Books on Turkmenistan
Update No: 305 - (30/05/06)
The Mao 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 Mao on the rather larger stage
of China. 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 megalamaniacs.
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,
much as Mao did with his 'Little Red Book.' 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 self awarded title, Turkmenbashi,"Father of the
Turkmen", 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. In his capital, there is a prominent building towering above
which is a larger than life-size golden statue of him, on a mechanism that turns
180 degrees between dawn and sunset, so he is always being faced by the sun.
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 made a frightful mess of his policy towards Russia and the West. He
ruined the chances of obtaining a new gas pipeline across the Caspian Sea to
Western markets by his ham-fisted, ever changing negotiating tactics. The
representatives of the majors got totally fed up by him and put prudence before
their pockets - or maybe not!
Niyazov was then obliged to do a deal in April, 2003 with the one country across
which Turkmen gas can be exported to market, Russia, because they own the
Russia needs Turkmenistan's gas acutely because it can plug gaps in delivery
that plague Gazprom, the Kremlin-controlled natural gas monopoly. Gazprom
maintains export commitments to European markets, leaving it short of supply for
domestic consumers. Niyazov has claimed that Turkmenistan has 22.5 trillion
cubic meters, which would make it the third-largest potential natural gas source
Whatever its real resources, its current exports go almost exclusively to former
Soviet states via Russian pipelines. While Russia needs transit fees, it also
needs a healthy Gazprom. For this reason, Russian executives have consistently
On April 10, 2003 Niyazov travelled to Moscow and signed a framework agreement
on gas cooperation with President Vladimir Putin as well as a 25-year contract
on gas supplies to Russia with Russian natural gas monopoly Gazprom. Niyazov
pledged to supply up 100 billion cubic meters of gas to Russia annually from
2010 onward or 2 trillion cubic meters in 25 years. Russia would pay
Turkmenistan US$44 per thousand cubic meters, 50 per cent in barter and 50 per
cent in cash. This would be twice the price Gazprom pays domestic suppliers,
according to published reports. Niyazov claimed that the deal would bring
Turkmenistan US$200 billion and US$300 billion to Russia.
At the time the presidents signed the deal, the only foreign company of any size
working Turkmenistan's sector of the Caspian shelf was Dubai-based Dragon Oil.
Turkmenistan has also signed development deals with Malaysia's Petronas and
Denmark's Maersk Oil. Now, though, Ukraine may be fashioning a deal much like
the one Russia wants - potentially slowing present deals and jacking up prices.
On December 4, Niyazov and Naftogaz Ukrainy head Yury Boiko, met in Ashgabat to
discuss a 25-year gas supply agreement. Under a current five-year contract,
according to Interfax, the Ukraine outfit receives upwards of 150 billion cubic
meters at the price Russia agreed to in April. However, Boiko may be interested
in crowding out the Kremlin. He has reportedly visited Ashgabat many times in
the past. The original deal he discussed with Niyazov reportedly involved 3-4
trillion cubic meters of gas, guaranteed until 2032.
Russia and Ukraine could eventually clash over these agreements, since the two
countries' gas companies cannot feasibly work on the same sector at the same
time and the pipeline out of Turkmenistan is Russian controlled. Gazprom's
framework agreement with Turkmenneftegaz implies the Russian company's nearly
exclusive rights to purchase all Turkmen gas for the next 20 years. Gazprom has
already committed to buy at least 60 billion cubic meters in 2007 and between 70
and 80 billion annually for 20 years from 2009. If these numbers materialize
while Ukraine gets the volume it apparently expects, Turkmenistan's monopoly
would have to produce around 100 billion cubic meters of gas annually by 2007
and 125-140 billion by 2009. The Moscow newspaper Kommersant and others have
analysed Turkmenistan's supply and called such numbers unrealistic.
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 proposed route lies across Afghanistan, which is not
exactly the ideal venue for a pipeline. It is not difficult to see the
possibilities for extortion, theft or sabotage. Unless conditions improve
remarkably in Afghanistan the project is likely to remain a non-starter, but it
could materialise in the longer term.
