27 December 2002
Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan Sign Pipeline Deal
27 December 2002
Leaders from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan signed a framework agreement on 27 December on building a pipeline to carry gas from Turkmenistan's Dauletabad-Donmez field through Afghanistan to Pakistan, AP reported.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Pakistani Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali, and Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov signed in Ashgabat a deal that sets the legal framework for companies to invest in the project.
Officials said the 1,500-kilometer-long pipeline, which is expected to cost $3.2 billion to build, could generate $300 million in annual transit fees for Afghanistan and create 12,000 jobs there. So far, no foreign investors have committed to building the pipeline. (AP)
Turkmenistan Announces Arrest of Opposition Figure
26 December 2002
Turkmen Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atajanova said on 26 December that opposition figure Boris Shikhmuradov has been arrested, confirming an earlier announcement by President Niyazov, RTR and AP reported. Atajanova said that another suspect, Iklym Iklymov, had also been arrested. Atajanova stopped short of providing any further details.
Earlier the same day, Niyazov's spokesman Serdar Durdyev told journalists Shikhmuradov was detained inside the country.
Shikhmuradov, a former foreign minister and ambassador to China, publicly broke with Niyazov's administration in 2001, pronouncing himself an opposition leader. He initially spent some time in Russia before continuing a life of exile in several countries.
Niyazov had accused Shikhmuradov of being the mastermind behind a failed assassination attempt in which the presidential motorcade was raked by machine-gun fire last month in Ashgabat.
Shikhmuradov, in a statement posted late on 25 December on his website, said he planned to turn himself in to the National Security Ministry. He expressed hope that his arrest would stop what he called the persecution of opposition-minded people in Turkmenistan who have been implicated in the assassination attempt. (RTR/AP)
Afghanistan Neighbors Sign Non-Interference Pact
22 December 2002
Afghanistan's immediate neighbors pledged in Kabul on 22 December never again to interfere in Afghanistan's internal affairs, RTR and AFP reported.
UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said he hopes that the Kabul declaration -- signed by foreign ministers or ambassadors from China, Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan -- will begin a new chapter in regional relations. He said that the agreement would help both the consolidation of peace in Afghanistan and the task of postwar reconstruction.
The agreement calls for amicable relations, mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, and a commitment to refrain from actions that could jeopardize peace. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a statement read out by Brahimi, called the agreement historic. (RTR, AFP)
Turkmenistan Orders Expulsion Of Uzbekistan's Ambassador
21 December 2002
Turkmenistan has ordered the expulsion of Uzbekistan's ambassador to Ashgabat, Abdurashid Qodyrov, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported on 21 December.
The Turkmen Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 21 December declaring the Uzbek diplomat persona non grata and giving him 24 hours to leave the country.
The ministry said it made the decision to expel Qodyrov on the basis of evidence presented by Turkmenistan's prosecutor-general. It said this evidence proves Qodyrov's involvement in last month's plot to assassinate President Niyazov.
Uzbek authorities categorically denied earlier Turkmen accusations that Uzbekistan played any part in the assassination attempt. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)
Uzbekistan Not Fortifying Border With Turkmenistan
20 December 2002
Uzbekistan is not taking any emergency measures to fortify the Uzbek-Turkmen border, a source in the Uzbek Defense Ministry told Interfax on 20 December.
Troops in the northwestern district near the Uzbek-Turkmen border are now at their permanent location, the source said. It did not rule out that search activities at border and customs posts will be intensified. (Interfax)
Uzbekistan Protests Turkmen Accusations After Assassination Plot
19 December 2002
Uzbek authorities categorically denied on 19 December Turkmen accusations that Uzbekistan aided a plot to assassinate Turkmen President Niyazov, AFP and AP reported. Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov said the accusation that Turkmen nationals hid in the envoy's residence is groundless.
On 17 December, Uzbekistan lodged an official complaint with Turkmenistan after Turkmen security officers raided the Uzbek Embassy in Ashgabat to search for Turkmen nationals.
Turkmen Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atajanova said on 18 December that the Uzbek ambassador in Ashgabat, Abdurashid Qodyrov, hid opposition figure Boris Shikhmuradov in the ambassador's residence after the assassination attempt failed. Turkmen authorities accuse Shikhmuradov, a former Turkmen foreign minister, of directing the plot.
In a statement, Komilov also denied that Uzbek authorities aided Shikhmuradov to cross the Uzbek-Turkmen border before the assassination attempt. (AFP, AP)
Niyazov Says 46 Arrested In Assassination Attempt
17 December 2002
President Niyazov has said 46 people -- including 17 foreigners -- have been arrested so far in connection with the 25 November attempt on his life, AP reported on 17 December.
Niyazov's office said the Turkmen president told Russian President Vladimir Putin about the 46 arrests during a telephone conversation. The office said Putin expressed support for Turkmenistan's pursuit of suspects.
