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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 July, 2003, 22:28 GMT 23:28 UK
Turkmen pledge on Russian rights
Russian family arriving in Moscow from Ashgabat
Many Russians fear being trapped under the new laws
Officials in Turkmenistan have assured a delegation from Moscow that the rights of Russian citizens living locally will be respected despite their loss of dual citizenship.

Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed with his counterpart, Saparmurat Niyazov, to abolish the two countries' post-Soviet citizenship treaty at talks in April.

However, the Turkmen leader caused panic among ethnic Russians citizens by making the decision retroactive and giving them two months to choose.

Diplomats from the two states rounded off two days of talks on the issue in Ashgabat on Wednesday with an announcement by the Russian side that it had received assurances over the welfare of its citizens living locally.

Some 314,000 ethnic Russians make up about 6.7% of population
About 100,000 currently have Russian citizenship
Vast majority settled under the USSR when there was a single, Soviet citizenship
Sources: CIA factbook figures for July 2002, Russian Embassy in Turkmenistan

The Turkmens had "officially stated that the rights and interests of Russian citizens living on the territory of Turkmenistan will not be infringed", said the leader of the Russian delegation, Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov.

He added that ties between Russia and the energy-rich Central Asian state could not be "allowed to suffer".

The two states signed a 25-year energy deal granting Russia the right to buy cheap Turkmen natural gas when their leaders met in April.

Turkmenistan is also concerned about the effect on its economy of a mass migration by skilled ethnic Russian workers.

The Russian Embassy in Ashgabat estimates that about 100,000 residents of Turkmenistan - a nation of some 4.7 million - have Russian citizenship out of a total ethnic Russian population of about 314,000.

'No evictions'

Following President Niyazov's shock announcement of a two-month deadline ending on 22 June, ethnic Russians began arriving in Moscow on a wave of panic.

Non-citizens feared they would lose their right to travel out of Turkmenistan for good - particularly given plans to reintroduce Soviet-era exit visas.

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov (R)
Niyazov has been in power since Soviet times

One member of the Russian delegation at the Ashgabat talks said he had seen nothing to suggest that Russian citizens were being driven out of their homes, as reported recently in the Russian media.

But MP Sergei Anatenko did express concern about media curbs.

Turkmens largely rely on Russian-language satellite TV to obtain outside information about their own country and the world.

The authorities have already cut off deliveries of Russian-language newspapers to the country.

Most ethnic Russians in Central Asia settled or were born in the region in Soviet times when skilled professionals such as engineers, doctors or pilots were drafted in by Moscow as part of a modernisation drive.

Since the collapse of the USSR and amid the ensuing religious and ethnic tensions, many of them have moved back to Russian territory where they often find themselves resented by local people tending to see them as overqualified outsiders.

Russians 'flee' Turkmenistan
20 Jun 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Turkmenistan: Isolated but dangerous
27 Feb 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Turkmen leader overcome by modesty
07 Feb 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Turkmenistan
24 May 03  |  Country profiles

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