Turkmenistan Assumes CIS Chairmanship in a Tumultuous Time
The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Council of Permanent Plenipotentiary Representatives held their first meeting of the new year on January 29 in Minsk. The meeting celebrated Turkmenistan’s assumption of the body’s rotating chairmanship, and adopted its Action Plan for 2019. The action plan has not yet been published, buthas outlined Turkmenistan’s goals as strengthening trust among member countries, supporting security, increasing diplomatic interaction, increasing the level of CIS cooperation with international bodies, and enhancing trade.
Already these principles seem to be in jeopardy. On February 6, Ukrainefrom the CIS’s coordinating bodies. The embattled country had been incrementally reducing its involvement in the organization for the past several months. Just days ahead of the January meeting, it that it was pulling out of three of the body’s economic agreements in response to continued Russian aggression, meaning it will no longer exchange economic information with the CIS. It had begun closing its representative offices in August.
It is unclear what, if any, influence Turkmenistan holds over Ukraine’s decision. The two shared close relations for a long time, notably in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s sovereignty violations. Its own concerns about increasing Russian militarism in the Caspian Sea seemed to make Ashgabat sympathetic to Kyiv’s plight, and it publicly supported Ukraine. It also began moving to tighten bilateral, economic ties in 2015—partly leveraging the fact that it was not part of the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). In short, they had a bond built largely on shared wariness of Moscow.
However, Turkmenistan’s relationship with Russia has been on the mend since 2016. Falling gas prices and heightened security concerns from the Afghan border put Turkmenistan in a vulnerable position. Finally, as an agreement on the Caspian Sea’s legal status approached, and with it an important decision on Turkmenistan’s gas export abilities, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov beganabout Russian relations in general, and the CIS in particular. He attended more meetings, including one in Sochi that became famous after he gifted Russian President Vladimir Putin with a puppy.
Turkmenistan and Ukraine had previously been the only two associate members—as opposed to full members—of the CIS. It is possible that Ukraine’s decision to take more concrete steps towards withdrawal were prompted by the perceived loss of a neutral companion in the organization. After all, the conflict in Ukraine is nearly five years old, but Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko only announced plans to withdraw last April. Undoubtedly, Ukraine had been weighing the benefits of CIS membership for a long time, well before Turkmenistan began to pivot towards Russia; but Ashgabat’s shift may have been the final straw.