Niyazov blames four opposition figures currently living abroad for planning the attempt on his life. International rights groups have criticized Turkmenistan for failing to offer any evidence to support the attempt on Niyazov's life and subsequent arrests. (AP)
Turkmen Special Services Raid Uzbek Embassy
16 December 2002
About 15 security officials forcibly entered the Uzbek Embassy in Ashgabat on 16 December and searched the ambassador's residence, claiming to have information that Turkmen nationals involved in the assassination attempt against President Niyazov had taken refuge in the building, RIA-Novosti reported.
When they failed to find anyone hiding there, the officers filmed a Turkmen man who had accompanied them into the building and testified on camera that he had been living in the embassy for some time.
This incident was described on 17 December in a protest note from the Uzbek Foreign Ministry, which called it a gross violation of the norms and principles of international law. The ministry demanded an immediate explanation and immunity for its diplomatic mission in Ashgabat. (RIA-Novosti)
In Wake Of Assassination Bid Niyazov Calls For National Assembly
16 December 2002
President Niyazov on 16 December called for a session of the People's Assembly to be held on 30 December to discuss new laws to prevent instability, AP reported.
Niyazov told a cabinet session that laws must be passed that would exclude the possibility of committing acts that could undermine national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Niyazov was unharmed, and by his own admission unaware, of a reported attempt on his life on 25 November as his motorcade headed toward work. Four police officers were reported injured in the attack but Niyazov said he learned of it when he arrived at work.
The People's Assembly was not scheduled to meet until August 2003. In its last session earlier this year the assembly approved Niyazov's motion to rename the days of the week and months of the year. At a session in December 1999, the assembly approved naming Niyazov president for life. (AP)
In Sign Of Rising Tension, Turkmenistan Expels Uzbek Ambassador
23 December 2002
By Zamira Eshanova
Turkmenistan has expelled the Uzbek ambassador to Ashgabat, accusing him of taking part in a reported assassination attempt on 25 November against Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.
Ashgabat says the ambassador, Abdurashid Qodyrov, helped the main suspect in the case, former Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov, enter the country. The Turkmen side also says Kadyrov gave Shikhmuradov shelter at the Uzbek Embassy.
Turkmen Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atajanova said that Shikhmuradov, who fled Turkmenistan last year after being accused of number of crimes, and other individuals acted with the help of the Uzbek side. "Shikhmuradov, as a true criminal, secretly entered Turkmenistan from Uzbek territory and with [Turkmen opposition member Saparmurat] Iklymov, [Turkmen businessman Guvanch] Djumaev, and others within Turkmenistan, tried to steal our people's heart: the life of our leader, the great Saparmurat Turkmenbashi," Atajanova said.
The Uzbek Foreign Ministry has denied any involvement in the assassination attempt. Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov said that Shikhmuradov, as a longtime Turkmen foreign minister, may have had a number of Uzbek friends but that the Tashkent government was not involved. "The Uzbek side declares that authorities of Uzbekistan had no involvement, moreover, provided no assistance to Shikhmuradov in his entrance [to Turkmenistan]," Komilov said.
The denial is clear, but Otanazar Aripov of the opposition Erk Party of Uzbekistan said the way in which the denial is worded creates doubts of its own. "The response leaves some basis for saying that Uzbekistan may have some involvement [in the alleged assassination on Niyazov]. It doesn't categorically deny any involvement. Otherwise, how should one interpret the point in the official note that says Boris Shikhmuradov may have friends and relations in Uzbekistan? This and other points in the statement creates the feeling that there might be some involvement," Aripov said.
Aripov said that because both countries are ruled by authoritarian governments, it's hard to know what really happened. "If there is any involvement from Uzbekistan, this is another product of the antidemocratic method of ruling [there], the fruit of an ideology of intolerance, because the Uzbek people and Uzbek society would not gain any benefit from such involvement," Aripov said.
The expulsion has greatly strained relations between the two countries. Some reports even say both governments are sending troops to the border areas.
But Madamin, a businessman from the Uzbek border town Manaq who travels every other day to Turkmenistan, said so far the situation is normal. "I just yesterday evening returned from Turkmenistan. Everything was as quite as usual. I paid the usual $6 [a fee to cross into Turkmenistan] and the situation at the border was normal. If something has happened after my return, I don't know about it. But I saw that five to six cars, mostly imported ones, were crossing the border without any problem. I haven't heard anything about the closure of the Turkmen border," Madamin said.
It's not clear whether Uzbekistan will expel Turkmen Ambassador Soltan Pirmukhamedov. The Russian news agency ITAR-TASS reported yesterday that Pirmukhamedov remains in Tashkent as the head of the diplomatic mission of Turkmenistan. (RFE/RL)
Russia's Gazprom Seeks Turkmenistan-Ukraine Gas Trade
17 December 2002
By Michael Lelyveld
Russia's gas monopoly Gazprom has stepped back into the business of shipping gas from Turkmenistan to Ukraine in a deal that may raise doubts about why it ever gave up a trade worth many millions of dollars.
