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: 275 - (01/12/03)
The Caligula of Central Asia
The Turkmen are suffering from a megalomaniac of a president, Saparmurat Niyazov, who is the former communist boss of the country, re-incarnated as a religious luminary. He has issued a new tome to replace the Koran and the Bible, which gives his mother a key role, after whom bread, the month of April and the ministry of justice are now named. She saved Niyazov's life in an earthquake in Ashkabad in 1948, which event is now commemorated by a gigantic statue. Many a Turkman must wish she had been less nimble in her protection of her son .
The calendar has been changed into one of eight months of 45 days or so each. The dictator's self awarded title, Turkmenbashi, is now used to designate towns across the desert republic, as well as public buildings and the airport. His photograph is everywhere, including in school classrooms, where the children sing an oath of loyalty to him every morning.
Despite his adulation, there are hardy spirits who have tried to assassinate him, the last time on November 25th last year. He has lost an ambassador or two who have sought asylum abroad, as with the envoy to Turkey a year or two ago. But it is unlikely that, short of another successful attempt on his life, he will lose power soon. He has, indeed, been declared president for life by the tame parliament. He has the sense not to travel publicly abroad, not even to the summits of fellow dictators in Central Asia.
New gas pipeline to China
He has made a frightful mess of his policy towards Russia and the West. He ruined the chances of obtaining a gas pipeline across the Caspian Sea to Western markets by his ham-fisted negotiating tactics. The representatives of the majors got totally fed up by him and put prudence before their pockets.
Niyazov was then obliged to do a deal with the one country across which Turkmen gas can be exported to market, Russia. Moscow ripped off the Turkmens right royally, buying the gas at one fifth of the global price, plus a few shoddy goods in turn that could not be sold in any other way. The rate was $22 per 1,000 cubic metres of gas.
But a new prospect is opening up, to export to China via a new pipeline, built with the help of Chinese finance. China is going to need enormous amounts of energy in the decade ahead. Turkmenistan is an obvious option to consider when you are about to become the premier importer of Eurasia by 2015.
The technical obstacles to constructing such a pipeline across some of the most inhospitable terrain in the world, and the political and security ones across one of its its turbulent countries, Afghanistan, could yet kill the project.
Niyazov was cosy with the Teleban in their time, giving their troops R&R facilities within his borders, but unless they were to make a comeback in perhaps sharing power in Kabul, he has few friends in the Northern Alliance now of critical importance in Afghanistan, against whom they had been fighting.
The one factor that could ensure safe passage across Afghanistan is money - lots of it - to numerous recipients, of which the Afghan government would only be one.
Ukraine wants to develop satellite system with Turkmenistan
Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Konstantin Hryshchenko, on an official visit to Ashgabat, told his Turkmen counterpart, Rashid Meredov, on November 5th that Ukraine would like to work with Turkmenistan on developing a satellite-communications and radio-broadcasting system, Interfax-Ukraine News Agency reported.
Meredov replied that Ashgabat is interested in involving Ukrainian firms in large-scale projects in Turkmenistan. Ukraine is already involved in various natural-gas projects in Turkmenistan as partial payment for annual gas supplies.
Turkmenistan extends energy cooperation with Afghanistan
In the near future Turkmenistan's Energy and Industry Ministry will sign another electricity export contract with the Afghan Water Resources and Energy Ministry, Interfax News Agency reported.
According to the Turkmen ministry, 165m kWt/h of electricity each year will be sold from Turkmenistan's Imamnazer to the Afghanistan-based Andkhvoy. Another 160m kWt/h will be transported from Serkhetabat in Turkmenistan to Turgundi and Herat each year. With the financial problems that Afghanistan faces daily, Turkmenistan will charge US$0.02 per 1 kWt/h of electricity. Overall cost of annual contracts will amount to US$6.5m. The Turkmen ministry will open a representation office in Kabul, the Afghan capital, to ensure the implementation of the joint power projects. Turkmenistan noted it will also sign another contract with Turkish electricity supplier TETAS on selling 300m kWt/h at the border between the Turkish and Iranian power grids. "This agreement is an appendix to the main power supply contract that Turkey and Turkmenistan signed in May 1999," the ministry said. Bearing in mind that the power will be supplied to Turkey via Iran, the Turkmen ministry will sign another transit deal with the Iranian power provider Tavanir and TETAS.
Ukrainian, Turkmen foreign ministers discuss energy cooperation
Official Kiev attaches strategic significance to energy security and diversification of energy supply sources and, in this light, Turkmenistan is an extremely important partner for Ukraine, Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Kostyantyn Hryshchenko, said during a meeting with his Turkmen counterpart, Rasit Meredow, in Asgabat on 5th November, Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Markiyan Lubkivskyy told journalists, summing up the results of the talks, Interfax-Ukraine News Agency has reported.
He said that the parties discussed a wide range of issues concerning bilateral cooperation in the energy sphere.
"We are looking for ways of diversifying energy supply sources at the strategic level and, in this light, Turkmenistan plays an extremely important part for Ukraine," Hryshchenko emphasized.
The parties also discussed the transport of Turkmen natural gas to Ukraine.
Meredow noted that Turkmenistan considers cooperation with Ukraine to be a strategic partnership. He recalled that Ukraine is the biggest partner of Turkmenistan. Average annual trade turnover between the two countries is about US$2bn.
Turkmenistan finally signs up to Caspian Sea environmental accord
Iranian officials said on November 9th that Turkmenistan has added its signature to an environmental accord signed in Tehran by the four other Caspian littoral states, AFP reported.
Turkmenistan requested more time before signing the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea. Iranian officials say Turkmen Environment Minister, Matkarim Rajapov, returned to Tehran on November 8th to sign the convention.
The convention now becomes the first legally binding treaty on any subject signed by the five Caspian Sea states - Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan.
The aim of the UN Environment Program is to halt mounting damage to the world's largest freshwater lake from industrial pollution, sewage inflows and leaks from oil extraction and refining. Ratification of the treaty by each government might take several years.
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