Niyazov examines new construction projects
The vice-president of French Bouygues company, Aldo Carbonaro, and Bouygues
projects director, Charles Santer, presented Turkmen President, Sapamurat
Niyazov on April 13th with two versions of the People's Council Palace
construction project in the foothills of Kopetdag and a project of construction
of the administrative building of the Turkmen president's administration
tailored into the single palace complex, Turkmenistan.ru reported.
After evaluating the mock-ups and drawings, Niyazov made corrections related to
the architectural design of future buildings and their planning and inner
layout. Commenting on the People's Council Palace, Niyazov stressed that maximum
comfort should be created there for work and stay of people. This project
provides for construction of big and small halls with the capacity of 4000
people and 500 people respectively. Regarding the project of the administrative
building of Niyazov's administration, Niyazov noted that it should be an
integral part of the palace complex situated in the central square of Ashgabat.
The head of state made a number of constructive proposals to the projects'
designers concerning the layout of inner rooms and storages fitted with latest
equipment. Besides, the building will have a hall for 150 people and staff
rooms. At the end of the meeting, Niyazov invited Bouygues company to
participate in the international tender on construction of another modern
stadium in Ashgabat.
Russian firm upgrades Mary power plant in Turkmenistan
Russian Syloviye machiny put into operation an upgraded power unit with a
capacity of 200 mega watt at the Mary power station, situated in south-east of
Turkmenistan, reported Turkmenistan.ru.
Syloviye machiny and the ministry of energy and industry of Turkmenistan signed
a contract in December 2004 to modernise one of eight turbines at Mary power
station. The project was worth US$13.3 million. Following the agreement,
Syloviye machiny upgraded the turbine's high pressure, inter-mediate and low
Turkmen-Chinese gas pipeline to become new Silk Road
Construction of a Turkmen-Chinese gas pipeline will have symbolic meaning,
Turkmen President, Saparmurat Niyazov, said. "The Turkmen-Chinese pipeline
will become a modern version of the Great Silk Road, which has connected our
countries since ancient times," Niyazov said at a cabinet session,
commenting on his recent official visit to China. Six bilateral documents signed
during the visit are major agreements, which will allow the Turkmen economy to
grow by 40 percent, Niyazov said. "All strategic economic sectors- oil and
gas, rail and communications - will be engaged in bilateral cooperation,"
he said. The government session has paid special attention to the construction
of the gas pipeline from the right bank of the Amu Darya River to China. The
Turkmen-Chinese agreement provides for annual gas supplies of 30 billion cubic
metres during a 30-year period beginning in 2009.The sides agreed to carry out
joint exploration and development of all fields and territories of the Amu
Darya's right bank on the basis of a production-sharing agreement. It was noted
that Turkmenistan produced 18.75 billion cubic metres of natural gas in
January-March, one percent more than in the same period last year, the National
Statistics and Information Institute said.
Turkmenistan produced 18.75 billion cubic metres of natural gas in
January-March, one percent more than in the same period last year, said the
National Statistics and Information Institute. Gas exports fell two per cent to
12.6 bcm, almost all of which was exported to Russia's Gazprom. Turkmenistan
also produced 2.01 million tonnes of oil, including oil condensate, a 13 per
cent year-on-year drop. Throughput at the Turkmenbashi Oil Refinery Complex and
the Seidin Oil Refinery in the first three months of the year amounted to 1.49
million tonnes of oil, down 12 per cent year-on-year. Production of lubricating
oil in January-March this year amounted to 17,370 tonnes (up 20 per cent).
Production of liquefied hydrocarbon gasses fell 12 per cent to 88,200 tonnes,
polypropylene - 17,690 (down 28 per cent), diesel - 396,300 tonnes (down 16 per
cent), and gasoline - 351,500 tonnes (down 17 per cent).