Books on Turkmenistan
Update No: 352 -
The Kyrgyz cauldron
The Turkmen ruling elite is deeply
perturbed by recent events in Kyrgyzstan.
A veritable revolution has occurred. A
very unpopular regime, riddled by nepotism
and corruption, beset by financial and
economic crisis and lacking a genuine
legitimacy, such as comes from, say, free
elections, has been overthrown in a fellow
Central Asian state. Is it not looking at
itself in the mirror?
Actually, Turkmenistan is a very different
country from Kyrgyzstan. It has no
tradition of democracy whatsoever, whereas
the Kyrgyz had their Tulip Revolution in
early 2005, as a result of dubious
elections in February. The Turkmen regime
does not have that sort of problem,
because it does not hold elections at all.
Turkmen stoically, if sullenly, accept
their downcast lot. The media have kept
the news from Kyrgyzstan pretty thin, so
only rumour has kept them informed.
The Turkmen were ruled until December 2006
by a crackpot dictator, Saparmurat Niyazov,
who fancied himself as the leader of all
the Turks everywhere, Turmenbashi. He has
been superseded by his dentist, who
happens to be his son, with a long name,
Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. He is turning
out to be a sanitised version of his
But does Turkmenistan in the back of
beyond matter? Well it does.
A very tangled affair
Turkmenistan has vast gas reserves,
recently augmented by a huge new find in
the Caspian Sea, the South Yolotan field,
now deemed one of the world's top five gas
fields, with an estimated capacity of 4-14
billion cubic metres (bn cu m), with
others probably to come. Gas is after all
the fossil fuel of the future. The
Turkmens, about four million of them, sit
on something like one fifth of the world's
reserves of gas, circa 25bn cu m. Not a
bad position to be in, for a country with
a small, young population.
Yet Turkmenistan has so far been subaltern
to Russia, the country with the largest
gas reserves of all, more than 50bn cu m.
Virtually all of its gas exports have gone
so far via the truly colonial gas
pipelines of Russia.
The repressive Turkmen regime of yore was
somehow bonded with whomever was in charge
in Moscow, so subservient was the Soviet
mind-set of Niyazov. He was simply a
Turkmen in Ashgabat, an outpost of the
Kremlin. The Turkmen are inching away from
Russia. There are several alternatives
developing, notably the Nabucco project,
taking gas from Turkmenistan across the
Caspian Sea to Europe.
Nabucco to the rescue
Turkmenistan said on April 16 it was ready
to provide gas for the Nabucco pipeline,
three months after Russia halted gas
imports from the Central Asian state amid
a row over shipments. "Currently,
Turkmenistan has excess gas for trade. We
are ready to send it abroad to any
customer. This includes Nabucco,"
President Berdymukhamedov told a
government meeting, broadcast late on
April 16 on state television.
Russia, the main buyer of Turkmen gas,
halted its imports in April after a
pipeline which carries more than half of
its most valuable export exploded.
Analysts have said Turkmenistan is losing
up to $1 billion every month in lost gas
export revenues. Central Asia's biggest
gas producer blamed Moscow for blowing up
the pipeline, a charge Russia denies.
U.S. Under-Secretary of State, William
Burns, in an interview with Turkmen state
television also on April 16, said he had
discussed energy cooperation with
Berdymukhamedov during his tour in Central
A raft of transit agreements was signed on
April 19 in Turkey by the architects of
the EU and U.S.-backed Nabucco pipeline,
which are expected to define where the
pipeline will begin. The pipeline group
wants to pump 31 billion cubic metres of
gas to Europe annually, meeting some 5
percent of gas needs, but a lack of supply
agreements have hampered political will
and financing, analysts say.
The Vienna-based project, due to come on
stream by 2014, will bypass Russia, which
currently supplies Europe with a quarter
of its gas needs and whose spats with
neighbouring transit countries in the past
have halted supplies to the bloc.
Possible suppliers for the 7.9 billion
euro ($11.01 billion) Nabucco project have
included Iraq, Egypt, Iran, Azerbaijan and
possibly Russia and Turkmenistan.
Some analysts say Nabucco has better
prospects in the long run than Russia's
rival South Stream pipeline, though
Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom (GAZP.MM)
has fought hard to outpace it in the past
year by signing up many East European
Azerbaijan said on April 16 that it has
not given anyone -- neither Gazprom nor
Nabucco -- priority for its gas coming
from its Shakh Deniz fields.
Transit countries Turkey, Bulgaria,
Romania, Hungary and Austria will sign an
accord on July 13 in Ankara. While it may
help financing and reassure supplier
countries, it will not be a big leap
forward for a project already subject to
The two countries that really matter for
the Turkmen regime, after Russia, are
Turkey and Iran.
The Turkish state minister for foreign
trade said that Turkey had undertaken
projects in Turkmenistan despite the
global crisis. Turkey's State Minister
Zafer Caglayan said Turkish contractors
undertook the most projects in
Turkmenistan in 2009 despite global
Caglayan met President Berdimuhamadow;
Tuwakmammet Japarow, the deputy chairman
of the Cabinet of Ministers for economy &
finance; and Hodjamuhammet Muhammedow, the
deputy chairman of the Cabinet of
Ministers for trade, commerce, textiles
Minister Caglayan also had a meeting with
Deryageldi Orazow, the deputy chairman of
the Cabinet of Minister for construction.
"Turkish contractors have undertaken more
than 600 projects worth over 17 billion
USD in Turkmenistan so far," Caglayan said
during his meeting Orazow. Turkish
contractors have invested some 160 billion
USD in 81 countries so far.
Caglayan also said projects Turkey planned
to fulfil in Turkmenistan in 2010 amounted
to 12 billion USD.