President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, in an exclusive interview with First Deputy Director General of TASS Mikhail Gusman, answered questions about various aspects of relations with Russia, told about his life principles and attitudes, and also declared Ashgabat's readiness to cooperate with the new Afghan government.
- Mr. President, Turkmenistan has just celebrated a great holiday – the 30th anniversary of independence. The same year marks the 30th anniversary of the creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States, and this is also a holiday for a huge number of people in the CIS countries. For someone more, for someone less, but it's really a holiday. How do you assess these 30 years of the CIS? What does this Commonwealth give Turkmenistan? What do you expect from him, how do you see the future of this Commonwealth?
– First of all, let me warmly welcome you, Mikhail Solomonovich, to Turkmenistan, thank you for finding the opportunity to come to our country for this interview.
I would like to take this opportunity to note that we highly appreciate cooperation with ITAR-TASS– Russia's oldest and most authoritative news agency. I also watch with pleasure and great interest your program "Formula of Power", I believe that it makes a significant contribution to better mutual understanding between countries and peoples, promotes openness and trust in interstate relations.
Now let's move on to your question. The Commonwealth of Independent States, as you know, was established as a response to the events of the end of 1991, when the Soviet Union ceased to exist. It was a difficult period, many things in the relations between the former republics were unclear, not settled. Political, legal, financial, property and many other issues have risen to their full height. And the CIS took over, as they said at the time, the functions of a "civilized divorce." I think that under the circumstances, this task - at certain costs - was completed.
But after that, the Commonwealth did not cease to exist. On the contrary, I believe that in 30 years it has become stronger politically and economically, turned out to be a wealthy and viable association. And today, he has clear goals and prospects that are in line with current trends in world development.
First of all, in our opinion, we are talking about the effective use of the joint economic potential of the CIS for accelerated industrial, investment, and innovative development of the participating countries, the creation of a modern multi-variant transport and logistics system on the territory of the Commonwealth, the integration of the CIS into world economic relations as a connecting space between Asia and Europe, the participation of our countries in the construction of facilities and infrastructure in neighboring states. The Strategy of Economic Development of the CIS until 2030 adopted last year fixes these goals and ways to achieve them.
All this is fully applicable to the role of the CIS in regional processes, maintaining stability and development in Central Asia. Our region is located in a strategically important place of the Eurasian transport routes, has great natural resources. These advantages are taken into account in the long-term economic plans of the Commonwealth.
In general, the current interaction of the participating countries takes place in a constructive working manner at various levels and formats. Our communication today is extremely specific, aimed at practical impact, as close as possible to the real needs and needs of people.
This is the strength of the CIS, and Turkmenistan is firmly committed to partnership within this association.
– You know, Mr. President, I probably won't go against the truth if I say that relations with Russia occupy a special place in Turkmenistan's foreign policy, it has developed both historically and dictated by modern conditions. In what directions, in your opinion, has the development of relations between Turkmenistan and Russia achieved the greatest progress? Where is the potential that still needs to be realized? And in general, how do you assess the current state of relations between Turkmenistan and the Russian Federation?
- Relations between Turkmenistan and Russia are relations between two strategic partners. And this characteristic suggests that the Turkmen-Russian cooperation is comprehensive, long-term, not subject to external conjuncture.
We cooperate on issues of maintaining peace and security in the international and regional arenas, in major international organizations, first of all in the United Nations, and coordinate our steps there if necessary. I would like to emphasize that such interaction is based on the proximity or commonality of approaches, which are based on the recognized norms of international law, the UN Charter, the principles of equality, respect for the sovereignty of states, non-interference in their internal affairs.
In the economic sphere, Russia has been among the leaders in terms of foreign trade turnover with Turkmenistan for many years and is one of the leading investment partners of our country.
We cooperate with Russia in the fuel and energy sector, in shipbuilding and aircraft construction, agro-complex, textile industry, transport, road construction, metallurgy and many other segments. Turkmenistan has established and is developing direct trade and economic ties with the subjects of the Russian Federation - Tatarstan, St. Petersburg, Astrakhan region.
Other regions of Russia are also showing interest in cooperation.
Cultural and humanitarian ties are developing. I would call cooperation in the field of education particularly successful.
