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Turkmen Report: April 29, 2003

29 April 2003
Russia Worried Over Ashgabat Plan To Stop Dual-Citizenship Deal
26 April 2003

Russia is seriously concerned about Turkmenistan's unilateral actions to terminate the agreement on dual citizenship between Russia and Turkmenistan, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said on 26 April, ITAR-TASS reported the same day.

He said, "Russia has not ratified a protocol on terminating the agreement between the two countries to settle disagreements on double citizenship." To this end, the ministry believes that "this agreement continues to be effective."

Moreover, it has been said that even after the protocol, which was signed by Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and Russian President Vladimir Putin on 10 April, comes into force, it wouldn't have retroactive effect, and citizens who have double citizenship will retain it.

The Russian ministry is deeply worried over a provision in the Turkmen president's resolution under which persons that were allowed dual citizenship must choose their citizenship in two months. This resolution "will cause serious damage to the interests of our citizens in Turkmenistan and touch on their rights," Yakovenko said. "All this can have far-reaching consequences, including at the international arena," the spokesman stressed. (ITAR-TASS)

Turkmenistan Pardons U.S. Citizen In Assassination Plot
25 April 2003

A U.S. citizen who publicly confessed to involvement in an alleged plot to kill Turkmen President Niyazov last year has left Turkmenistan after being pardoned by Niyazov, RTR and AP reported on 25 April.

Leonid Komarovsky, a native of Moldova, had spent five months in jail before being turned over to U.S. officials on 24 April. He had earlier said on state television that he had been drawn unwittingly into the assassination plot.

Niyazov was reportedly not injured in the attack. The Turkmen government says gunmen directed by former government officials and their supporters opened fire on Niyazov's motorcade as he was traveling to work by car on 25 November.

The United States and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have offered to investigate reports of torture and mass arrests in Turkmenistan following the alleged assassination plot. (RTR, AP)

Turkmenistan Repeats Call For Sweden To Extradite Alleged Coup Plotters
23 April 2003

The Turkmen Foreign Ministry on 23 April said Turkmenistan has demanded that Sweden hand over two opposition leaders that the Turkmen authorities claim were involved in an alleged plot against the life of President Niyazov, AP and AFP reported the same day.

Turkmenistan wants Sweden to extradite former First Deputy Agriculture Minister Saparmurat Yklymov and political scientist Khalmurad Yesenov.

The Turkmen government says gunmen directed by former government officials and their supporters opened fire on Niyazov's motorcade as he was driving to work last year. The Turkmen Foreign Ministry said it has not received an answer from Sweden on previous demands concerning the extradition request.

Swedish Deputy Assistance Undersecretary Per Hedvall said the government rejected a previous request by Turkmenistan last month to extradite Yklymov because he is a Swedish citizen. Hedvall said Sweden had received no request for Yesenov's extradition, and did not recognize his name. (AP, AFP)

EBRD Questions Turkmenistan's High Growth Figures
22 April 2003

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has questioned what it considers to be the improbably high official figures on the growth of Turkmenistan's economy, Reuters reported on 22 April, citing the EBRD's latest annual report on the progress of the transition economies.

While it is widely believed in the international community that the official growth rates are inflated by creative accounting, if not outright falsification, they are too often accepted by foreign journalists and others who have no means of determining their accuracy.

The EBRD estimated that the actual growth of the Turkmen economy in 2002 was 5.1 percent, not 21.2 percent, as the government claims. The increase in gas output in 2002 was estimated at only 4 percent, while a disastrous cotton harvest caused a drop of 56 percent in the output of this vitally important export commodity.

The bank estimated that Turkmenistan's growth rate in 2003 will be 5.3 percent and predicted that the long-term gas contracts with Russia and Ukraine will not be completely fulfilled. Due to a lack of adequate export pipelines and growing competition from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, Turkmen growth rates could slow to 3-4 percent per year. (Reuters)

Holders Of Turkmen-Russian Dual Citizenship Have Two Months To Decide
22 April 2003

President Niyazov signed a decree on 22 April giving residents of Turkmenistan who hold both Turkmen and Russian citizenship two months to decide which of them they want to keep, Interfax reported on 22 April.

The decree follows an agreement reached between Niyazov and Russian President Putin on 10 April to revoke the right to dual citizenship that was instituted in 1993. People residing in Turkmenistan who hold dual citizenship must submit applications to internal-affairs agencies within two months to indicate which citizenship they wish to retain. Otherwise they will automatically be considered Turkmen citizens. Holders of dual citizenship residing outside the country will automatically lose their Turkmen citizenship if they do not apply to a Turkmen consulate to keep it.

Since Putin agreed to revoke the dual-citizenship agreement, a number of Russian political observers have accused him of betraying the interests of Turkmenistan's Russian-speaking population for the sake of a natural-gas contract. (Interfax)

With U.S. Attention Focused On Iraq, Russia Returns To A Waiting Central Asia
22 April 2003

By Bruce Pannier

Russia's traditional interests in Central Asia suffered a setback in the months following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. With an influx of Western troops and financial aid to help in the antiterror campaign in Afghanistan, many observers suspected Russia's long-time influence in the region was finally fading for good.

Since then, however, the U.S. has largely shifted its focus to Iraq, and Russia has stepped in to fill the gap, taking steps to woo back the Central Asian states. Even more notably, the countries in the region -- for the most part -- appear to be welcoming Russia's renewed attention.

