Mikhail Gusman, the First Deputy Director General of the Russian news agency TASS interviewed the President of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov in Ashgabat on 1 October 2021.
The complete transcript of the interview in the Russian language is available on the websites of TASS, TDH and some other media outlets. Several stories based on the contents of the interview are also available at the websites of TASS and TDH.
We are producing here the translation of the complete text of the interview:
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov in an exclusive interview with TASS First Deputy Director General Mikhail Gusman answered questions about various aspects of relations with Russia, spoke about his life principles and attitudes, and also announced Ashgabat’s readiness to cooperate with the new Afghan government.
TASS: 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 some it is more, for some it is less, but this is really a holiday. How do you assess these 30 years of the CIS? What does this community give to Turkmenistan? What do you expect from it, how do you see the future of this community?
GB: First of all, let me warmly welcome you, Mikhail Solomonovich, to Turkmenistan, to 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 value cooperation with TASS, the oldest and most reputable agency in Russia. I also watch your program “Formula of Power” with pleasure and great interest, 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; much in the relations between the former republics was unclear, not regulated. Political and legal, financial, property and many other issues have risen to full growth. And the CIS took over, as they said then, the functions of a “civilized divorce”. I think that under the circumstances, this task – at certain costs – was accomplished.
But after that, the Commonwealth did not cease to exist. On the contrary, I believe that over 30 years it has become stronger politically and economically, has turned out to be a wealthy and viable association. And today it has clear goals and prospects, going in line with modern trends in world development.
First of all, in our opinion, we are talking about the effective use of the common economic potential of the CIS for the accelerated industrial, investment, innovative development of the participating countries, the creation of a modern multivariate 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 for the Economic Development of the CIS until 2030, adopted last year, sets out these goals and the 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 large natural resources. These advantages are factored into the long-term economic plans of the Commonwealth.
In general, the current interaction of the participating countries is proceeding in a working manner at various levels and formats. Our communication today is extremely specific, aimed at practical returns, as close as possible to the real demands and needs of people.
This is the strength of the CIS, and Turkmenistan is firmly committed to partnership within the framework of this association.
TASS: You know, Mr. President, I probably will not sin against the truth if I say that relations with Russia occupy a special place in the foreign policy of Turkmenistan, it has developed both historically and dictated by modern conditions. In what directions have the development of relations between Turkmenistan and Russia, in your opinion, achieved the greatest progress? Where is the potential that still needs to be realized? And how do you generally assess the current state of relations between Turkmenistan and the Russian Federation?
GB: Relations between Turkmenistan and Russia are relations of two strategic partners. And this characteristic suggests that the Turkmen-Russian cooperation is comprehensive, long-term, not subject to external conjuncture.
We interact in matters of maintaining peace and security in the international and regional arenas, in major international organizations, primarily in the United Nations, and, if necessary, coordinate our steps there. I want to emphasize that this kind of interaction is based on the similarity or commonality of approaches, which are based on the reliance on recognized norms of international law, the UN Charter, the principles of equality, respect for the sovereignty of states, and non-interference in their internal affairs.
In the economic sphere, Russia has been among the leaders in terms of the volume of foreign trade 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, the agricultural sector, the textile industry, transport, road construction, metallurgy and in many other segments. Direct trade and economic relations of Turkmenistan with the constituent entities of the Russian Federation – Tatarstan, St. Petersburg, Astrakhan region have been established and are developing.
Other regions of Russia are also showing interest in cooperation.
Cultural and humanitarian ties are developing. I would say that cooperation in the field of education has been especially successful.
As for the unrealized potential, we are talking more about those areas that are already awaiting 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 now working on a very promising project to create a transport artery along the Caspian Sea – Volga River with access to northern Russian ports and further to Europe.
The Caspian direction of cooperation with Russia is strengthening.
Both Turkmenistan and Russia are well aware that the potential for cooperation is enormous, 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 a broad cooperation in all areas that today it is difficult to say where our unrealized potential remains.
