Turkmenistan has officially requested that the Operational Group of Russian Border Troops (OGRT) withdraw from the country by November 20. A relict of Soviet border troops, the OGRT owed its legal status to a treaty signed by Presidents Boris Yeltsin of Russia and Saparmurat Niazov of Turkmenistan in Ashgabat in 1993. The treaty--still in effect for the moment--provides for Russian-Turkmen "joint protection" of Turkmenistan's borders with its non-CIS neighbors, Afghanistan and Iran. The treaty is not time-limited, but gives either side the option to terminate it unilaterally with six months' notice. Turkmenistan confirmed yesterday both that it gave such notice on May 20 and that the OGRT must therefore withdraw by November 20.
The OGRT is subordinated to the command of Russia's border troops in Moscow. The Russian personnel of the Operational Group is currently down to 300 officers who command local Turkmen conscripts. The OGRT's commander, Major-General Vladimir Konovalov, commented yesterday that Turkmenistan has managed to create border troops competent enough to protect the country's borders unassisted. The OGRT will have to withdraw both its land and its maritime components. The latter would, therefore, have to relocate from the eastern and central portions of the Caspian Sea to the northern portion near Russia's coast--a significant contraction of the Russian presence in that sea (Turan, RIA, Reuters, May 24-25).
Turkmenistan's move to send the OGRT home accompanies the country's first steps to develop military cooperation with the United States and NATO (see the Monitor, May 12, 25). While drawing close economically and politically to the United States, Turkey and Israel, Niazov has maintained tension-free relations with Iran. Turkmenistan, moreover, maintains working contacts with the Taliban authorities of Afghanistan in the common interest of laying export pipelines through that country.
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