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Annexed by Russia between 1865 and 1885, Turkmenistan became a Soviet republic in 1925. It achieved its independence upon the dissolution of the USSR in 1991.
President NIYAZOV retains absolute control over the country and opposition is not tolerated. Extensive hydrocarbon/natural gas reserves could prove a boon to
this underdeveloped country if extraction and delivery projects can be worked out.
Update No: 255
There has been a breaking of the ranks among the top elite in Turkmenistan, an unprecedented event.
The regime of President Saparmurat Niyazov is as tight as could be, the most repressive dictatorship in the FSU. Its only rival is that of Islam Karimov in
Uzbekistan. But Karimov at least disdains to have a cult of his own person. Niyazov exults in having his portraits everywhere, in having towns, schools,
hospitals, etc named after him as "Turkmenbashi" (leader of the Turkmen) and so on.
This last self-appointed title has always caused offence in Turkey, where it has been reserved for the esteemed figure, Ataturk, ruler and moderniser of the
country in the 1922-38 period. Indeed, the Turks roundly despise Niyazov as a jumped - up mountebank. It is not surprising if any Turkmen ambassador to Ankara
a key posting, picks up on this widespread contempt and even comes to share it. This has now happened.
In mid-February Niyazov dismissed the Turkmen ambassador to Turkey, Nurmukhammet Khanamov. The provisional executive council of the opposition People's
Democratic Movement of Turkmenistan had earlier stated that Khanamov had resigned in protest against the "harmful policy of the Turkmen president." In his
statement published on the People's Democratic Movement website, Khanamov explained his decision to become an opposition activist. It is "a deeply - thought
out step, taken after long years of hopes and efforts aimed at strengthening the country, forming its foreign policy as a condition for ensuring the
effectiveness of internal reforms."
He added: "I state that the programme of democratic reforms developed by the provisional executive council of the People's Democratic Movement of Turkmenistan
is good and practical, and I an openly saying that I will work hard and use my experience of working in Turkmenistan, my diplomatic practice and my
international contacts to bring democratic order to Turkmenistan as soon as possible."
That Khanamov was out of the country and with his family at the time of his rebellion is highly suggestive. Only an ambassador could engage in such a high
profile act. There is now at last a serious opposition in Turkmenistan, although clandestine within the country.
The event could not have taken place but for a massive blunder made by Niyazov two years ago when he scuppered a project, the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline, to
take Turkmen gas to Turkey across the Caspian Sea by bungling the negotiations with US and UK majors. Turkmenistan still remains wholly dependant on Russia
for the export of its gas with baleful consequences.
Had the pipeline project gone ahead the Turkmen ambassador would for patriotic reasons had to keep his mouth shut. Not so now. Even dictators pay for their
blunders eventually. It will be worth observing future developments.
Niyazov had to bite another bullet recently too, again a fall-out from his mishandling of the pipeline project. He has had to go along with an idea put to him
by Putin on January 21st in Moscow, namely to become part of an Eurasian gas alliance, that will be dominated by Russia. It in effect locks Turkmenistan into
a neo-imperial Russian energy network for the duration.
Only thereby can Turkmenistan hope to restore its old levels of gas export to 90 billion cubic metres annually. At present it exports barely half that and to
late payers in the CIS. The new 'gas OPEC' with Russia, Kazakstan and Uzbekistan at least gives it the chance to sell more gas and eventually to lucrative
Western European markets. That is if the scheme gets off the ground.
Turkish Calyk Enerdji to install new gas turbine
Turkey's Calyk Enerdji company plans to build on a turnkey basis a powerful gas turbine installation with a capacity of 123.6 megawatt at the Bezmeinskaya
electric power station located 25 kilometres from the Turkmen capital. The project valued at more than US$41m will have been accomplished by October 2003.
The Turkmen government's tender for the construction of a gas turbine at the station bearing the name of the republic's president Sararmurat Niyazov,
announced last July, was won by America's General Electric company which is responsible for the construction of the Bezmeinskaya first gas turbine in1995.
The Turkmen government has not yet revealed reasons for the change of the contractors.
Afghan, Turkmen leaders discuss gas pipeline
The leaders of Afghanistan and Turkmenistan discussed plans recently for a pipeline that would send natural gas to energy-hungry south Asian markets, a dream
project long blocked by Afghanistan's turmoil, Reuters has reported.