As for the unrealized potential, we are talking more about those areas that are already waiting for the joint application of forces or are already at the beginning of their implementation. Among them, I would single out transport and logistics. In this context, we are currently working on a very promising project to create a transport artery along the Caspian Sea – Volga River line with access to northern Russian ports and further to Europe.
For this purpose, the Caspian direction of cooperation with Russia is being strengthened.
Both Turkmenistan and Russia are well aware that the potential for cooperation is huge, especially in recent years, very serious efforts have been made on both sides to implement it on a mutually beneficial basis.
So we have such broad cooperation in all areas that today it is difficult to say where our unrealized potential remains.
– Mr. President, you have told me in such detail that I thought about this: I probably would not be mistaken if I said that the achievements in relations between our countries are based on the dialogue that you have developed over the years with Russian President Vladimir Putin. There is such an expression in the political dictionary – personal chemistry, which means "personal chemistry". Observing your communication, it seems that you have a special "personal chemistry" in relations with our President. In this regard, how do you assess the current dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin?
– I can say clearly: as extremely trusting, open, friendly, while always very substantive and focused on the final result. Our acquaintance took place when I was still Deputy Prime Minister and accompanied him during one of his visits to Turkmenistan. It was, if I'm not mistaken, in 2002.
So we have known each other for almost 20 years, and we always have an honest, direct and open dialogue on all issues.
In my opinion, Vladimir Vladimirovich is a great man who has a simple character and a broad soul. A person with whom it is always a pleasure to talk.
We regularly communicate with the President of Russia: in person, by phone, exchange opinions, consult on topical issues of international politics, the bilateral agenda. And every time I feel from his side the mood for constructive joint work and commitment to close cooperation with Turkmenistan, respect for our country and the course we have chosen.
All the issues that we discussed, of course, are aimed at the benefit of our peoples. We highly appreciate this, and I am deeply grateful to the President of Russia for the continued support of Turkmenistan on the world stage, our neutrality and international initiatives.
– But there is one difficult topic, unfortunately, which unites people, our countries and peoples now and which requires even greater unification– is the fight against the pandemic. It hit the whole world. Fortunately, Turkmenistan, I know, is one of the few countries that was able to somehow more or less protect itself from this terrible disaster thanks to the efforts made by the Government of Turkmenistan and you personally. Nevertheless, it exists, and the danger of this has not yet been overcome. I know that the Russian vaccines Sputnik V and Epivaccorona have been approved in Turkmenistan. What else do you think needs to be done to prevent this terrible disaster from affecting your country and people?
- Turkmenistan has become one of the first countries in the world to officially approve the use of Russian vaccines Sputnik V and Epivaccorona on its territory. And this has largely allowed and allows us to successfully counteract the pandemic of coronavirus infection.
In this context, I would like to note that the cooperation of our countries has acquired special importance in the fight against it.
And from the very beginning of the pandemic, effective bilateral mechanisms were established between Turkmenistan and Russia in the shortest possible time through scientific and medical communities, relevant ministries and departments. It would not be an exaggeration to say that our countries in these difficult conditions have shown excellent examples of genuine solidarity, mutual assistance and support, effective unification of efforts.
And emphasizing this very nature of cooperation, I rightly note the special role of Russia and express my gratitude to its leadership.
Vaccination in our country is carried out in accordance with the schedule and needs, covering the entire territory of Turkmenistan. The health care system and sanitary services are working smoothly, all necessary measures are being taken to prevent the disease.
But, of course, there are still certain restrictions on entry to Turkmenistan, in particular, in air communication with other countries. This is natural in these conditions.
We are closely monitoring the situation in the world and in neighboring countries and will act according to the situation. In general, I can say that Turkmenistan has been able to effectively build protective mechanisms against this dangerous infectious disease.
- Turkmenistan is an actively developing country today, it occupies an increasingly significant place on the world map. She is being recognized more and more. You are known for a number of foreign policy initiatives, they are widely known in the world. Which ones are you most proud of?
– Most of all, I am proud of the people of Turkmenistan, who understood, accepted and supported these initiatives, plans and plans and are successfully implementing them today.
The country has indeed been developing very dynamically in recent years. The economic growth rate is stable and remains at a good level, despite the pandemic.
