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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: 261 - (26/09/02)
Turkmenistan is ruled by a tyrant as ruthless and relentless as any in the region, although not in the Saddam class, Saparmurat Niyazov. He has kept his republic rather aloof from the campaign against terrorism, having earlier forged a cosy relationship with the Taleban, based on drug-running and arms deals. He, nevertheless, gave the US overflight rights.
It is not that Turkmenistan is refusing all cooperation. The US supremo, Tommy Franks, commander-in-chief US Central Command for Middle East and Central Asia, came to Ashkhabad recently and gave assurances on US assistance with training and equipment to the Ministry of Defence and the Border Guard Service. But Niyazov does not want this to extend as far as military bases under US command, as in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Fears for his post
He dislikes the idea of bringing the Americans in, as other Central-Asian republics have done. Once in, never out, he thinks; and once in, sooner or later I'm out.
He knows that he is deeply unpopular and has a regime that is nothing like as secure as Karimov's in Uzbekistan or Rahmonov's in Tajikistan. Opposition forces are gathering outside the country, but with links inside, that must give him headaches.
Niyazov has privately explained that the cult of his personality is a way of welding together an artificial nation out of a communist creation made up of five regional tribes, to whose chiefs people immemorially owed allegiance. The cult of Turkmenbashi transcends that loyalty, but has to outshine regional distinctions and appear larger even than that of a mere state.
Somehow even remote Turkmens feel that the day for that sort of thing is past. The tribal loyalties are not so strong any more and the need to eclipse them not so relevant.
Turkmen dissidents held a meeting in Vienna recently at which they revealed human rights abuses and detailed ways to combat them.
It is noteworthy that this meeting was sponsored by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, in cooperation with Moscow's Memorial Human Rights Centre. Representatives of these groups and staff from Amnesty International, the International Crisis Group and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe joined human rights activists from other central Asian states to hear for themselves about the cures that Turkmen exiles propose for their country. "The government of President Niyazov has obliterated any space for civil society," said Helsinki Foundation Executive Director, Aaron Rhodes, in a statement. "This is why we had to hold this meeting in Vienna and not in Ashkhabad. In today's Turkmenistan it simply could not happen."
According to reports cited by eurasianet.org, the Austrian location did not lift all fears whilst earlier incidents of Niyazov's officers kidnapping or beating opposition members, led to some conference participants hiding their identities. Under this arrangement, participants flatly accused Niyazov, who renamed himself Tukmenbashi the Great (father of all Turkmen), of violating citizens' most elementary rights. "The cult of personality around him has reached grotesque proportions," said the meeting's declaration. Members catalogue the ways in which Turkmenistan does not tolerate dissidence in any form.
Niyazov cracks down
Niyazov's reaction to dissent is simple, more repression. He has conducted a purge of the security forces and border guards.
Key figures in the central security apparatus have been sacked, including the key figure, Mukhammed Nazarov, in March in charge of coordinating law enforcement and the military.
It is not just government corruption, which after all is endemic in Central Asia, to which one can find objection, but also its incompetence. This is what is tipping things against Niyazov and might just topple him.
Closer to the ADB
The sort of foreign relationship that Niyazov prefers is one with international financial institutions lending him money with no geopolitical complications. But they tend to attach strings all the same, ones that cannot easily be met. So any such deals tend to fall through.
The ideal partner Niyazov is now thinking is the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which he is urging to forge a close relationship with Turkmenistan. A Trans-Afghan Pipeline is being discussed, now perhaps a possibility, although it still looks a highly risky proposition. But other energy developments in Afghanistan are being discussed.
Ukraine to export surplus Turkmen gas to Europe
The Naftohaz Ukrayiny national oil and gas monopoly is going to export a considerable part of surplus Turkmen gas, expected to reach 6bn qu.m. by the end of this year, to Europe in 2003. A representative of the Naftohaz Ukrayiny board of directors, Yuriy Boyko, said at a news conference on 5th September, Interfax-Ukraine has reported.
According to him, Naftohaz Ukrayiny is concluding export contracts now and is setting the amount of gas exports together with the Russian Gazprom monopoly.
Naftohaz Ukrayiny has agreed with Gazprom the terms of exporting unused gas [which is transported via Russia].
Earlier Boyko said that Ukraine had already concluded several gas export contracts, in particular, with the Hungarian company, MOL.
Turkmenistan introduces power supplies to Iran
Turkmenistan started transmitting power to Iran in late August, Interfax News Agency quoted a spokesman for the Turkmen Energy Ministry as saying.
The Islamic state will receive daily supplies of 50 megawatts with a tension of 220 volts, the spokesman said. The power transmission lines have a length of 270 kilometres.
The ministry's Kuvvat Corp., signed a deal for the power supplies, worth US$650,000, with the Iranian State Energy group and covers more than 27m kilowatt-hours of electricity. Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammed Khatami, agreed on electricity supplies at the beginning of spring when Khatami paid a visit to the Central Asian state. The spokesman added that the Iranian power network will be used to transmit Turkmen electricity to Turkey. Turkmenistan is also transmitting power to Afghanistan, which was ravaged in recent months.
To help boost exports, Turkmen experts are developing substations and extending power transmission lines to the neighbouring state.
Central Asia gas pipeline talks revived
New talks have begun on the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea, with officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkmenistan pledging to move forward on the long-delayed project, CNN has reported.
"We're very hopeful about the future," Joma Mohammad Mohammadi, Afghanistan's minister of mines and industry, said.
"The people and the government of Afghanistan is very determined to bring peace. We're all living with hope and determination to improve the situation in the country and make insecurity something of the past."
Representatives of the three countries met in Kabul to sign the framework for a feasibility study for the project.
Officials are expected to meet again in Turkmenistan to work out how they will cooperate on the project once that study is complete.
The planned pipeline would stretch nearly 2,400 km (1,500 miles) and connect natural gas fields in Turkmenistan with the industrial city of Multan, in central Pakistan.
Earlier plans foundered amid the Afghan civil war and following the U.S. missile strikes on al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan in 1998, but have been resurrected since the fall of Afghanistan's Taleban government last year.
"All three countries are strongly committed to make all possible efforts for the success of the project, and we look forward to receiving the feasibility study," Mohammadi said.
"We very much hope that the study will show the project feasible, and once that is determined, we do not have much concern about how to finance it and how to construct it and how to manage it. It looks like all those matters are under control," he said.
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