Last week, Gazprom signed agreements with Ukraine's state petroleum company, Naftohaz Ukrayiny, making it the operator for gas transit from distant Turkmenistan next year. The deal means that Gazprom will replace the private gas trader Itera, which has served for years as the middleman between Ashgabat and Kyiv, using Gazprom's pipelines. Gazprom wants to reclaim the business from Itera, handling the transit on its own.
The agreement is important because Turkmenistan's gas represents Central Asia's biggest trade after Kazakhstan's oil. Turkmenistan has also become Ukraine's largest gas source, assuming a role that was once the exclusive province of Gazprom.
The Gazprom move may also be significant because of its long and questionable relations with Itera, which critics would like to see ended. For years, Gazprom has opened its pipeline network to the U.S.-registered company, allowing it to capture Russia's gas trade with CIS countries, although independent oil firms have been kept from using the lines.
The new Gazprom deal with Ukraine may shut Itera out, as the monopoly tries to reform its murky business under government pressure. But the outcome is uncertain.
Yesterday, the London-based "Financial Times" quoted an unnamed Itera official as saying that the Gazprom deal could be illegal because Turkmenistan was not consulted. Itera has already signed contracts for this year's transit between Turkmenistan and Ukraine, the Interfax news agency reported in October, citing a source in Turkmenistan's presidential administration.
The three-way dealings have a long and troubled history. Initially, Moscow forced Turkmenistan and Ukraine together in the 1990s to limit its exposure to Kyiv's fuel appetite and poor credit record. The Gazprom-orchestrated relationship also kept Turkmenistan from competing in the rich European markets, which Russia reserved for itself.
Despite its huge gas reserves, isolated Turkmenistan had little choice but to accept its brokered marriage with Ukraine, since its pipeline routes run through Russia. Gazprom has been nearly as reliant on Ukraine, since up to 90 percent of its exports pass through former Soviet pipelines on Ukrainian territory. Russia has kept Ukraine happy by feeding it Turkmen gas, rather than more of its own.
But the puzzling part of the triangular tie has been Gazprom's willingness to turn over its transit business to Itera for the past four years. The trade started in 1994 when Itera first traded food to Turkmenistan for gas. But the business blossomed in 1999 when Itera began serving as the "financial and technical operator" for a transit deal with Gazprom to sell 20 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas to Ukraine.
Within a few years, tiny Itera had taken over much of the gas traffic with CIS countries, while Gazprom continued to handle its own exports to Europe. Spurred by shareholder suspicions, auditors searched for ownership links between Gazprom and Itera but failed to find any. Analysts have since argued that Gazprom brought Itera into the business to reduce the risk of nonpayment and the diplomatic fallout from tougher collection measures in the CIS. Gazprom is 38 percent government-owned.
But that explanation has never been easy, since Ukraine has paid Itera for transit with a large part of the Turkmen gas instead of cash. The terms reduce Itera's risk, while Ukraine is supposed to pay Turkmenistan directly for the gas itself, half in cash and half in goods and services. As a result, it appears that Gazprom has given up well over $1 billion worth of Turkmen gas to Itera for the use of its own lines.
Last week, Gazprom pushed Itera aside by offering to take less of the Turkmen gas as a transit fee. Interfax reported that Naftohaz Ukrayiny will pay 38 percent of the value of the gas to Gazprom for transit, compared with the 41 percent paid to Itera this year.
Although Turkmenistan is due to raise both the volume and price of its exports to Ukraine next year, the cost to Naftohaz Ukrayiny will stay the same because of the better deal, the Ukrainian newspaper "Den" said in a report relayed by the BBC.
Gazprom also sweetened its offer by allowing Naftohaz Ukrayiny to increase its gas re-exports to Europe tenfold next year, using a $200 million credit line from a Gazprom-owned bank.
The Russian monopoly may have three reasons for offering the accommodating terms. First, it is trying to reach final agreement with Ukraine on a consortium to manage its transit lines, capping a long campaign to get control over its European routes. The new incentives make it clear that Gazprom is still intent on keeping Ukraine as its main export corridor, despite moves to build alternate pipelines through Belarus and across the Baltic Sea.
Second, Russia wants more direct engagement with Turkmenistan, which can offer ready gas supplies, although it has wrangled with Moscow over the price. Ashgabat also holds a key vote on the formula for dividing the Caspian Sea as Russia pursues its quest for an accord with neighboring Iran.
Last, Gazprom seems to be reacting to pressure from the Russian government to recapture lost assets before it raises rates on hard-pressed consumers. Gazprom may now be treating the business it shifted to Itera as one of those assets for the first time. In recent weeks, Gazprom has cut supplies to Itera for sales to Lithuania, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan, as well as Ukraine, citing overdue bills. It restored service only after Itera paid Gazprom millions of dollars in debt.
It is unclear whether the new treatment spells the end of Itera's special relations with Gazprom, or whether the private company will take its case to court. If Itera backs down, it may be a measure of the many favors it has enjoyed over the years or the hope that there may be more to come. (RFE/RL)