This indicates the stability of the economy and its serious potential. The first President Saparmurat Atayevich Niyazov did a lot for his country, laid the foundations of the state, a lot of work was done to consolidate the status of neutrality. I am proud that on our initiative in 2015, the United Nations re-confirmed our neutral status and subsequently the day of December 12 was adopted as the International Day of Neutrality.
As for any specific achievements in this or that area, there are a lot of them, and the enumeration will take a lot of time.
In fact, entire sectors of the national economy have been raised from scratch, thousands of kilometers of modern roads, large energy infrastructure facilities have been built, dozens of new plants have been commissioned. Look at Ashgabat, its architecture, the residential buildings in which our people live.
On the Caspian coast, where there used to be a desert, the National Tourist Zone "AVAZA" has been erected with a network of comfortable hotels and cottage settlements, where residents of our country go on vacation every year.
These examples are only a small fraction of all that has been done in the country.
In the international arena, we highly appreciate and are rightfully proud of the support of the international community for Turkmenistan's initiatives in the field of energy security, transport cooperation, ecology, peacemaking and preventive diplomacy. The unanimous vote in the UN in favor of our proposals, the growing understanding and support for Turkmenistan's neutrality and its peacemaking course convince us of the correctness of the foreign policy strategy to promote universal peace, security, the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals, strengthening the central role of the UN in world affairs, commitment to equality and respect in interstate relations.
All this is a matter for pride. But, I repeat, these merits rightfully belong to the Turkmen people and our state.
– When you fly up to Ashgabat, you can see a beautiful white city from the plane. Now I was on my way to meet you, and this is all striking in its whiteness, cleanliness, beautiful architecture. You mentioned the Caspian Sea – it's native to me: I grew up on the other side of the Caspian. We are united by our youth, the common Caspian Sea, the great Karakum Mountains. Open a secret – I understand that the whole country is native to you, but what are your favorite places in Turkmenistan where the heart rests?
- Turkmenistan is really a unique country, there is something to see here. This is my homeland, where my compatriots live, work, raise children. Every corner of Turkmenistan is beautiful in its own way and bears the imprint of our ancient history, culture and traditions.
And I often travel around the country for a long time, meet with people and make sure that thanks to their hard work, love for the land on which they live, Turkmenistan is getting prettier and developing. Comfortable and cozy villages appear, parks and recreation areas are being broken up.
Probably, as for any person, the places where I spent my childhood and grew up are especially dear to me, the memories of which are always with me. A person has one homeland, so I think that all places are dear to everyone, no matter what they are – beautiful or ugly.
– You know, Mr. President, first of all I want to pay you a compliment – you are in such great athletic shape. It struck me that you are doing great cycling, karate, taekwondo, and shooting. I felt ashamed, because I, as a person who is far from sports in general, go to Mr. President, who is a professional athlete. So you'll excuse me if I can't be proud of something in this regard, so to speak. When did you come to the conclusion that sport is needed, that sport is a part of your life?
– It originated naturally, as a necessity for the body. During my childhood, and it was back in the USSR, the work on attracting teenagers to sports was very much set. There were various clubs and organizations, for example DOSAAF, if you remember.
- Of course! Voluntary Society for the Promotion of the Army, Aviation and Navy! There was even a badge.
– That's just the same in which they taught various sports.
It was very interesting and exciting, so I, like all other teenagers, actively engaged in those sports that I liked: shooting, freestyle and classical wrestling, cycling and motorsport. He was repeatedly awarded honorary badges and other awards, took first place in his weight category at the championship of the republic in classical wrestling among teenagers.
He distinguished himself at the competitions in air rifle shooting, held then among juniors by the DOSAAF organization, and took first place.
And at the military training competitions he won the title of champion of Turkmenistan in bench shooting. As for equestrian sports, as they say, it is difficult to imagine a Turkmen without a horse.
I have been in the public service for several decades, and almost without days off and vacations. My working day starts early in the morning and ends late at night. And in such a rhythm it is impossible to work effectively, maintain concentration without good physical shape. I try to find time to continue practicing some sports that are interesting to me and that allow me to test myself to some extent, my reaction, will, ability to make the right decisions with lightning speed under changing circumstances. Active, mobile sports greatly contribute to this and help to apply these qualities in work.
