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: 276 - (01/01/04)
The Caligula of Central Asia
The Turkmen have a president, Saparmurat Niyazov, who is not quite sane. Indeed he shows every sign of megalomania, much as did Caligula in Ancient Rome. He bears out the dictum of Lord Acton, the English historian of the late nineteenth century, who made the immortal remark: "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
Niyazov acquired his power by being formerly the communist boss of the country. This is true of other Central Asian leaders, who have not become megalomaniacs. But their countries are more sophisticated culturally. When the republics abutting on the Ferghana Valley, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakstan and Kyrgyzstan, were ruled by Tamurlaine, Turkmenistan was a desert inhabited by nomads. Seven or eight tribes of nomadic origin still comprise the population. The difficulty of keeping notoriously unruly nomads together is the reason Niyazov gives himself for the extraordinary cult of his personality.
For that it certainly is. He has re-incarnated himself as a religious luminary. This involves 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 alert 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 name, 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 this adulation, there are hardy spirits, thinking perhaps of the example of Caligula (who was assassinated by his own guards) who have tried to eliminate him, the last time on November 25th last year. But he is not mad enough as was Caligula to taunt his own guards. It will be more difficult to attempt it again. He has the sense not to travel publicly abroad, not even to the summits of fellow dictators in Central Asia.
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.
Disadvantageous deal with Russia
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 in April with the one country across which Turkmen gas can be exported to market, Russia. This is now coming into force, 2004 being the first year of the agreement's operation.
Under the deal, Turkmenistan will provide Russia with up to six billion cubic metres of gas in 2004, with six billion to seven billion cubic metres in 2005, with up to 10 billion cubic metres in 2006 and with 60 billion to 70 billion in 2007. Russia will be paying US$44 per 1,000 cubic metres. In 2004-2006, half the price will be paid in hard currency and half in equipment for Turkmenistan's gas industry. Niyazov expressed doubt that the current pipeline would "be able to cope" with the increasing volume of exports that is planned. Gazprom was ready to increase the capacity of the pipeline section between the Turkmen and Russian borders.
New gas pipeline to China
But a new prospect is opening up, to export to China via a new pipeline, built with the help of Chinese finance.
The problem is that the route lies across Afghanistan, which is not exactly the ideal venue for a pipeline. It is not difficult to see the possibilities for theft or sabotage. Unless conditions improve remarkably in Afghanistan the project is likely to remain a non-starter.
Zarit to sign deal with Turkmen government
Zarit, a joint company formed by Itera, Zarubezhneft and Rosneft, plans to sign a production sharing agreement (PSA)with the Turkmen government in the near future, to develop blocks 28,29,30 and 31 on the Turkmen shelf of the Caspian Sea, Itera spokesman, Yevgeny Ostapov, said, Interfax News Agency reported.
The Zarit board held its first meeting in Moscow to discuss the results of work in 2003 and the company's business plan. Members from Itera, Zarubezhneft and Rosneft management attended the meeting. After the PSA is signed, Zarit plans to start work at the fields where it holds exploration and development licences. The project's participants decided to invite Turkmenistan and Iran, which they say would significantly speed up implementation. It has not yet been decided in what way Turkmenistan and Iran will be asked to participate. One option is that they receive a 10-15 per cent share in Zarit.
Itera, Roseneft and Zarubezhneft established Zarit to develop several blocks on the Turkmen shelf of the Caspian Rosneft and Gazkniminvest (a subsidiary of Itera) each hold 37 per cent of Zarit and Zarubezhneft has the other 26 per cent.
GE to extend partnership with Turkmenistan until 2020
General Electric of the United States is ready to extend its collaboration with Turkmenistan by another 17 years, Turkmen President, Saparmyrat Niyazov, said at a recent ceremony to launch a gas turbine in the Abadan hydroelectric power station, the BBC reported.
The Turkmen government, GE and Chalyk Energy of Turkey signed a tripartite agreement on cooperation in June last year for the implementation of a general plan to develop electricity production in the former Soviet republic by 2011. The Abadan gas turbine is a direct result of this partnership agreement.
Turkmenistan to produce 74 bcm of gas in 2004
Turkmenistan plans to produce 74 billion cubic metres (bcm) of gas in 2004, of which 58 bcm will be exported, deputy prime minister, Yolly Gurbanmuradov, said at a government meeting, Interfax News Agency reported.
An increase in exports will be possible due to new gas pipelines of 120 kilometres in length. The country's main customers will be Ukraine (36 billion cubic metres), the Itera group (10 billion) and Gazprom (5 billion), he said.
Turkmenistan also plans to produce 15 million tonnes of crude, up from the 10 million tonnes planned this year. Turkmenistan will produce 11 million tonnes itself.
The country plans to produce 67.6 billion cubic metres of gas in 2003, up 26 per cent year-on-year, and 13.5m tonnes of crude, up 50%.
Turkmenistan produced 47.2 billion cubic metres of gas in January-October 2003, up 8% year-on-year, and 8.145m tonnes of crude, up 10%.
Turkmenistan sees 28% jump in 9-month foreign trade surplus
The foreign trade surplus in Turkmenistan totalled US$722.5m in the first nine months of 2003, up 28% year-on-year, Interfax News Agency reported, citing figures released from the national statistics and information agency. The nine-month foreign trade grew 18.9% year-on-year to US$4.419bn. Turkmenistan traded with 81 countries.
The former Soviet republic exported 20.4% more goods for US$2.571bn in the first three quarters and exported 17% more products for US$1.849bn. Turkmenistan increased its economy 22.7% year-on-year to 64.47 trillion mantas in the first 10 months, the national statistics institute told Interfax. Industrial output was 21.4% higher to 24.19 trillion mantas.
Norsel International completes Turkmenabad mill project
The Turkey-based group Norsel International Ltd recently finalised a US$3.5m overhaul of a cotton spinning mill in Turkmenabad, a source at the Turkmen Textiles Ministry said in a statement, Interfax News Agency reported.
The revamping subsidised by the Turkmen government, involved the putting in place of Japanese winding machines and fine-tuning of existing production lines, increasing capacity almost 10-fold to 1,500 tonnes of cotton yarn per year, the source explained.
Active in the former Soviet republic in over a decade, Norsel has participated in the construction of the Saparmurat Niyazov textile mill (1997) and cotton spinning mills in Bakharden (1995) and Khalach (2002). Recently the Turkish group opened a new textile mill near the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat.
The textiles ministry has said it will open about another 10 new industrial facilities before December 31st, 2003. Turkmenistan's cotton industry represents about 25% of the value of all industrial fixed assets brought on line in the country.
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