19.06.2024 Author: Bair Danzanov

Turkmentransit 2024: Turkmenistan and continental highways

Turkmenistan and continental highways

Turkmenistan, whose geographical position seems quite favourable for promoting the initiative for the development of Eurasian transit highways in Central Asia, almost always remains outside the main focus of attention. Nevertheless, the republic is actively exploring the possibilities both of participating in foreign projects and promoting its own, and also seeks to attract as much investment as possible not only in its key oil and gas industry, but also in the field of transport infrastructure.

New trends 

Generally, the importance of Turkmenistan for international transit routes increased significantly in 2023; the national customs service has announced an increase in the volume of transit cargo through the country in 2023 by 17% and by another 5% in January-February of 2024. Comparing the current figures with those for 2020, the picture becomes more impressive still; in 38 months, the volume of transit traffic has more than doubled.

Ethnic solidarity

On the 13th of March, 2024, during the 15th meeting of the Council of Elders of the Organisation of Turkic States (OTS), the Chairman of the Halk Maslahaty of Turkmenistan called on the OTS countries to form a unified transport strategy within the framework of the so-called «Turkic Belt». Consequently, in its infrastructure initiatives Turkmenistan focuses on ethnic solidarity between potential participant states, as well as on international organisations. This approach differs significantly from the policy of other Central Asian states, which promote their projects in this field through bilateral or multilateral contacts, rather than on the basis of international organisations and seek to negotiate not with other «transit countries», but with the main economic centres of the continent, i.e. the EU and China.

An important direction for the development of transit traffic through Turkmenistan is the modernisation of existing railways in the republic. Demiryollary Joint Stock Company is carrying out major repairs of the existing railway network. Additionally, the modernisation of roads on the border with Afghanistan is also underway. Attracting investments into the transport system of Turkmenistan was discussed, in particular, on the 14th of March during negotiations with the Vice President of the EBRD, who was paying a visit to the republic. Russian Railways (РЖД) is actively working in the country, providing assistance in the modernisation of the railway network and rolling stock.

Port infrastructure

An important element of Turkmenistan’s transit infrastructure is Turkmenbasy, the largest port in the country, located on the Caspian Sea coast. In recent months, countries such as Japan and Afghanistan have expressed interest in its future use for cargo transportation. The former suggests using the port to promote exports to the West and are exploring the possibilities of its reconstruction, while the latter perceives it as an important element of the so-called «Lapis Lazuli Corridor», a highway project connecting Europe with India through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as being the main «gateway» for national exports to the West. The use of Turkmen ports at the end of 2023 within the framework of continental infrastructure projects was also proposed by the President of Kazakhstan K.J. Tokayev, having put forward the initiative to create a China-Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan route. The Russian Federation is also taking part in the modernisation of Turkmenistan’s port infrastructure.

Turkmenistan in international projects

Representatives of Turkmenistan are also actively involved in negotiations on the development of the international multimodal transport corridor “Countries of the Asia-Pacific region – China – Kyrgyzstan – Uzbekistan – Turkmenistan -Azerbaijan- Georgia – Turkey – Europe» (CASCA+). In particular, on the 15th of November, 2023, a meeting of the heads of railway departments of the participating countries was held in Ashgabat.

Other continental transport and infrastructure projects in which Turkmenistan participates are the Tajikistan-Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Iran-Turkey multimodal corridor (TUTIT), as well as the Uzbekistan–Turkmenistan–Iran corridor, within which Uzbekistan and a number of other Central Asian countries can gain effective access to the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. The first, however, gave way to a slightly different project in 2023. in November of 2023, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Turkey signed a protocol on the formation of an international multimodal corridor between Asia and Europe via the Uzbekistan–Turkmenistan–Iran–Turkey route, (i.e. without the participation of Tajikistan), due to difficulties related to the capacity of cross-border roads between the PRC and this state.

Interests of neighbours and partners

Despite the growing competition of transport projects in Central Asia, a number of countries in the region are interested in developing routes with the participation of Turkmenistan. For example, Ashgabat may be of great importance for the projects of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan from the point of view of the development of the «Southern Corridor», within which Turkmenistan will connect them with Iran, opening access to the Indian Ocean. For Russia and Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan’s transit potential attracts interest from the point of view of the implementation of the North-South project.

At the same time, it is obvious that all these opportunities cannot be realised without Iran’s active participation in continental corridor projects. In recent years, however, there have been several encouraging trends in this regard: first and foremost, the obvious deepening of trade and economic relations between Ashgabat and Tehran, and, on the other hand, Iran’s increasing involvement in the implementation of Belt and Road projects.

However, there are also areas in which Turkmenistan’s projects do not promise great benefits to other countries in the region. In particular, the Lapis Lazuli Corridor, in which Turkmenistan participates, can become a profitable alternative to the Trans-Afghan Railway, which Tashkent has high hopes for. This «profitability» will be especially noticeable for the transportation of goods traveling from the West to the East of the continent.

Thus, the absence of references to Turkmenistan in the headlines of the most high-profile articles about continental corridors still does not mean that the «caravan» passes by this Central Asian republic. Its authorities are currently conducting a complex policy of construction, political and diplomatic activity to integrate into promising industry projects of global importance. Nevertheless, these works have their own specifics, which can bring Ashgabat not only competitive advantages, but also unexpected difficulties and obstacles.


Bair Danzanov, independent expert on Mongolia, exclusively for the online magazine «New Eastern Outlook»

Related articles: