27 January 2002
Caspian Sea Status Dispute Could See Resolution
24 January 2002
A working group on defining the status of the Caspian Sea met in Moscow on 23-24 January. Deputy foreign ministers from the five Caspian nations (Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Iran) attended the session.
Chief negotiators of the five Caspian states signed a joint statement on 24 January winding up a two-day meeting said to have made progress in the tortuous process of determining the international status of the inland sea.
The deputy foreign ministers agreed to meet again in Ashgabat in April to attempt to end once and for all the decade-long dispute over the status of lucrative oil deposits on the bed of the Caspian.
The statement noted that resolving the dispute over the sea's status would create the necessary conditions for developing the sea's resources.
Russian representative Viktor Kalyuzhny said the April meeting could be the last before the signing of a final declaration. "We all have an interest in the Caspian summit being held as soon as possible," he said. The negotiators made headway on all issues related to the adoption of a fixed legal status for Caspian Sea, he added.
Opening the session on 23 January, Kalyuzhny said that recent snags that had halted a presidential summit on the issue were now being resolved.
The Caspian issue is likely to feature prominently on the agenda of talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Azerbaijani counterpart Heidar Aliev, who arrived in Moscow on 24 January for an official visit. The talks begin on 25 January.
A meeting between the five deputy foreign ministers scheduled for last month was cancelled due to a boycott by Turkmenistan and its ally on the Caspian oil issue, Iran. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service, Interfax, AFP, ITAR-TASS)
China Criticizes U.S. For Keeping Troops In Afghanistan
24 January 2002
A member of the Chinese State Council, Ismail Aymat, said that the U.S. drive for keeping its troops in Afghanistan can have a negative impact on the Central Asian region.
The Chinese official met with Turkmen parliament Chairman Redzhepbai Arazov in Ashgabat on 24 January. Ismail is completing his Central Asian tour devoted to the 10th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the former Soviet states, which are now members of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
During the meeting, both sides noted that China was one of the first countries which recognized Turkmenistan and supported its neutral status. Ismail stressed that China and Turkmenistan have common positions on the settlement of the situation in Afghanistan.
The Turkmen speaker praised the expansion of economic cooperation with China. In 2001, trade turnover between the two countries increased threefold and reached $40 million. This year it could reach $100 million. (ITAR-TASS)
Turkmenistan Assists In Supply Of Relief Aid To Afghanistan
23 January 2002
An airliner of the Turkmen national airlines has delivered to Ashgabat from Belgium another consignment of relief aid for Afghanistan. The more than 33 tons of medicines, radio equipment, office products, and food was provided by the international humanitarian organization Doctors without Borders. The supply will be airlifted within days to the town of Turkmenabat on the border with Afghanistan and from there moved by truck to Mazar-i-Sharif.
The Turkmen air and truck relief aid corridor has been open since late last September. According to the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan is the second country after Pakistan in terms of relief aid traffic moved to Afghanistan. Last month alone the delivery of food through Turkmenabat was greater than across any other border checkpoint.
The Turkmen transit route has been successfully used by such international organizations as UNICEF, the World Food Program, the International Organization for Migration, and the U.S. Red Cross. (ITAR-TASS)
Another Baptist Fined
23 January 2002
Six members of a Baptist congregation in the town of Khazar have been fined for holding "illegal services," Keston News Service reported. They were summoned to the local administration on 9 January, and were informed that the instruction to fine them came from the political police, the KNB (former KGB). They were also told they should register their community, something they refuse to do for fear of state control. The six have refused to pay the fines. (Keston News Service)
Belarus, Turkmenistan To Sign Treaty On Friendship And Cooperation
22 January 2002
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka may pay an official visit to Turkmenistan in April 2002, Turkmen Ambassador to Belarus Ilya Veldzhanov told Interfax on 22 January.
During the upcoming visit, the presidents intend to sign "a major treaty on friendship and cooperation," the diplomat said.
