YMAMNAZAR, Turkmenistan (Reuters) – Turkmenistan opened a railway link to Afghanistan on Monday to boost exports of fuel as the gas-rich but cash-strapped nation seeks to ease its dependence on China and Russia.
The former Soviet republic mostly exports natural gas and its revenues have dwindled after Moscow, once the main buyer, halted purchases this year, leading to a shortage of foreign currency in the isolated desert nation.
The volume of gas sales to China, the current main buyer, is limited by pipeline capacity.
The Turkmen part of the 88-kilometre link ends at the Ymamnazar customs control point where Turkmenistan has built an oil product terminal with an annual capacity of 540,000 tonnes.
It was unclear by what percentage the rail link and the terminal could increase Turkmen fuel exports, because Ashgabat does not publish any data on physical volumes of such sales.
Turkmenistan produces about 10 million tonnes of oil a year, most of which it refines domestically, and oil products account for about 10 percent of total Turkmen exports. That share could increase as the country, unable to sell large quantities of natural gas, processes it into liquid fuels.
On the Afghan side, the link goes to the Aqina dry port in the Faryab province, but there are plans to extend it further. The Turkmen government said in a statement the railway would become part of longer link that would eventually connect landlocked Central Asia to China and Southeast Asia.
(Reporting by Marat Gurt; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by Susan Thomas)