- Mr. President, I will tell you honestly, maybe not so intensively, but among your colleagues, heads of state, there are people who also play sports. But you are also doing creative work at the same time, writing books, writing poetry. I saw on the video that you even write rhythmic music, not so mournful, but with a modern rhythm. It's like a separate side of your life and biography. But where do you get your creative ideas from?
– The ability to be creative is probably in my genes, inherited from my ancestors. We have a pedagogical family: my grandfather was a teacher, he wrote stories and poems, then my father was also a teacher, he also wrote stories and poems, I also spent many years, as you probably know, in teaching.
Therefore, apparently, my creative abilities have clearly manifested themselves. And I want to say that creativity and music classes create a good mood and help active life.
Music, poetry are more like hobbies, hobbies that allow you to get a little distracted.
But I consider books to be part of my work, serving the state and the people. I take this type of activity very seriously, before taking up the pen, I study a lot of source materials, request archival data, consult with specialists.
And I am well aware that everything I have written goes to the masses, is studied especially carefully, and not only in Turkmenistan. Therefore, high competence, responsibility, reasonableness, reliance on facts are required here. I hope that I manage in this kind of activity, as they say, to keep the bar and bring benefits.
– In a conversation about your formation, it is quite natural and natural to recall your respected father, who, unfortunately, literally passed away a few months ago. Your father was happy that he saw such a formation of his son. He has been by your side for many years of your conscious life and has given you a lot as a person and a person. What paternal instructions do you consider to be the most important and valuable for yourself as the President of Turkmenistan, helping in everyday activities?
- My father was a man of firm convictions, strong moral and moral principles. He did not impose them, did not give me any special or special edification. He brought me up rather by the power of his example, by his attitude to work, family, home, neighbors, friends and relatives – everything that forms the concept of home in a person, and even more broadly - the Motherland, the Fatherland. Of course, he gave both instructions and advice. When I took the highest state post, I expressed my thoughts, to which I listened. And much of what he advised me turned out to be necessary and useful for the country.
I tried and always try to follow his example, his qualities such as crystal honesty, conscientiousness, desire and ability to help people, the ability to forgive mistakes if a person accidentally stumbled. These qualities are important in themselves, but they become especially important if they are applied at the state level.
– Your father - eternal memory to him - was proud of his son. You are a happy father yourself today: you have a wonderful family, quite grown-up children, of whom, as I understand it, you can already be proud too! Taking into account your busy schedule in those moments when you manage to be with your family, what do you talk about? What family values do you put above all else within this small collective called "family"?
– I will tell you frankly: the item "communication with family" is not provided in my work schedule. Of course, this is a joke, but there really isn't enough time for a family, grandchildren. The children are already big: the son is in politics, the eldest daughter is a doctor, the youngest is an economist, and the grandchildren are already children of digitalization. For example, I ask my four-year-old grandson: "What toy should I give you?". And he answers me: "Before you say something, think first and only then ask questions! And why ask, if you can open the same "lOvicOde" or QR code and request to choose one or another toy for us there." These are our children today.
There are moments when we get together, but they are quite rare and for some reason end quickly. This is inevitable, and all my relatives and family are sympathetic to this situation.
As for the values for the younger generation, they are simple: dignity, honesty, moral purity, respect for elders, the sanctity of the family hearth and love for the Motherland. These concepts are eternal: they do not change and will always remain the core on which a person, society and the state are held.
- Mr. President, while I was preparing for a meeting with you, enough time has passed, and I have one question of a purely political nature. Events in the world are changing dramatically, and I want to touch, if I may, on these dramatic events in Afghanistan. These are your neighbors, our neighbors. Events developed rapidly, dramatically, and in some ways, perhaps unexpectedly. In view of the fact that this country is quite close to Turkmenistan, what do you see as the danger of further development of this situation? How do you see the situation around Afghanistan in general from your point of view?
– In recent days, the political situation in Afghanistan has undergone drastic changes. The formation of a new government has begun in the neighboring country after the withdrawal of a foreign military contingent from Afghanistan. The country is entering a new stage in its history.
In Turkmenistan, we are closely following the development of the situation and recent events in Afghanistan and express the hope that the transit of power in the country will be carried out peacefully on the basis of a broad national dialogue.