Saulea Mukhametrakhimova is the Central Asia project manager at the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting. "In the last several months, there were several developments which demonstrated that Russia is stepping up its presence in Central Asia," Mukhametrakhimova said. "But I think it will be fair to say that this is happening not because of Russia, but because some of the countries in Central Asia are themselves quite keen on reviving the traditional relations with Russia."

Mukhametrakhimova cites several examples of warming ties. There were the recent visits to Moscow by both Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and the usually reclusive Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. Kyrgyzstan will soon mark the opening of the base for the Russian-led rapid-reaction force for the Commonwealth of Independent States. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who visited Kyrgyzstan in December and met with Nazarbaev last week in Omsk, is also due to travel to Tajikistan at the end of this month.

Alex Bridau is an analyst at the New York-based Eurasia Group, a political risk-assessment group. Bridau said Russia is taking advantage of an opportunity to regain lost influence in Central Asia. "Russia maybe senses an opportunity at the moment, sensing that the U.S., in fact, is occupied with the war in Iraq and the situation there," he said.

Bridau pointed to Kazakhstan's Omsk talks with Russia about forming a new economic bloc with Ukraine and Belarus as one example. One Russian daily, "Moskovskii komsomolets," took that a step further when it noted last week: "[Belarusian President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka is no longer the favorite. Will Russia unite with Kazakhstan?" The article alluded to the troubled Russia-Belarus Union and said that "a more realistic union" would be between Russia and Kazakhstan.

Bridau suggested that with U.S. energy concerns now focused on Iraq, Kazakhstan may be interested in courting greater cooperation with Russian energy companies. There have been recent talks between Kazakh and Russian oil and natural gas companies. "With Kazakhstan, I would say certainly there would be some concerns about what's the energy relationship between the West and Kazakhstan going to look like with Iraqi oil potentially coming back on line," Bridau said.

Part of the talks between Putin and Nazarbaev in Omsk concerned cooperation in the energy field, particularly in the Caspian Sea. The bulk of Kazakhstan's oil currently is exported via Russian pipelines.

Putin's talks earlier this month with Turkmen President Niyazov also focused on joint energy projects and the roles Russian companies could play in developing and exporting Turkmen oil and natural gas. A 25-year contract signed between Turkmenistan and Russia's natural gas giant Gazprom gave Turkmenistan far more money than had previously been offered.

Russia, which may be anticipating its oil contracts with Saddam Hussein's regime will not be renewed under a new U.S.-backed Iraqi government, may logically be looking for new areas of opportunity in the energy field. Its more traditional partners in Central Asia could do much to make up for losses in the Persian Gulf.

Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan may also feel U.S. and Western companies have been less than enthusiastic lately about promoting Caspian Basin deals. Some Western companies have pulled out of deals, particularly pipeline projects. Others have complained about recent changes in local legislation that work to the detriment of foreign investors.

But it may be more than simple business interests that are moving Russia and Central Asia closer. The U.S. push for regime change in Iraq and Afghanistan could be unsettling to Central Asia's own entrenched leaders.

"Potentially another concern would have more to do with the politics," Bridau said. "Everybody has just seen the change in two countries -- Afghanistan and Iraq. And much of the emphasis with regards to U.S. goals in Iraq has been geared toward the installation of a new government, the removal of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. And so, I think, this may give some of the Central Asian leaders pause. They may be worried about whether or not they're going to be faced with new demands from Washington to liberalize their governments, to make concessions to opposition figures, to ease up on political repression. So really, [the Central Asian leaders] may be looking for some support from Moscow."

Mukhametrakhimova agreed. She said that while Central Asian governments may welcome U.S. financial aid, they do not necessarily support the principles espoused by the U.S. "They realized that if you have to have a very close partnership then you will be able to get not only financial, economic aid, but you will also have to be perceived as paying a price for it -- improving the democratic situation in the country. And that's what the Central Asian leaders do not want," she said.

Russia's potential superiority as a guarantor of Central Asian security is a factor as well. The U.S. campaign in Afghanistan scaled back the region's two major threats, the Taliban regime and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. But with Washington's focus now on Iraq, Central Asia may be looking to Russia for protection from future security threats.

Not all Central Asian states, however, are anxious to renew ties with Russia.

Uzbekistan was the among the first of the countries in the region to offer its support to the U.S. in its war in Afghanistan, and it was the first to host U.S. forces. It has shown little sign of switching allegiances now that the U.S. interest in the region has receded.

Mukhametrakhimova said Uzbekistan's reluctance to court closer ties with Russia may make it an appealing long-term partner for the U.S. "There were some diplomatic sources in Central Asia which indicated that if you look at it from the United States' point of view it is particularly this attitude of Uzbekistan, this stance of Uzbekistan, of trying to be so independent from Russia, that increases its chance to stay a strategic partner for the U.S. for a long time," she said.

For the U.S., influence in one out of five Central Asian states might be enough -- particularly if the one is Uzbekistan, the region's strongest military power. But Bridau said shifting alliances should not be interpreted as the U.S. and Russia carving up spheres of Central Asian influence. None of the states, he said, is interested in courting one patron entirely at the expense of another.

That said, Russia is a traditional ally -- and one, furthermore, that does not criticize the sometimes autocratic style of the Central Asian leaders. (RFE/RL)