Turkmen president to make first visit to Moscow

( RIA Novosti ) - Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov is to arrive on a working visit to Moscow, the Russian presidential press service said Monday.

The presidents of Turkmenistan and Russia are expected to discuss key issues in bilateral cooperation and coordinate approaches to a number of international and regional problems that concern the two countries.

A Kremlin administration spokesman said, "During negotiations the heads of state will focus on measures to enhance economic cooperation," adding that they would also consider cooperation in the humanitarian sphere and exchange ideas on international issues, the situation in Central Asia and problems related to the Caspian Sea status.

Sources in Ashgabat expect the upcoming top level negotiations in Moscow "to open a new page in the history of bilateral relations, based on a solid legal basis and a number of fundamental agreements," especially the 2002 Friendship and Cooperation Agreement and the 2003 agreement on Turkmen natural gas supplies to Russia for 25 years. Last year Russia bought 41 billion cubic meters of gas from Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan possesses the world's fifth-largest reserves of natural gas and substantial oil resources. On September 5, 2006, after Turkmenistan threatened to cut off supplies, Russia agreed to raise the price it pays for Turkmen natural gas from $65 to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters. Two-thirds of Turkmen gas goes through Russian energy giant Gazprom.

A source said: "LUKoil, Zarubezhneft, Itera, Stroytransgaz, Soyuzneftegaz have plans to implement promising projects in Turkmenistan." A number of Russia's large companies, such as Power Machines, Vyborg Ship Building Plant, Zvezda-Energetika, tractor plants in Cheboksary and Chelyabinsk, Volgaburmash, Kamaz and AFK Sistema are active in the Turkmen market.

The Kremlin source said the Russian-Turkmen Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Cooperation played a key role in coordinating bilateral economic ties. Later this year the commission, which is co-chaired by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Naryshkin and Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov, will hold its second meeting.

The two countries' trade in 2006 amounted to $307.5 million, against $300.7 million in 2005. Russian exports accounted for $228.6 million and imports stood at $78.9 million, as compared to $223.5 million and $77.2 million, respectively. In the first two months of 2007 bilateral trade reached $45.7 million.

Regional experts said political and business contacts between Turkmenistan and Russia had lately increased several times against earlier bilateral cooperation, which suggests that the two countries will develop promising long-term partnerships.

At a Thursday meeting with co-owners of AFK Sistema in Ashgabat, Berdymukhammedov invited the Russian leading consumer services firm, which owns a number of oil producing and refining assets in Bashkortostan, to develop oil and gas deposits at offshore sites on the Caspian Sea.

Russia will be the second foreign destination after Saudi Arabia and the first CIS country on the new Turkmen leader's itinerary. Berdymukhammedov assumed power on February 11, 2007 in the first multiple-candidate elections in Turkmen history, following the 21-year rule of Saparmurat Niyazov the country's first president.

Since the inauguration of the new Turkmen leader several Russian delegations have visited Turkmenistan. An agreement was reached to diversify bilateral relations between Russia and Turkmenistan during Russian Primer Mikhail Fradkov's visit to the country. In early April Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held negotiations with the Turkmen leader and his counterpart in Ashgabat, during which Berdymukhammedov confirmed his adherence to energy cooperation and partnership diversification with Russia.

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