For my part, I would like to emphasize that we are ready to work closely with the new Government of Afghanistan to further strengthen the traditionally fraternal Turkmen-Afghan relations, to provide the necessary assistance in order to normalize the situation in this country as soon as possible and ensure its sustainable socio-economic revival.
As you know, Turkmenistan, relying on its positive neutral status, conducts an exclusively peaceful foreign policy without interfering in the internal affairs of foreign states.
Based on our neutral status, we do not join military alliances and blocs, but on the contrary, actively use our political space to promote peace, security and sustainable development on the planet.
In this regard, I would like to clarify our country's position on the current situation in Afghanistan. It includes three main principles: political and diplomatic, trade and economic, and socio-humanitarian directions.
Firstly, we have repeatedly stressed that Turkmenistan stands for the settlement of the situation in Afghanistan exclusively by peaceful, political and diplomatic methods, based on the development of mutually acceptable solutions with the broad participation of all ethnic and religious groups living in Afghanistan.
The Afghan people should independently decide the future of their country and decide on a new government, a form of state system.
Secondly, the most important condition for stability, sustainable economic development of Afghanistan, its successful integration into both regional and global economic processes is the implementation of major infrastructure projects with Afghan participation.
An example of this is the large-scale projects implemented by our country in the energy, transport and communication spheres.
The construction of the Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan–India (TAPI) gas pipeline is of great importance in this context. According to preliminary estimates, this project, in addition to direct gas supplies to Afghanistan, will ensure that the budget of this country receives more than a billion US dollars only for gas transit. In addition, several thousand new jobs will be created in those Afghan provinces through which the pipeline will pass.
The construction of power transmission lines and fiber-optic communication along the Turkmenistan–Afghanistan–Pakistan route, the formation of a transport corridor under the name "Lapis Lazuli" is underway.
I am convinced that the successful implementation of such projects will give a powerful impetus to the economic development of fraternal Afghanistan, will become an incentive for effective activity on the part of external investors.
Thirdly, realizing the fact that Afghanistan is in dire need of humanitarian support, Turkmenistan systematically provides assistance to the Afghan people. We regularly send convoys with humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, carry out the construction of schools and hospitals in rural areas, expand the training of Afghan personnel in educational institutions of Turkmenistan.
I would like to note that recently a decision was made to send another humanitarian cargo as a sign of friendship and good neighborliness.
All this, of course, is financed by Turkmenistan from its own resources.
We intend to continue the good tradition of providing humanitarian support to the fraternal people of Afghanistan. And I am convinced that peace and harmony will soon reign on the Afghan land, especially with a rich historical past.
– And in conclusion of our conversation, Mr. President, I would like to ask you a question that I always ask at the end of my meetings. Our program is called "Formula of Power", and I would like to ask: What is power for you, the President of Turkmenistan? What does it taste like? And what is this strange thing called "power"?
– I believe that it is a great honor to be in power, to be a submissive servant of the people, to serve faithfully your Motherland, your people. Therefore, the main slogan that we have been guided by all this time is: "The state is for man!". Built on an organic combination of the historical and social experience of the Turkmen people, harmony of national and universal values, as well as achievements of socio-political thought of the beginning of the XXI century, this ideology asserts patriotism, diligence, humanity and responsibility. It encourages people to act according to the dictates of duty, conscience and spiritual beliefs. It reflects the essence of the national idea that unites and unites the citizens of the country, acts as a cementing spiritual foundation for the qualitative renewal of society.
For me, power is, first of all, the highest responsibility. There is a classic definition: "Power is the authority and resources to make decisions and implement them." The definition is correct, but without the presence of responsibility, it is only a technical statement. And only responsibility gives this formula meaning, value and life motivation.
It is the awareness of your personal responsibility that is designed to protect you from hasty decisions - to check and calculate the consequences of certain decisions a thousand times. After all, there are people behind each of them – with their worries, problems, hopes. This is what I am guided by while serving as President. To use power for the benefit of people and my country – that, I believe, is my main defining goal.
- Mr. President, thank you very much. You have done me a great honor by taking the time. It was an incredibly interesting conversation. I thank you. I am sure that the viewers and readers who will get acquainted with our interview will get to know you more deeply, as the President of a beautiful country, and your country itself. Let me wish you all the best, as well as good luck and prosperity to the people of Turkmenistan! Thank you, Mr. President!