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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: 325 - (28/01/08)

Turkmenistan - A nation like no other 
Turkmenistan was long in the grip of a ridiculous dictator, Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in December, 2006, The country is still in the grip of a repressive dictatorship. But Turkmenistan has been slowly opening its doors since Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov came to power a year ago. He has made no obvious breach with Moscow, indeed has signed a new deal to send gas via Russia to enable them to supply Western markets. Turkmenistan reached an agreement in November to increase the price of gas it delivers to Russia's gas export monopoly Gazprom, to $130 per 1,000 cubic metres in the first half of 2008 and $150 in the second half, up from $100. His predecessor had agreed the original price only months before.

But the new president is showing more initiative than just that. He clearly hopes to diversify his country's options. But things are still quite secretive there, the biggest mystery of all being just how much Gas reserves can Turkmenistan exploit for export, given the appetite of the wider world and its near neighbours for its hydrocarbons. 

The Iranian option
Iranian Minister of Oil, Gholam-Hossein Nozari, said on January 9 that no talks will be held on prices as long as Turkmenistan does not resumes its gas exports to Iran. 
Talking to reporters, Nozari said, "Gas and oil are not the only criterion for relations among countries, rather, there are other factors involved, which are also the yardstick in dealing with Turkmenistan." Religion is much more important than one might suppose.

They are both Moslem countries of course, but Iran is Shi-ite and Turkmenistan Sunni, albeit of a very watered-down version after so many decades of communist anti- clericalism of all faiths. The Shi-ites at least regard the Sunnis as Moslems, whereas the reverse is generally not true. However, the Turkmen certainly are less bigoted in this respect than other Sunnis. They recognise that the Iranians and themselves are people of the same book, the Koran."

Turkmenistan proposes that the gas price should be increased to $140 per 1,000 cubic meters. Iran agrees with the price rise on condition that the Turkmen side agrees to increase the volume of its gas exports to Iran," Press TV reported.

The original gas contract ran to 2024. Iran and Turkmenistan signed an agreement last year to increase the volume of gas exports from eight to 14 billion cubic meters (per year) at a price of $75 per 1,000 cubic meters. The point from Iran's point of view, it being the country with the second largest gas reserves in the world, was to use Turkmen gas for domestic purposes allowing Iran to substitute by exporting the equivalent quantities from gas fields nearer to export outlets. It was considered a very important deal for Turkmenistan when it was initiated, as they had only one pipeline and that running north to Russia which made them a monopoly customer. 

Turkey shows an interest
Turkey is another Moslem secular country perhaps closer to Turkmen hearts. It is the leading Turkic nation after all. Turkish and Turkmen are cognate languages and their peoples are akin.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul began an official visit to Turkmenistan on January 9 as part of Ankara's drive to strengthen ties with the Turkic-speaking states of Central Asia. Energy Minister Hilmi Guler joined Gul's delegation.
Turkey has offered Turkmenistan access to European markets via Turkey, in talks held in Ashgabat. Turkey, which is seeking to become a regional energy transit hub, also proposed to Turkmenistan a joint venture for operating the ex-Soviet state's apparently abundant natural gas and oil fields. "Turkey will ask to take a role in operating Turkmenistan's natural gas and petroleum fields as we did with some other supplier countries," an official in the prime minister's office said.

Georgia counts too
Georgia is neither Muslim nor Turkic, but geographically it counts a lot for Turkmenistan. The reverse is also true. The new Turkmen president was a very welcome guest at the inauguration of Mikhail Saakashvili's second term on January 20-21. 

Georgia, with a Black Sea coastline and a frontier with Turkey, is an obvious route for Turkmen gas to arrive acros or underneath the Caspian sea via friendly Azerbaijan, to go on to Western markets, while Georgia will be better able to escape dependency on Russia for its energy, that has meant not a few bleak winters of late.

Ceremonial occasions are not those most appropriate for discussion of business matters. But that there will be further talks along these lines in the near future is certain.

New resort on the Caspian Sea
In a bold move Turkmenistan's new leader has inaugurated the construction of a $5 billion (2.4 billion pound) tourism complex on the Caspian coast. This was on December 3, his most bold gesture to open up the reclusive nation to the world.

Unlike Niyazov, who banned ballet and opera during his rule, Berdymukhamedov has sought to attract foreign investment and turn his desert nation into a tourist destination. This is not as absurd as it might seem. Turkmenistan is a very beautiful country in its extremities, if not so in its huge desert interior. In particular it abuts in the west on the evocative and historic Caspian Sea.

He has officially opened construction of a complex on the Caspian Sea coast, where he plans to build new hotels, fountains, roads and parks. "Any government that has such a coast would see it as a huge blessing," he said after a ceremony. "Turkmenistan is actively integrating into the global community while following its own model of development."

State media have touted the area as a tourist hotspot, but critics believe its long, cold winters and remote location dent its allure as a tourist destination. But there is summer and the attraction of the exotic and the arcane.
 
The Turkmen leader said the government would earmark $1 billion for the project, not far from the Iranian border, while foreign companies including Russia's Itera and France's Bouygues have pledged to put in a further $4 billion.

He vowed to introduce tax breaks for construction companies and easier visa procedures for tourists -- a step forward for a country which was first in the ex-Soviet block to introduce a visa regime for other former members.


 

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