Books on Turkmenistan
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: 279 - (23/03/04)
The megalomaniac of Central Asia
The Turkmen leader, Saparmurat Niyazov, is a curious character, who takes himself very seriously. The cult of his personality as Turkmenbashi, or leader of the Turks, is gargantuan and growing, not abating. He is putting the finishing touches to his Big Brother image. Despite his evident megalomania. Russia finds it convenient to play along with him, because they thereby have him and his country in their pocket. Western firms find him too demanding of their patience to bother with him. Consequently he has had to fall back on the old colonial master once again.
On February 23rd his personality cult took another quantum leap forward during a cabinet meeting. In comments broadcast on state television, he announced that " young people should not grow their hair or beards." This in a country with an Islamic background where facial hair is commonly worn. Niyazov instructed his education minister to "look at their dress code and clothes."
At the same meeting Niyazov announced that government agencies would intensify their video surveillance of Turkmen citizens, in an eerie Orwellian reminiscence of 1984. Cameras will be installed at key economic facilities, government offices and public buildings. "We should know if a fly quietly buzzes past," he said. "This is not due to a lack of trust, but to avoid disorder."
To avoid any repetition of the attempted assassination of himself, which was made several years ago on November 25th, no doubt as well.
Russia steps in
Putin's administration is aggressively courting the dictator to secure Russia's oil and gas interests. In doing so it glosses over the human rights abuses of the regime, even abuses of local Russians. The Kremlin dispatched a high level delegation to Turkmenistan's Flag Day celebrations on February 19th. It was also Niyazov's 64th birthday.
The governor of St Petersburg, Valentina Matviyenko, a close ally of Putin, led the delegation. She was in effusive mood, hailing the Turkmenbashi's achievements as "fantastic." She also extolled his spiritual guide book, the Rukhnama, which he sees as replacing the Bible and the Koran, as "a serious philosophical" work.
The main achievement of the visit was the signing of a cooperation agreement covering the economic, scientific and cultural spheres. It is aimed at encouraging joint investment in the fishing industry, mining and gas production. It also calls for an exchange of trade missions. The pact, Matviyenko declared, "paves the way for Russian businessmen" to enter the Turkmen market.
Russia's goal is evident; to consolidate its position as Turkmenistan's dominant partner in energy-sector cooperation, and thus retain control over the export of Turkmen gas. Accordingly, Matviyenko's mission included top figures in Russia's energy sector, such as the head of the Itera gas firm, Igor Makarov. At a February 19th meeting, Niyazov and Makarov agreed that Turkmenistan would "in the near future" sign a major deal to develop offshore oil fields in Turkmen sector of the Caspian Sea.
The deal, a production sharing agreement (PSA), would involve the Russian oil consortium ZAO Zarit -- which includes state-owned firms Rosneft and Zarubezhneft, along with the gas trader Itera. The PSA's term would be 25 years and it would cover four oil- and gas-rich blocks in the southern part of the Caspian shelf near the Iranian border. Last December, the Turkmen government ddelayed signing the PSA. No reason for the postponement was given at the time.
Zarit was registered in May 2002 in Moscow as a joint venture between Rosneft, Itera's subsidiary Gazkhiminvest (each controls 37 percent of Zarit), and Zarubezhneft, which holds the remaining 26 percent stake. The consortium intends to attract Turkmen state-owned Turkmenneft and Turkmenneftegas, as well as Iranian firms, to take part in the project. Turkmenistan is the largest natural-gas producer in Central Asia, and hopes to attract up to $26 billion worth of foreign investment in its oil and gas sector by 2020.
The local Russians issue
Moscow apparently accepts that part of the PSA deal's price involves the Kremlin's silence over Turkmenistan's treatment of ethnic Russians. In April of 2003, Niyazov abruptly decided to eliminate dual citizenship, effectively forcing roughly 95,000 ethnic Russians in Turkmenistan to either renounce their Russian citizenship or leave the country.
