city of Arkadag was inaugurated, with citizens of Turkmenistan actively moving in. The city is designed to accommodate 70,000 residents and is equipped with all necessary facilities, including hospitals and schools. We have now embarked on the construction of the second phase of this new city. Additionally, the main part of the high-speed road between Ashgabat and Turkmenabat was inaugurated, significantly improving domestic mobility and strengthening international transport corridors. This road connects the northern part of the country with the west, providing crucial transport links. Listing all the projects currently being implemented by the government of Turkmenistan would take up our entire interview, so I have chosen to highlight just a few key ones.

NE Global:  In which fields do you think that Turkmenistan and Europe could cooperate?

Sapar Palvanov:  Turkmenistan and Europe possess significant potential for cooperation across numerous key areas. The priorities for bilateral cooperation should align with the goals set by our respective countries. Currently, the primary objective of our government is to diversify the economy, encompassing all sectors from energy to transportation. Turkmenistan is actively working on diversifying its energy policy. Despite being a leading energy producer in the region, we acknowledge the importance of transitioning to greener energy sources. In this regard, we view Europe as a reliable partner, with whom we can exchange expertise and attract cutting-edge technologies and innovations.

The European Union has shown keen interest in developing transport infrastructure, presenting another promising avenue for cooperation. Moreover, our collaborative efforts in ensuring regional security are crucial. This is a global concern, and the European Union is a vital partner for Turkmenistan in this area. Turkmenistan participates in EU-led regional security projects and contributes to initiatives aimed at enhancing global peace and trust. We place special emphasis on cooperation with the EU in securing Afghanistan, actively working with Central Asian countries and the EU to learn from their experiences and best practices. Economic cooperation, including trade, investment, and support for small and medium enterprises, is also a top priority.

We aim to attract advanced European technologies to diversify and modernize our economy. Humanitarian cooperation between Turkmenistan and the European Union is another important and effective area. We are fostering connections between educational institutions in Turkmenistan and the EU, striving to build a solid legal foundation and strengthen our educational ties. In summary, the cooperation between Turkmenistan and the EU holds numerous prospects and opportunities, and we are committed to leveraging these for mutual benefit.

NE Global:  Europe has developed a strategy for Central Asian countries, what do you think about that?

Sapar Palvanov:  The European Union adopted its Strategy for Central Asia in 2019, underscoring the EU’s commitment to closer and more comprehensive engagement with the region.  The strategy outlines key areas of cooperation, such as strengthening  ties in political, economic, and humanitarian sectors.  In economic cooperation, particular attention is given to developing trade and investment opportunities, fostering economic growth, and diversifying the region’s economy.  This aligns perfectly with our own goals and priorities. Security and stability also play a crucial role, including combating terrorism, extremism, and the illicit drug trade. Additionally, there is a strong focus on environmental sustainability, with the EU actively promoting projects on environmental protection and climate change mitigation.  The adoption of the Strategy for Central Asia confirms that the EU views the region as a significant partner and is ready to invest resources in long-term development and stability.

I believe this strategy is a correct and important step. It creates a clear legal and institutional framework for interaction, facilitating the implementation of joint projects and programs.  Turkmenistan supports cooperation on a more legal and solid foundation.  An important complement to this is the development of the EU-Central Asia roadmap last year. This roadmap, which takes into account all elements of the current global situation, is an adaptive and relevant document that meets the region’s interests.  It outlines our next steps towards strengthening bilateral and interregional ties.  With such clear legal foundations, cooperation becomes more transparent and predictable.

For us and for the European Union countries, the adoption of this strategy and roadmap means having a clear and mutually beneficial trajectory of interaction. These legal frameworks help us not only plan but also effectively achieve our common goals, enhancing cooperation in all key areas.

NE Global: Turkmenistan is an energy power, however, China, not the EU, is the largest energy importer of Turkmen energy. Why is this the case, and why do you think the EU does not look to Turkmenistan for its energy needs?

Sapar Palvanov:  China’s position as the largest importer of Turkmen energy is driven by several factors.

Primarily, it is the extensive infrastructure and strategic agreements, such as the Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline, that ensure stable and reliable supplies of natural gas to China, meeting the significant energy needs of the country.

The current dynamics of energy resource imports by the European Union are shaped by historical, logistical, and strategic factors, including established supply routes from other regions. Turkmenistan has repeatedly expressed its readiness and ability to supply natural gas to Europe through the Caspian Sea on international platforms. However, this requires addressing all legal aspects and the interests of all potential stakeholders in the project, including the EU, Turkmenistan, and the countries situated between them. Turkmenistan continues to strengthen its engagement with the EU in the energy sector, and the ongoing dialogues indicate that both parties support expanding cooperation in the near future.  Most importantly, we are confidently moving forward in diversifying our export routes and  consider Europe a vital partner in this process. We are convinced that developing energy cooperation between Turkmenistan and the EU will bring mutual benefits and strengthen our partnership relations.

NE Global:  In the European Union, the Green Deal is a pivotal political item. What is the Turkmen’s view thereof?  Is Turkmenistan investing in renewable energies? How do you see the future of the energy supply in your country? 

Sapar Palvanov:  Turkmenistan views the EU’s Green Deal as a significant and commendable initiative that aligns with our commitment to sustainable development and environmental protection. We recognize the importance of transitioning to green energy and are actively investing in renewable energy projects, particularly hydrogen and solar energy.