TASS: Mr. President, you told in such detail that I thought about this: I probably won’t be mistaken if I say 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 … In the political dictionary there is such an expression – personal rapport, which means “personal chemistry”. Observing your communication, one gets the impression that you have a special chemistry in your relationship with our president. In this regard, how do you assess the current dialogue with Vladimir Putin?
GB: I can say clearly: as extremely trusting, open, friendly, while always very substantive and focused on the final result. Our acquaintanceship 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 with a simple character and a broad soul. A person with whom it is always pleasant to talk to.
We regularly communicate with the President of Russia: face-to-face, by phone, exchange views, consult on topical issues of international politics and on the bilateral agenda. And every time I feel on his part the mood for constructive joint work and commitment to close cooperation with Turkmenistan, respectful attitude towards 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 in the world arena, our neutrality and international initiatives.
TASS: But there is one difficult topic, unfortunately, which now unites people, our countries and peoples and which requires even greater unification – this 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 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 Epivakkorona have been approved in Turkmenistan. What, in your opinion, still needs to be done for prevention so that this terrible disaster does not affect your country and people?
GB: Turkmenistan became one of the first countries in the world to officially approve the use of the Russian Sputnik V and Epivakkorona vaccines on its territory. And this in many ways allowed and allows us to successfully counteract the coronavirus pandemic.
In this context, I would like to note that in the fight against it, the interaction of our countries has acquired special significance.
And from the very beginning of the pandemic, effective bilateral mechanisms were established between Turkmenistan and Russia in the shortest possible time through the scientific and medical communities, relevant ministries and departments. It will not be an exaggeration to say that our countries in these difficult conditions have shown excellent examples of genuine solidarity, mutual assistance and support, and effective joining of efforts.
And by emphasizing this very nature of cooperation, I am fully justified in stressing the special role of Russia and express my gratitude to its leadership.
Vaccinations in our country are proceeding in accordance with the schedule and needs, covering the entire territory of Turkmenistan. The health care system, sanitary services are working harmoniously, all the 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 traffic with other countries.
We are closely monitoring the situation in the world, in neighboring countries and will act according to the situation. In general, I can say that Turkmenistan was able to effectively build defense mechanisms against this dangerous infectious disease.
TASS: Today Turkmenistan is an actively developing country, and it occupies an increasingly significant place on the world map. You are known for a number of foreign policy initiatives, they are widely known in the world. Which ones are you most proud of?
GB: Most of all, I am proud of the people of Turkmenistan, who understood, accepted and supported these initiatives, plans and plans and today successfully implements them.
The country has indeed been developing very dynamically in recent years. The growth rate of the economy is stable and at a good level, despite the pandemic.
This speaks of 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 reaffirmed our neutral status and subsequently December 12 was adopted as the International Day of Neutrality.
As for some specific achievements in a particular area, there are many of them, and the listing 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, and dozens of new factories have been commissioned. Look at Ashgabat, its architecture, residential buildings where our people live.
On the Caspian coast, where there used to be a desert, a national tourist zone “Avaza” has been erected with a network of comfortable hotels and cottage villages, where residents of our country go on vacation every year.
These examples are just a small fraction of everything that has been done in the country.
In the international arena, we highly appreciate and are rightfully proud of the support of the world community for the initiatives of Turkmenistan in the field of energy security, transport cooperation, ecology, peacekeeping and preventive diplomacy. The unanimous vote in the UN in favor of our proposals, the growing understanding and support for the neutrality of Turkmenistan and its peacekeeping course convince us of the correctness of the foreign policy strategy to promote global peace, security, fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals, strengthen the central role of the UN in world affairs, commitment to equality and respect in interstate relations.
All this is a matter of pride. But, I repeat, these merits rightfully belong to the Turkmen people and our state.
TASS: When you fly up to Ashgabat, you can see a beautiful white city from the plane. Now I have arrived to meet you, and all this amazes with its whiteness, purity, beautiful architecture. You mentioned the Caspian Sea – it is dear 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 Desert. Open the secret – I understand that the whole country is dear to you, but what are your favorite places in Turkmenistan, where the heart rests?
