Putin hosts Turkmenistan's new president amid Western isolation

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The new president of authoritarian Turkmenistan, Serdar Berdymukhamedov, on Friday called for stronger ties with "strategic" partner Moscow during a Kremlin meeting with President Vladimir Putin.

The meeting came as Putin seeks new markets and hopes to strengthen ties with countries in Africa and Asia as the West pummels Moscow with unprecedented sanctions over the intervention in Ukraine.

This was the first visit abroad as president for 40-year-old Berdymukhamedov, who was elected as leader of the gas-rich Central Asian country in March after his father, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, stepped down.

Ex-Soviet Turkmenistan tolerates no political opposition or free press.

"Our bilateral ties are on the rise," Berdymukhamedov said following talks with Putin, singling out in particular their "equality and openness".

"Our countries have sufficient potential to strengthen mutual trade and investment," he said.

He also said he was "convinced that this meeting will give significant impulse to the strategic partnership" between Moscow and Ashgabat.

Putin, who greeted the Turkmen president with an embrace, praised their "substantial talks which took place in a business-like, friendly atmosphere".

He said that "particular attention" was given to energy cooperation during the talks.

Putin awarded Berdymukhamedov the Order of Friendship, one of Russia's highest state honours.

The two leaders also signed a declaration on strengthening ties between Turkmenistan and Russia at a time of growing isolation for Moscow after its military intervention in Ukraine.

Berdymukhamedov, who has benefited from a meteoric career rise in recent years, won a snap election in March, beating token rival candidates.

His father, 64, said in February that he was calling time on a 15-year reign -- which began after the sudden death of Turkmenistan's founding leader Saparmurat Niyazov -- to allow "younger leaders" to govern.

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