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TURKMENISTAN


 

 

Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 6,010 7,672 4,000 110
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,120 1,200 950 131
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Update No: 313 - (25/01/07)

Death of a dictator
The death of President Saparmurat Niyazov, by cardiac arrest on December 21st, can be said to be the first peaceful transition of a former communist commissar since the break-up of the Soviet Union in this region that has seen the "Tulip Revolution" in Kyrgystan, leading to the ouster of Askar Akayev. 
The region has to contend with a simmering movement of radical Islamists in the Ferghana Valley that has links in China's Xinjiang province and extends to Afghanistan and Pakistan. His policies gave Turkmenistan a continued phase of Soviet-style governance, minus most of its positive points. It is a reminder to other ageing former communists - Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov, Tajikistan's Emomali Rahmanov and Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbayev - that even absolute rulers are mere mortals and that their best endowment to their country is to recognise the need to combine progress with democracy, even while combating radical Islam. 

The successor is sure
Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov - the former minister of health and vice premier, a dentist by profession and a rumoured close relative of the late dictator Saparmurat Niyazov - seems assured of winning Turkmenistan's special presidential election in early February. Berdymukhammedov has vowed to continue Niyazov's general political line, which nominally emphasized the country's isolation and neutrality, but in fact featured a close economic relationship with Russia, centring on a comprehensive natural gas export agreement. In its domestic policy, Niyazov's regime was among the most repressive on earth. What has not yet emerged is what debt Berdymukhammedov has incurred with the leaders of his predecessor's Praetorian guard, who by arresting the constitutional provisional presidential successor, and shutting down any domestic potential opposition, so smartly enabled his elevation from education minister to the top job (and one of the highest personal incomes in the world). That will be a fascinating story!
Despite the vow of continuity, Berdymukhammedov has indicated that he might open the country's socio-political system somewhat. In early January, he pledged to expand citizens' access to the internet, and to improve the quality of the country's educational system. At the same time, he is no democrat. He has prevented exiled opposition political leaders from returning to the country, and has discouraged a genuinely competitive presidential election, which he would probably lose.

Watchful neighbours
Russia seems to be comfortable with Berdymukhammedov. Officials in Moscow have declared in unison that the terms of Turkmenistan's pricing agreement with the Russian energy giant Gazprom will remain intact, at least until 2009, when it expires.
Besides Russia, two regional powers are closely watching developments in Ashgabat: China, which would seeks access to Turkmen gas, and neighbouring Iran, which would like to prevent Ashgabat from becoming pro-American. Unlike Russia, however, Beijing's and Tehran's policy options are limited. Other neighbours - such as Uzbekistan, which does not enjoy the best of relations with Turkmenistan, and which may stumble into its own presidential transition soon - are also following the events with great interest.

The US sees an opening
In addition, the political transition in Turkmenistan has hardly escaped the attention of the United States. Over the last 18 months, Washington's position in Central Asia has weakened, due mainly to the rupture of US-Uzbek relations. Berdymukhammedov's rise to power in Ashgabat offers US diplomacy a fresh opening that could help swing the geopolitical momentum in Central Asia back in Washington's favour.
For starters, the United States should try to convince Turkmenistan's new leadership that Ashgabat's interests would be best served by energy-export diversity. Presently, Turkmenistan sells its gas relatively cheaply to Gazprom, which, in turn, either resells the Turkmen gas to Russian customers, allowing Russian gas to be shipped to Western Europe, or resells it to Ukraine under a murky financial scheme.
A more rational strategy for Turkmenistan would be to expand its export options, thus terminating Gazprom's effective pipeline monopoly. There are several possibilities, including the construction of an export route across the Caspian Sea, connecting Central Asia to Turkey and, potentially, beyond to Western Europe. Another route would carry Turkmen gas to China, via Uzbekistan and Kazakstan. The third pipeline route would link Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India via still-volatile Afghanistan. All of these were at some point of negotiation or development, at the time of Niyazov's death 