GB: Turkmenistan is a truly 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 and a lot travel around the country, meet people and see how, thanks to their hard work, love for the land on which they live, Turkmenistan is getting prettier and developing. Comfortable and cozy settlements appear, parks and recreation areas are being set up.
Probably, as for any person, the places where I spent my childhood, grew up, the memories of which are always with me are especially dear to me. A person has one homeland, so I think that every place has a road, no matter what they are: beautiful or ugly.
TASS: You know, Mr. President, first of all I want to compliment you – you are in such excellent athletic form. I was amazed that you are great at cycling, karate, taekwondo, and shooting. I felt ashamed because I, as a person who is generally far from sports, go to the President, who is a professional athlete. So you will excuse me that in this regard I cannot, so to speak, be proud of something. When did you yourself come to the conclusion that sport is needed, that sport is a part of your life?
GB: It originated naturally, as a necessity for the body. During my childhood, and this was still under the USSR, the work on attracting adolescents to sports was very much organized. There were various clubs and organizations, for example, DOSAAF (Voluntary Society for Assistance to the Army, Aviation and Navy – approx. TASS), if you remember.
TASS: Of course! Voluntary Society for Assistance to the Army, Aviation and Navy! There was even a badge.
GB: This is exactly in which it was taught a variety of sports.
It was very interesting and exciting, so I, like all other teenagers, was actively involved in the sports that I liked: shooting, freestyle and classic wrestling, cycling and motorsport. I repeatedly received honorary badges and other awards, took first place in my weight category at the republican championship in classical wrestling among teenagers.
I distinguished myself at the pneumatic weapon shooting competitions held then among juniors by the DOSAAF organization and took first place.
And at the military training competition I won the title of the champion of Turkmenistan in clay pigeon shooting. As for equestrian sports, as they say, it is difficult to imagine a Turkmen without a horse.
I have been in the civil service for several decades now, and practically without days off and vacations. My working day begins in the early morning and ends late in the evening. And in such a rhythm it is impossible to work effectively, to maintain concentration without good physical shape. I try to find time to continue practicing some sports that are interesting to me and which allow to some extent test myself, my reaction, will, ability to make the right decisions at lightning speed under changing circumstances. Active, mobile sports greatly contribute to this and help to apply these qualities in work.
TASS: Mr. President, I’ll tell you honestly, maybe not so intensively, but among your colleagues, heads of state, there are people who also go in for sports. But you are also simultaneously engaged in creativity, writing books, writing poetry. I saw on the video that you even write rhythmic music, not so somber, but with a modern rhythm. This is, as it were, a separate side of your life and biography. But where do you get ideas for creativity?
GB: 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, too, for many years, as you probably know, was in a teaching job.
Therefore, apparently, I also clearly showed the ability to create. And I want to say that art and music classes create a good mood and help active life.
Music, poetry are more of a hobby, hobbies that allow you to distract yourself a little.
But I consider books a part of my work, serving the state and people. I take this kind 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 broad masses, is studied especially carefully, and not only in Turkmenistan. Therefore, it requires high competence, responsibility, balance, reliance on facts. I hope that in this type of activity, as they say, I manage to keep the bar and be useful.
TASS: In a conversation about your formation, it is completely natural to remember your respected father, who, unfortunately, just a few months ago passed away. I am reminded of the lines of the great Russian poet Alexander Tvardovsky: “As they say, his own father / Didn’t take him on his last journey, / You’re still like a young man, / Though your beard crawl onto your chest.” Of course, your father was happy that he saw such a development of his son. He has been with you for many years of your conscious life and has given you a lot as a human and as a person. What fatherly instructions do you consider to be the most important and valuable for yourself as the President of Turkmenistan, helping in everyday activities?
GB: My father was a man of firm convictions, strong moral and ethical principles. He did not impose them, did not give me any special or specific edifications. He raised me rather by the power of his example, by his attitude to work, family, home, neighbors, friends and relatives – everything that forms in a person the concept of home and even wider: homeland, fatherland. Of course, he gave both instructions and advice. When I took the highest government post, I expressed my thoughts, to which he 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 acquire special significance if they are applied at the state level.
