Rise or demise: Is there demand for Russian language in Turkmenistan?

On August 2, 2023 Ivan Volynkin, the newly appointed Ambassador of the Russian Federation to Turkmenistan gave an interview to the information agency TASS. The Ambassador stated that the Russian language remains in high demand in Turkmenistan. Although the Russian language does not have an official status in Turkmenistan, around 12% of the population is native Russian speakers. Currently, there is the Joint Russian-Turkmen School named after. A.S. Pushkin in Turkmenistan and there are plans to build a new section for primary classes. The two countries have also agreed to establish a Russian-Turkmen University and a new building of the State Russian Drama Theater A.S. Pushkin.

While removing travel visas between the two countries is not yet on the bilateral agenda, the ambassador mentioned increasing demand for Russian visas among Turkmen citizens. Since lifting of quarantine restrictions in March 2023, the Russian embassy has issued more than 19,000 visas. The most popular types of visas are for tourism and study purposes. More than half of the visas issued by the embassy in the first half of 2023 were tourist visas. The passenger traffic between Russia and Turkmenistan through direct flights amounts to 100-120 thousand people a year and another 50 thousand people who use connecting flights through Istanbul and Dubai.

The two countries are also negotiating the possibility of increasing mutual settlements in national currencies. In 2022, a quarter (25%) of bilateral foreign trade transactions, excluding payments for gas, were carried out in Russian rubles. Currently, the Russian bank cards such as the Mir payment system are not used in Turkmenistan. There is also a possibility that the state-owned Russian Railway company might build regional high-speed electric trains between Ashgabat and Arkadag cities.

Bilateral trade between Russia and Turkmenistan, excluding hydrocarbons, amounted to almost $800 million in 2022, which is 7.8% lower than in 2021. Russia mainly exports food, metal products, timber, equipment and vehicles while Turkmenistan exports textiles and food. Turkmenistan has also requested joining the intergovernmental agreement on the international transport corridor “North-South” which would connect European countries, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran and India.

The Ambassador reiterated that Turkmenistan and Russia are partners rather than competitors in the field of gas supplies to China. Russia supplies gas mainly to the northern and northeastern regions of China, while Turkmenistan supplies gas to the western provinces.

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