Afghanistan's interim leader, Hamid Karzai, stopped off for a half day in Ashgabad, capital of Turkmenistan, a reclusive, autocratically-ruled ex-Soviet state
that sits on one of the world's largest reserves of gas.
"There is a project from Turkmenistan, over Afghanistan to Pakistan and then India. We agreed to discuss this soon, both together and with the leader of
Pakistan," Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov told reporters after talks with Karzai.
"Everyone would benefit. Afghanistan would receive employment and a twelfth of the overall profits," he said.
Several Western oil companies have discussed plans to pump Turkmen gas south over Afghanistan in the past few years, notably the U.S. firm, Unocal.
The plans had been billed as a buttress for fragile regional stability and economic development, but Taliban-era unrest and economic sanctions made
Karzai and Niyazov also said they agreed on Turkmen supplies of gas and electricity for Afghanistan, and building new road links between the countries.
"We hope that we will soon receive electricity from Turkmenistan, and we expect to discuss other forms of cooperation soon during your visit to Kabul," Karzai
Niyazov promised to hook northwestern Afghan cities up to Turkmenistan's electric grid within a year, and help light the distant capital Kabul in two
Niyazov, subject of an elaborate personality cult at home, rarely meets outsiders, and Turkmenistan is the only former Soviet state bordering Afghanistan that
does not play host to U.S. troops in their anti-terror campaign.
Turkmen oil production up year-on-year in January-February
Turkmenistan has increased the production of oil, including gas condensate, by 11 per cent (to 1.3m tonnes) in January-February 2002 against the same period
in 2001, Interfax News Agency has reported.
According to a report by the National State Statistics and Information Institute, most of the oil was produced by the concern Turkmenneft (87.9 per cent),
while the state concern Turkmengaz produced 2.8 per cent of the oil. The rest was produced by foreign companies operating in Turkmenistan under
In January-February 2002, Turkmenneft shipped products worth 427.7bn manats, which is 11 per cent more than was shipped in the same period last year.
The official exchange rate for 11th March is 5,200 manats per dollar.
FOREIGN ECONOMIC AFFAIRS
Turkmenistan to be instrumental in developing Afghan economy - US envoy
The Turkmen president, Saparmyrat Turkmenbasy [Niyazov], received the ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the USA to
Turkmenistan, Laura Kennedy. The deputy chief of the US mission, Eric Schultz, and the defence attaché, Major Tisdale, also attended the meeting, the Turkmen
State News Service has reported.
Cooperation between Turkmenistan and the USA in a number of areas, including delivering humanitarian aid to Afghanistan and implementing plans for its
[Afghanistan's] reconstruction were the main topics of the discussion.
Turkmenistan is always interested in political stability and economic
reforms in Afghanistan, the Turkmen president said during the discussion. The fact that the Turkmen embassy has been opened in Kabul, Saparmyrat
Turkmenbasy said, testifies to the great desire of Asgabat to develop large-scale relations with this neighbouring country. A number of bilateral
and regional projects initiated by Turkmenistan in the past are becoming urgent now, the head of state continued. Some of them will be issues for
negotiations in Asgabat with the head of the Afghan interim government, Hamed Karzai, Saparmyrat Turkmenbasy said.
Concerning the future of Turkmen-Afghan projects, the American envoy said that the development of the Afghan economy depends on Turkmenistan in many
aspects, because a programme initiated by the president, for the construction of a road, power
transmission line and gas pipeline has great importance for the industrial and social development of the neighbouring country. The USA supports these projects
and intends to assist in their implementation.
In this respect Kennedy stressed the role of the international Six plus Two group [Afghanistan's neighbours plus Russia and the USA], which is continuing to
function, and the importance of the establishment of closer contacts with world finance structures, which are able to support large regional projects. In this
context, the US ambassador welcomed the decision of the Islamic Bank for Development to open an office in Asgabat in the near future.
The fact that the 10 years which have passed since the opening of the US embassy in Asgabat have been marked by significant achievements was stressed in the
course of discussion of the state of and prospects for Turkmen-American cooperation. The President congratulated Kennedy on this anniversary, and expressed
his confidence that interstate relations will be complemented by new mutually-beneficial forms of partnership. The results of the informal CIS summit in
Almaty and plans for regional cooperation in Central Asian countries were also discussed.
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