TASS: Your father – his eternal memory – was proud of his son. Today you are a happy father yourself: you have a wonderful family, quite grown children, whom, as I understand it, you can already be proud of! Given your busy schedule in those moments when you manage to be with your family, what are you talking about? What family values within this small group called “family” do you put above all else?
GB: I will tell you frankly: in my work schedule the item “communication with the family” is not provided. Of course, this is a joke, but there really is not enough time for a family. 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, first think and only then ask questions! And why ask if you can open the same “Lovikode” or QR-code and ask to choose this or that toy for us there”. These are our children today.
There are times when we get together, but they are quite rare and for some reason quickly end. This is inevitable, and all my family members 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 homeland. These concepts are eternal: they do not change and will always remain the core on which man, society and the state are held.
TASS: 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 upon, if you will allow, these dramatic events in Afghanistan. These are your neighbors, our neighbors. Events developed rapidly, dramatically, in some ways, perhaps unexpectedly. In view of the fact that this country is close enough to Turkmenistan, where do you see the danger of further development of this situation? How do you see the situation around Afghanistan in general, from your, so to speak, angle?
GB: In recent days, the political situation in Afghanistan has undergone dramatic changes. In the neighboring country, the formation of a new government began after the withdrawal of a foreign military contingent from Afghanistan. The country is entering a new stage in its history.
We in Turkmenistan are closely following the development of the situation and the latest 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 want 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 quickly normalize the situation in this country 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 enter into 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 the position of our country regarding the current situation in Afghanistan. It includes three main principles: political and diplomatic, trade and economic and social and humanitarian areas.
First, 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 must 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 world economic processes is the implementation of large infrastructure projects with Afghan participation.
An example of this is the large-scale projects being implemented by our country in the energy, transport and communication spheres.
In this context, the construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline is of great importance. According to preliminary estimates, this project, in addition to direct gas supplies to Afghanistan, will ensure that the budget of this country will receive over 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 route Turkmenistan – Afghanistan – Pakistan, the formation of a transport corridor under the name “Lapis Lazuli” is under way.
And I am convinced that the successful implementation of such projects will give a powerful impetus to the economic development of brotherly Afghanistan and will stimulate effective activity on the part of external investors.
Thirdly, realizing the fact that Afghanistan is in dire need of humanitarian support, Turkmenistan provides assistance to the Afghan people on a systematic basis. 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 the other day it was decided to send another humanitarian cargo as a sign of friendship and good neighborliness.
All this, naturally, is financed by Turkmenistan from its own resources.
We intend to continue to continue the good tradition of providing humanitarian support to the brotherly people of Afghanistan. And I am convinced that soon peace and harmony will reign on Afghan soil, especially with a rich historical past.
TASS: 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”?
GB: I believe that it is a great honor to be in power, to be an obedient servant of the people, to serve with faith and truth to your homeland. Therefore, the main slogan that we are guided by all this time: “The state is for the person.” Built on the organic combination of the historical and social experience of the Turkmen people, the harmony of national and universal values, as well as the achievements of social and political thought at the beginning of the 21st century, this ideology affirms patriotism, hard work, humanity and responsibility. It encourages people to act out of duty, conscience, and spiritual conviction. It reflects the essence of the national idea that unites and unites the citizens of the country, acts as a cementing spiritual basis for the qualitative renewal of society.
For me, power is above all the highest responsibility. There is a classic definition: “Power is the authority and resources for making decisions and implementing 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, behind each of them are people – with their worries, problems, hopes. This is what I am guided by while in the presidency. To use power for the benefit of people and my country is what, I believe, is my main defining goal.
TASS: Mr. President, thank you very much. You have done me a great honor for your time. It was an incredibly interesting conversation. Thank you. I am sure that TV viewers and readers who get acquainted with our interview will get to know more deeply both you 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! /// nCa, 4 October 2021 (copyright of content belongs to TASS, picture credit TDH)