Until late 2003, Russia repeatedly expressed concern over alleged discrimination against ethnic Russians in Turkmenistan. Now, however, the Putin administration is downplaying the ethnic Russian issue. Matviyenko did not raise the issue with Niyazov during the recent Ashgabat visit. Russia's deputy foreign minister, Alexei Fedotov, recently said there was no "migration rush" among Russian citizens in Turkmenistan. Since April, some 1,500 people per month have applied to move to Russia, he said.
Some nationalist politicians in Russia are dissatisfied with Putin's Turkmen policy. Dmitry Rogozin, one of the leaders of "Rodina" political block, is among those trying to keep pressure up on Turkmenistan. Last May, Rogozin claimed that Turkmenistan had covertly cooperated with the radical Islamic Taliban movement - the former rulers of Afghanistan. Rogozin also accused Niyazov of being involved in drug trafficking.
Other Russian deals
Russia began its push to expand its economic influence last April. Just days before Niyazov announced the elimination of dual citizenship, he signed a framework agreement on gas cooperation with Putin. In addition, the two leaders inked a 25-year contract on gas supplies to Russia, involving the Russian natural gas monopoly Gazprom. By clinching the deal, Moscow sought to pre-empt the possible construction of a trans-Afghan pipeline.
Not all of Russia's efforts to enhance energy-related cooperation with Turkmenistan have met with success. Earlier in February, Niyazov declined an offer from Anatoly Chubais, head of Russia's power monopoly RAO Unified Energy Systems (UES), to join a CIS power network. Last January, Chubais urged Niyazov to link Turkmenistan to the CIS system, helping to re-establish a Soviet-era grid. In an open letter published by Turkmen media, Niyazov said Turkmenistan would refrain from joining due to the "traditional failure" of CIS customers to pay promptly. He also cited an absence of clear rules and obligations covering the exchange of energy and transit.
Instead of relying on Russia as an outlet for electricity exports, Niyazov is exploring stronger ties with his southern and western neighbours, in particular Turkey. Niyazov met Turkish Minister for Energy and Natural Resources Hilmi Guler on February 18, signing a protocol of intent to double Turkmen electricity supplies in 2004 from 300 to 600 megawatts.
Overall, Turkmenistan hopes to generate 12.5 billion kilowatt-hours (kW/h) of energy in 2004. Over the last two months, about 90 million kW/h of electricity has been exported by Turkmenistan via a Turkmen-Iranian-Turkish power transmission line commissioned last December. "Turkmenistan's energy capacity that is growing every year allows to further increase the electricity exports to Iran and Afghanistan," Niyazov said.
Turkmenpagta offers incentives in cotton
The government of Turkmenistan recently announced some incentives to encourage farmers to sow cotton, New Europe reported recently.
Leaseholders and private farmers are invited to sign contracts with Turkmenpagta (Turkmen cotton association) for the cotton crop 2004. Turkmenpagta is going to arrange 90,000 tonnes of seed and would also arrange treatment of seed for protection against pests and insects at no extra cost. Participant farmers will also get to use the agricultural machinery from the joint pool of Turkmenobakhizmat (Turkmen Agricultural Services). Voluntary participation programme also guarantees the government will purchase cotton from farmers at the official price.
Ashgabat and Tokyo ink oil and gas machinery contracts
Turkmenistan recently signed two contracts with combined total of US$59m for oil and gas sector machinery and earth-moving machinery for the water ministry during a meeting between President, Saparmurat Niyazov, and senior representatives of Japan's Itochu Corp, Komatsu and JGC, Interfax News Agency reported.
A spokesman for Niyazov said that the contracts were signed in the framework of an August 2002 agreement between the government and Itochu and Komatsu on long-term road-constriction supplies and servicing. Turkmenistan will receive 148 units of special equipment, components and parts costing US$39m for the Turkmenneftegazstroi concern and 50 excavators and 50 bulldozers plus spare parts costing US$20m for the ministry.
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