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turkmenistan  

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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: 382 - (26/01/13)

It is becoming increasingly clear that the US and Europe need Turkmenistan for energy security more than Turkmenistan needs them as customers. In a report released on December 12, entitled “Energy and Security from the Caspian to Europe”, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee noted that “The next phase of the Southern [energy] Corridor would advance several US and NATO foreign policy objectives: it would further isolate Iran, assist in cultivating partners in the Caucasus and Central Asia and bolster their sovereign independence, and perhaps most importantly, curtail Russia’s energy leverage over European NATO allies.”

The report argues that the proposed Southern Corridor, a series of pipelines that would transport gas from the Caspian region on to Europe, bypassing Russia, “will require constant attention” by the United States and the European Union, and stresses the importance of building up support for the venture. Bolstering Europe's commitment to the project, the European Commissioner for enlargement and European neighbourhood policy, Stefan Fule, said after a meeting of the EU-Azerbaijan Cooperation Council in Brussels that the EU and Azerbaijan had reaffirmed their commitments to closely cooperate with Turkmenistan in drafting an Azeri-Turkmen-EU agreement on a planned pipeline. But this all sounds like wishful thinking. One week before Christmas, Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said that Turkmenistan’s main strategic partners are its neighbours in Central Asia, Russia and China. The US and Europe are not more important to him than other potential customers outside its core group, including Japan, Malaysia, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, India, and Turkey. Berdymukhamedov’s primary focus is on Asia and the president announced that Turkmenistan will open embassies in Japan and Malaysia this year, saying, "Turkmenistan has strategic interests in economic and trade, transport and communication, fuel and energy fields in the Asia-Pacific region and we will expand our presence there.”

Berdymuhammedov also appears to be more committed to the proposed TAPI project to pipe gas from Turkmenistan to India and Pakistan via Afghanistan than he is to the Southern Corridor. In the autumn, Turkmenistan held a series of international road shows for TAPI with the participation of the Asian Development Bank, and the heads of Chevron, Exxon Mobil, BP, BG Group, Germany's RWE and Malaysia's Petronas, and in late December Berdymukhamedov stressed that his country needs to work hard to create the right conditions that will allow construction and supply of the pipeline to go ahead.

Crucial to the way energy is tapped from the Caspian region is the status of the Caspian Sea itself. The status of who owns what in the Sea has been a source of friction since the break-up of the Soviet Union. The Caspian used to be divided solely between Iran and the USSR but, after 1991, it was carved up between all the countries that have a Caspian coast: Iran, Russia and the newly independent states of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. A dispute involving all nations over how the lines should be drawn has never been solved.

In December, deputy foreign ministers of the Caspian states met in Ashgabat to develop a draft Convention on the legal status of the Sea. According to the Turkmen state news agency, all countries “expressed a mutual interest” in agreeing on the legal status of the region, and “a common desire” to find “mutually acceptable solutions on the conceptual provisions of a basic document” that will define how they operate there. Such sentiments have been muted periodically since 1991 and it's unlikely that the parties will reach an agreement anytime soon, but the latest show of good faith could at least calm tensions between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan that began in June when Azerbaijan sent a border patrol boat to halt a Turkmen vessel allegedly pursuing “scientific” work in a disputed area of the Caspian. In response, Turkmenistan held its first naval exercises in the region. Later, on October 21, four Azerbaijani citizens were arrested by the Turkmen authorities for fishing illegally in Turkmen waters. The detained Azeris have now been pardoned and Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov has said, "Very important agreements and mutual understanding have been reached in this issue."

Turkmenistan is charging full steam ahead with plans to maximise its revenue from energy and is planning to develop new areas of shallow water in the Caspian Sea, including the northern Goturdepe field. The country's resources in its undisputed portion of the Caspian are estimated at 12 billion tons of oil and 6.5 trillion cubic meters of gas and Turkmenistan already operates around 36 fields, with more than 600 oil and gas fields at different stages of development.

A huge proportion of the wealth generated from those vast reserves lines the pockets of a few in power and according to the 2012 report on repressive societies from Freedom House, Turkmenistan is the second most repressive country in the world after Uzbekistan. That situation will not improve while Berdymukhamedov and his cronies are in power, which looks set to be the case for a long time yet.

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