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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: 266 - (27/02/03)
The hollow crown
The Turkmen president, Saparmurat Niyazov, has a problem with his legitimacy. He was declared 'president for life' by his parliament, not his people, in the late 1990s. But then everyone, none better then him, knows that it is his rubber stamp. He has recently declared his intention to have elections for the presidency in 2008.
But everyone also knows who will win there, and hands down, a legitimacy that is just a bit too overwhelming. The only solution is a regime change. But that is naturally far from his mind.
Assassination plot; opposition mounts
It is not, however, far from everyone else's mind. Late last year there was a mysterious attempt at his assassination. Over thirty people were rounded up, including several foreigners. But there has been no big trial; it has all been quietly dropped. There is not even the semblance of human rights in Turkmenistan of course so that to ask after the fate of those apprehended would be futile.
Niyazov must be disturbed at what is happening in Iraq. There is no likelihood he is developing weapons of mass destruction or anything of the sort. He is not in a situation such as Saddam's with hostile neighbours on every side. He has never gone in for aggressive diplomacy of the Saddam type, invading his neighbours for whatever reason, and is not therefore liable to be overthrown by an external UN coalition on the grounds of his having a "smoking gun" or whatever, obviously just a pretext to remove him.
Still, the removal of Saddam would set a pretext all right in itself for removing dictators, implicitly Niyazov must fear, just for being dictators. There is no worse dictator in Central Asia than Niyazov, although one or two others run him very close, namely Karimov next door in Uzbekistan.
The democratic opposition is certainly taking heart from the coming end of Saddam. Boris Shikhmuradov, former Turkmen deputy premier and foreign minister, has founded the Popular Democratic Movement of Turkmenistan, which he knows, to be more representative of the people than Niyazov's outfit, the successor to the Communist Party of Turkmenistan, namely the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (DPT). The DPT dominates the 50-seat Majlis, first elected in a 99.8% turn-out in 1994. Shikhmuradov was arrested in suspicious circumstances in September 2002. But he remains the focus of Turkmen opposition, the real threat to the regime.
One thing that Niyazov thinks is a brilliant ruse is to claim that the economy is growing by leaps and bounds. To do that it is best not to cooperate with the international financial institutions; nor is he.
"We are not in a position to comment on the official data as we have not had substantive discussions with the Turkmen authorities for more than a year," says Olga Stankova, an International Monetary Fund (IMF) spokeswoman in Washington. Turkmenistan is the only country in the region for which the IMF has not published economic estimates for either 2002 or 2003.
The country also stopped cooperating with the CIS Intergovernmental Statistics Committee several years ago. Added to that, during a press briefing in Washington last September, John Odling-Smee, director of the IMF's European II Department, called Turkmenistan one of "the least reform-minded countries in the region."
The claims for GDP that it is growing annually by 21% are so extravagant as to be quite incredible. The regime is releasing statistics that, at face value, show it to be the fastest growing economy in the world.
While the evidence is inconclusive, the data is far from convincing. Closer examination may lend weight to past charges by former Foreign Minister, Boris Shikhmuradov, that the government falsifies its figures. Recently, Shikhmuradov recanted most of his criticisms in a televised confession following an alleged coup attempt against President Niyazov. Yet the numbers remain highly suspect and should be disregarded..
One reason is that the government itself has reported growth of only 3% last year in natural gas, Turkmenistan's biggest commodity. The increase fell far short of the 53% growth target set in December 2001 and the revised 40% goal announced by the government last May.
Naturally, GDP growth of more than 21% is unlikely when gas output is up only 3%. For, on past statistics, gas contributed as much as 50% of GDP. Indeed, last October Niyazov said that 70% of Turkmenistan's revenues were from oil and gas. Oil production, the third staple of the economy, allegedly rose by 12% last year, but cotton, the second, had a poor year. Obviously the figure of GDP growing by 21% is a pure concoction.
Niyazov blamed officials for a poor cotton harvest last year, just 24% of the target, with heavy rains playing a major role. He sacked four governors for the poor performance of cotton in their provinces. On face value, if GDP grew by 21%, then inflation was 70% in 2002. The whole thing is obviously a tissue of lies; the regime is mendacious through and through.
Turkmenistan to put US$192m into agriculture in 2003
A new program for overcoming the current crisis in Turkmenistan's agricultural sector provides for extending loans to agricultural producers and restructuring their debts, Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov told the Cabinet, Interfax has reported.
Niyazov ordered the allocation of one trillion manat ($192.3 million) from the state budget to agriculture. This money will be transferred to the Extra-Budget Agricultural Fund. Niyazov also ordered entering the one trillion manat as a budgeted spending item.
Niyazov signed a resolution concerning the reconstruction until 2008 of agrarian debts. This will make it possible for farms to put output earnings back into the sector and to cover debts later. Old debts, the president said, have to be paid off first.
The Turkmen budget for next year figures revenues of 51.5 trillion manat, spending of 52 trillion
Turkmenistan to ship gas to Ukraine
Turkmenistan is to supply 2.93bn cubic metres of gas to Ukraine in January, in a contract between Naftohaz Ukrayiny and Turkmenistan's Turkmenneftegaz. Naftohaz said Ukraine had received 2.5bn cubic metres as of January 27th and that the whole stipulated volume would arrive by the end of the month if current average daily supplies were maintained. The contract will have been honoured if the supplies exceed or fall short of the stipulated volume by up to 5%. In all, the two companies have signed commitments for the supply of 36bn cubic metres of Turkmen gas in 2003. In the first quarter, Ukraine should receive 8.5bn cubic metres. Naftohaz said supplies fell a little behind schedule in the period January 21-25th while a section of the Central Asia - Centre gas pipeline running across Kazakstan was being repaired, however the repairs have been completed and contract volumes have been restored.
Turkmenistan, Itera discuss oil, gas projects
During talks in Ashgabat on 18th February, Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov agreed to a proposal from visiting Itera head, Igor Makarov, to increase the volume of Turkmen gas Itera will purchase for export in 2003, RFE/RL Newsline has reported.
The size of the increase and the price Itera will pay was not reported. Under an agreement signed in November, Itera undertook to purchase and export 10 billion cubic metres of Turkmen natural gas in 2003.
Niyazov and Makarov also discussed the envisaged exploitation by the Zairit consortium of oil and gas deposits in Turkmenistan's sector of the Caspian shelf and on the right bank of the Amu-Darya River. Itera's subsidiary, Gazkhiminvest, and Rosneft each have 37 per cent stakes in Zairit. Zarubezhneft owns the remaining 26 percent.
FOREIGN ECONOMIC RELATIONS
Tasks of Russian-Turkmen economic commission outlined
Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has signed a resolution on concluding an agreement between the governments of Russia and Turkmenistan on an intergovernmental Russian-Turkmen commission on economic cooperation, the department of government news reports, Turkmenistan.ru Internet newspaper web site reported.
According to the agreement, the main tasks of the commission are assisting the development of economic cooperation between Russia and Turkmenistan, analysing Russian-Turkmen economic cooperation, exercising control over the implementation of international agreements signed between Russia and Turkmenistan and other bilateral agreements and coordinating the activities of ministries, departments and government organizations aimed at preparing the drafts of bilateral interstate, intergovernmental and interdepartmental agreements on economic cooperation.
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