At the same time, about 10 more interstate and intergovernmental treaties and agreements that will help intensify Belarusian-Turkmen contacts at all levels are currently being discussed, Veldzhanov said. (Interfax-West)
Russian, Turkmen Presidents: International Terrorism Main Threat To World Stability
21 January 2002
The presidents of Russia and Turkmenistan, Vladimir Putin and Saparmurat Niyazov, agree that international terrorism, illegal drug trafficking, and transnational organized crime pose the main threat to stability and security in the world in general and in Central Asia in particular.
In a joint statement they made on 21 January the presidents said it is necessary to fight these "new challenges" more intensively.
They confirmed their adherence to rebuilding a peaceful and independent Afghanistan, "which will be free from terrorism and drugs and will live in harmony with its neighbors and the international community in general," the statement reads. Russia and Turkmenistan believe that the UN and the UN Security Council should play a central role in the international efforts made to settle the Afghan conflict.
The presidents stressed the necessity to strengthen international stability. Under these conditions, it is important that the nuclear powers should continue to work on reducing strategic offensive arms, the statement reads. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service, Interfax)
Russian, Turkmen Positions On Caspian Sea Become Closer
21 January 2002
Russian and Turkmen experts have drawn the positions of their countries concerning the division of the Caspian Sea closer, Russian President Putin told Turkmen President Niyazov in the Kremlin on 21 January.
Putin called for further deepening the cooperation between Russia and Turkmenistan in drafting the general treaty and "expanding economic relations so that they go beyond the energy sphere."
The two countries have similar positions on many aspects of cooperation, Niyazov said. "We have lived and developed side by side for many years, and much in Turkmenistan has been done with the assistance of Russia and its people. Russia is a great nation, and Turkmenistan has never had a time-serving or antagonistic attitude towards Russia, the period after the break-up of the former Soviet Union is no exception," he said.
Putin said he hoped that the summit would give "a major boost" to bilateral cooperation.
The tete-a-tete negotiations continued without the press. Sources in both delegations told Interfax that the presidents will focus on long-term cooperation in fuel and energy, first and foremost gas.
An intergovernmental agreement on gas cooperation will be drafted and signed soon, the delegations' experts said.
The Caspian problem was a key item on the talks agenda. Putin and Niyazov discussed preparations for the Ashgabat summit of the five Caspian nations, the sources said.
The two presidents discussed current regional and international problems, especially the situation in and around Afghanistan, bilateral cooperation in the development of a peaceful and independent Afghanistan, and humanitarian assistance to that country.
Bilateral and multilateral cooperation in the fight against international terrorism, extremism, drug trafficking, and other global challenges was discussed as well. (Interfax)
Russian Plan Seen Seeking Control of Central Asian Gas Exports
24 January 2002
By Michael Lelyveld
Russian President Vladimir Putin's new plan for an alliance of gas producers may face a dim future in Central Asia if it turns out to be another tool for Russian control.
Putin made the proposal for a "Eurasian alliance of gas producers" on 21 January during Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov's visit to Moscow.
Speaking on Russian television, Putin said the alliance "would make it possible to a substantial extent to exercise effective control over the volumes and directions of Central Asian gas exports, and would ensure the creation of a unified balance between the production and consumption of natural gas, and also its export through a unified export channel." The remarks were transcribed by the BBC.
No immediate reaction from Niyazov was reported, beyond his willingness to examine the idea. Putin's plan is for an association to include Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Russia. All four countries are on the route of the Central Asia-Center pipeline network that carries the region's exported gas.
Despite the Soviet breakup, the bundle of four pipelines operates much as it did over a decade ago. Russia's Gazprom controls access to the network, largely because all westward exports run through Russia. The control that Moscow has lost since independence is over gas production in Central Asia and over the resources themselves.
Putin's comments suggest that all CIS countries would be better off if a single authority could match supply with demand. Total control would make it easier to manage production, exports, and prices.