As a major energy producer in the region, we understand our responsibility in addressing climate issues. While the traditional energy resources we currently use represent the energy of today, the future undoubtedly belongs to green energy. Acknowledging this, we have already taken substantial steps in this direction. Last year, the President of Turkmenistan announced our country’s commitment to the global initiative to reduce methane emissions. Based on this, Turkmenistan has developed a program aimed at collaborating with international partners to implement new technologies and share expertise. In this regard, we see the European Union as a reliable partner, rich in experience and advanced technologies. We aim to leverage European expertise and technologies to create a sustainable and diversified energy sector that meets both domestic and international needs.

In 2022, at the initiative of Turkmenistan, we hosted a scientific-practical conference on green energy and the EU’s strategy on hydrogen energy and methane emission reduction. Additionally, the agenda of the April 2024 meeting of the EU-Turkmenistan working group in Brussels included discussions on green energy and methane emission reduction. These interactions between EU and Turkmen specialists demonstrate the mutual interest and potential for practical collaboration in this crucial area. Therefore, the EU’s Green Deal is fully in line with our national priorities. We are ready to actively cooperate with the European Union to achieve common goals in sustainable development and environmental protection.

NE Global:  The city of Turkmenbashy on the Caspian Sea holds an important port that has yet to realize its full potential. How do you see the port of Turkmenbashy facilitating trade with the EU?

Sapar Palvanov:  Today, we increasingly hear about transport links, particularly those connecting Asia with Europe. In this context, one of the key routes is the transport corridor through Central Asia, including our country, Turkmenistan. We recognize this reality and understand the necessity, which is why we actively strive to be key participants in these projects. We also initiate new projects and routes ourselves, such as the Caspian Sea-Black Sea corridor, which involves four countries. Currently, we are collaborating with all these countries, taking positive steps in this direction. 

We have long been moving on this path, attracting more investments. For instance, from 2015 to 2022, we invested approximately USD 15 billion in this sector, including the construction of roads, railways, airports, and port infrastructures. Five years ago, the Turkmenbashy Sea Port, the largest in the region, began operations. The government invested USD 1.5 billion in the construction of this new port to ensure a seamless flow of goods through our port. The port has the capacity to handle 25 million tons of various cargo types through its modern terminals. Our current goal is to fully realize the potential of this port. 

We understand that having a port is just the beginning, not the end goal. Presently, we are collaborating with European companies and various institutions to attract investments and, most importantly, to incorporate their expertise in port management. Specifically, we have initiated a dialogue with the Port of Antwerp and the Antwerp Maritime Academy.

After a thorough analysis of regional transport and logistics needs, our government has recognized the important steps necessary to elevate our trade capabilities to international standards. We have initiated the process of ratifying the International Maritime Organization’s Facilitation Convention. Ratifying this convention is a significant milestone for Turkmenistan, particularly for the Turkmenbashy International Port. It will pave the way for implementing a “single window” system in the near future – a transformational step that promises to simplify and optimize all procedures related to the arrival, stay, and departure of ships.

Moreover, we understand that ports rely on other transport infrastructures, namely roads and quality railway networks. They are closely interconnected, which is why we are currently focusing more attention on this aspect. We have reconstructed over 5,000 km of railways, ensuring reliable transport connections within the country and between regions.

NE Global: Turkmenistan annually gives symbolic names to years, for instance, this year is named “The Fount of Wisdom of Magtymguly Pyragy”. Could you tell us how these names are chosen and what goals this tradition aims to achieve?

Sapar Palvanov: The tradition of naming each year is a remarkable practice that, through its slogan, sets the key guidelines for national development at a new stage. This tradition helps boost the patriotic spirit and the desire of every citizen to contribute personally to the significant work carried out in the country.

For example, the year 2023 was named “Happy Youth with Arkadag Serdar” and an official emblem was adopted. This symbol reflects the desire of the Turkmen people, together with the youth, to follow the government’s course and work diligently for the further prosperity of their beloved Motherland. The designation of 2023 as “Happy Youth with Arkadag Serdar” spurred more active engagement and involvement of the youth in implementing national programs and foreign policy initiatives.

The year culminated with the publication by the President of Turkmenistan of a book titled “Youth – the Pillar of the Motherland.” This book highlights the achievements of the young generation in various Olympiads, creative contests, art festivals, and sports competitions, as well as their successful work in both public and private sectors, contributing to the progressive development of all sectors of the national economy. Notably, young athletes from Turkmenistan secured a total of 812 medals in international competitions throughout 2023.

Looking forward, the government has approved “The Fount of Wisdom of Magtymguly Pyragy” as Turkmenistan’s official motto for 2024. This selection was inspired by the desire to connect the 2024 motto with the name of Magtymguly Pyragy, in celebration of the 300th anniversary of this celebrated thinker and classic poet of the East.

Magtymguly Pyragy is celebrated as a seminal figure in Turkmen and Eastern literature at large, revered not only for his poetic genius but also for his profound philosophical insights and his role as a cultural and moral educator. His work, deeply rooted in the traditions, manners, and moral values of the Turkmen people, serves as a cornerstone for both his contemporaries and the generations that followed. Magtymguly’s poetry and thoughts engage deeply with themes of human dignity, education, and the cultivation of high moral standards, which he believed were essential for the development of a virtuous and harmonious society.

Magtymguly’s influence extends beyond the literary realm; he is considered a sage and a thinker, whose works are infused with the wisdom and values central to Turkmen national identity and spirituality. This tradition of naming years not only honors historical figures but also inspires the nation to pursue excellence and unity in line with the values and wisdom they embody.






































































































































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Managing Editor of European Union & Italian Political Affairs


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