Choice a no-brainer.
Berdymukhammedov's stated desire to implement some reforms offers hope that his administration might respond favourably to US efforts to secure a larger role in the ongoing development of the Turkmen energy sector. A key player in the coming weeks stands to be the US Department of Energy, which should aggressively promote the potential of American and Western European energy and infrastructure companies to improve Turkmenistan's economic performance. No country possesses a greater ability to assist Turkmenistan in achieving energy diversification than the United States.
American interests in Central Asia can be summarized in three words: security, energy and democracy. Washington cannot pursue one aspect without keeping the other two at least, in mind. Thus, any effort to strengthen bilateral ties through stronger economic ties should require a concurrent commitment by Ashgabat to forge a prosperous and modern state, based on popular participation in governance. US officials should urge that Turkmen opposition leaders be allowed to return and participate in political life, and that political prisoners held in Turkmen jails be freed. In addition, Washington should encourage Turkmenistan's new leaders to guarantee press freedom and other basic civil rights. All of this they will probably do, but when it comes down to making a choice between energy flowing westwards through the pipelines, or democracy in the producing country, then the way that governments work, the choice here could be characterised as a no-brainer. 
The strengthening of economic ties, especially in the energy sector, should ideally be accompanied by Ashgabat's commitment to more robust anti-corruption and transparency policies. Niyazov, the dead dictator, reportedly diverted millions of dollars in energy revenue generated by the state into his own personal slush funds. To put an enhanced US-Turkmen bilateral relationship on solid footing, the new leadership in Ashgabat could build trust by cooperating in efforts to unearth Niyazov's ill-gotten gains and re-direct them into programmes designed to benefit Turkmenistan's public sector - but human cupidity being what it is - we are not holding our breath.

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AGRICULTURE

Turkmenistan to evolve agricultural strategy

Acting Turkmen President, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, ordered a working group be set up to draw up a strategy for the agricultural development of the country, Interfax News Agency reported. 
The draft strategy will be discussed at a planned parliament session on February 14.
Berdymukhammedov, who issued his order at a joint meeting of the State Council for Security and the government, appointed Agriculture Minister Esenmyrat Orazgeldiyev head of the working group. Orazgeldiyev, who also heads Turkmenistan's grain products association, promised there would be no shortage of flour in the country. Berdymukhammedov also heard reports from other ministers.
The minister of the oil and gas industry and mineral resources, Gurbanmurat Atayev, said the oil and gas industry was operating normally and that, "as for agreements with foreign partners on exports of Turkmen natural gas, all of them are being complied with accurately." Wages and salaries are being paid in Turkmenistan ahead of time, because of the upcoming Muslim festival of Qurban Bairam and the New Year.

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ENERGY

ONGC to acquire 33% in Turkmenistan oil blocks

ONGC Videsh, the overseas arm of Indian state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corp, is planning to buy up to 33 per cent stake in two Caspian sea blocks offshore from Turkmenistan for 1,500-2,000 million Indian rupees, news agencies reported on January 6th. 
"We have concluded a deal with Denmark's Maersk Oil and German oil and gas firm Wintershall for taking up to 33 per cent stake in Block 11 and 12 in offshore Turkmenistan," OVL Managing Director RS Butola said.
Maersk Oil with an 80 per cent holding is the operator of the blocks, which cover about 5,663 square kilometres, while Wintershall, a unit of the BASF chemicals group, owns the remaining 20 per cent stake. Butola said OVL was likely to sign a deal with Maersk Oil and Wintershall within a month's time.

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FOREIGN RELATIONS

Russia to continue developing ties with Turkmenistan 

Russia is unlikely to regain the ground lost in military-technical cooperation with Turkmenistan over the past 10-15 years, Military Forecast Centre head, Anatoly Tsyganok, said. "Although a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Turkmenistan has shifted toward NATO, Pakistan and China in military and military-technical cooperation. I don't think the situation will change after the change of political leadership," Tsyganok said, Interfax News Agency reported.
"Turkmenistan was the first CIS country to sign a deal with NATO under the Partnership for Peace programme and to implement it consistently back in 1995," Tsyganok said. Since then, Turkmenistan has reduced its participation in the CIS's Defence Ministers Council and in its integrated air defence system to a minimum, he said.
"In matters of military personnel training, Ashgabat has long given preference to Turkey and Pakistan. Of the 460 officers trained abroad last year, 200 underwent training in Turkey, 200 in Pakistan and only 60 in Russia and Ukraine," Tsyganok said.
Turkmenistan's new leadership will have to re-examine the country's policy toward the CIS, which may allow Russia to become a major partner of the country, including militarily, vice president of the Geopolitical Problems Academy Colonel General Leonid Ivashov said. "After the death of Saparmurat Niyazov, who was a strong and authoritative person and could afford neutrality within the CIS and even to pressure neighbouring countries, Turkmenistan has no more such personalities. That is why the new leadership will begin searching for support not only inside the country, but also among other CIS member-nations," he said.
"It offers Russia an opportunity to become a major strategic partner of Turkmenistan, the new leadership of which, in my opinion, will give special attention to bolstering the country's defence capability in the near future," Ivashov said. "If we find an opportunity to step up military-technical cooperation with Ashgabat today, the Turkmen elite, primarily its military, will duly appreciate it," he said. "If Russia chooses a passive role, it may further weaken its position in Turkmenistan," he said.
"It is known that Turkey and the United States are making vigorous attempts to pursue their interests in Turkmenistan, primarily its oil and gas sector," Ivashov said, adding that these countries may try to persuade Turkmenistan to choose them as its strategic partners.

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