Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 131

On May 19 of this year, Turkmenistan served official notice that it is abrogating the 1993 agreement with Russia on joint protection of Turkmenistan’s borders and on the stationing of Russian border troops in the country. The agreement–unlike most documents of this type–was considered by the Russian side as “timeless” in that it did not stipulate an expiration date or prolongation procedure. Turkmenistan, however, availed itself of a clause which enables either side unilaterally to denounce the agreement with six months’ notice.

It was not until July 5 that the Russian side responded officially, and then only to request an extension of the six-month deadline. Colonel-General Konstantin Totsky, commander of Russia’s border troops, asked President Saparmurat Niazov in Ashgabat “not to force the pace of events.” Totsky proposed that:

—The Operational Group of Russian border troops commence a “gradual” withdrawal from Turkmenistan next year, instead of completing that withdrawal by the November 19, 1999 deadline.

–The two governments conclude a new agreement on cooperation in protecting Turkmenistan’s borders. First, the sides would institute a “permanent exchange of information” regarding the situation on the Turkmen-Afghan border. Second, Russian officers would stay on as advisers to Turkmen border troops. Third, Turkmen officers of those troops would be trained in Russia. Totsky contended that Western training would be inappropriate because it is geared to “the very tranquil situation on the Western countries’ borders.”

While in Ashgabat, Totsky made the diplomatic gaffe of describing Turkmenistan publicly as Russia’s “strategic partner”–a description which contravenes Turkmenistan’s status of permanent neutrality. That status, officially recognized since 1996 by the United Nations, is being invoked by Turkmenistan as a legal basis for not entering into military cooperation with Russia–whether bilaterally or under CIS guises.

The Operational Group (OG-FPST) is currently down to approximately 300 Russian officers and NCOs, who are detailed with Turkmen units. The group’s commander is ex officio a deputy commander of Turkmenistan’s border troops. The holder of that post, Major-General Vladimir Konovalov, admitted during Totsky’s visit that Turkmen border troops “currently form a self-sufficient system capable of handling on its own the protection of the state borders.” In all, the Russian generals’ remarks suggest that Moscow will seek rationales for retaining some presence and influence through the OG in Turkmenistan, but maintains that it is basically reconciled to the OG’s ultimate departure and will only need a gentle push in order to withdraw it by next year (Turan, Itar-Tass and other Russian agencies, July 5-6).

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