Russia pushed the idea of an "energy balance" in its two years of negotiations with Ukraine over gas supplies, debt, and transit to Europe. Although a settlement was reached on debt restructuring, it is unclear that any balance was achieved.
But Russia's effort now seems to be aimed at influencing the production of gas in Central Asia at a time when it is poised for significant growth. If past experience with groupings like the Eurasian Economic Community can serve as a guide, Russia expects to dominate the decision making if a gas alliance is formed.
Russia now manages Central Asia's gas trade on a year-to-year basis through a combination of negotiations and strong-arm tactics. The process primarily affects Turkmenistan, which is the only major gas exporter in the group.
Although Uzbekistan is a bigger producer, the country uses most of its gas domestically, exporting small amounts to isolated areas of neighboring states.
Kazakhstan, which is primarily an oil producer, generated only 8.4 billion cubic meters of gas in 2001. Uzbekistan produced 57.4 billion, while Turkmenistan reported output of 51.3 billion cubic meters. The three together accounted for less than one-fourth of the 511 billion cubic meters produced by Gazprom.
But Russia is concerned about competition at a time when Gazprom's output has been declining. Russia's big supply commitments to Europe have added pressure for a new strategy to control the gas from Central Asia before the countries can develop alternate routes.
Russia's past strategies have had limited success with Turkmenistan. In 1994, Moscow began steering Turkmen gas to Georgia and Ukraine rather than letting it compete in Europe with Russian gas supplies. A feud over the destination led to a complete shutdown of Turkmen exports in 1997. But Ukraine has since become Turkmenistan's biggest customer for gas.
The link is far from ideal for the Turkmen economy, since Ukraine pays for only half the gas in cash. Russia is believed to be profiting by taking a huge portion of the gas as a transit fee, in addition to the modest amount of Turkmen gas that it buys.
But dealing with Niyazov has been difficult. His insistence on higher prices has stalled a series of larger deals. Putin's bid to buy up to 50 billion cubic meters a year from Turkmenistan failed during his visit to Ashgabat in May 2000 after Niyazov sought higher tariffs. The same sticking point reportedly delayed a smaller long-term accord during Niyazov's visit to Moscow this week.
Frustration has also marked Niyazov's negotiations for other pipelines. A trans-Caspian pipeline project fell apart following a feud with Azerbaijan. Civil war in Afghanistan halted plans for another Turkmen outlet. It is still unclear whether peace will restart them again.
But Kazakhstan's growth as a gas producer could change the picture for Russia's network. Officials predict that Kazakhstan's output will rise fourfold by 2005. The new volume is likely to strain the capacity of the old Soviet pipeline system. Niyazov estimates that the network, which could once carry 100 billion cubic meters, can now handle only 70 billion. Some analysts put the capacity at just 55 billion annually.
Rebuilding the pipelines could restore the capacity, but it will not help Russia solve the problem of how to manage the competition from Central Asian gas. Restricting it may only force the countries to find more competitive routes.
Putin's plan for an alliance could appeal to all the countries involved, but first they must be convinced that they will not be under the biggest ally's control. (RFE/RL)
New Riots On Turkmen-Uzbek Border
9 January 2002
Independent sources report that new riots have taken place in the district of Dashoguz Velayat.
This time in the village named after Saparmurat. Niyazov (formerly Taza-bazar), approximately 250 people came to the main street on 15 January. They were protesting the decision of the local authorities to close the border crossing on the Turkmen-Uzbek border.
A majority of the local population, having no other work, was involved in the shuttle trade between the two countries.
It is also important to stress that the most of the villagers are ethnic Uzbeks and all of them have relatives on the other side of the state border.
The protesters demanded either the reopening of the border crossing or giving jobs to the local people.
Their requests were not met. According to the local people, one of the protest organizers, a World War II veteran, got 1.5 million manats ($75) in cash from the officials, and after that the riots calmed down. (Human Rights Defense Center "Memorial")