2 September 2000
Turkmen Envoy Meets With Afghan Opposition Following Stops In Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan; Taleban Said Ready For Talks With Masood
September 2, 2000
Turkmenistan's special envoy on Afghanistan is meeting today in Dushanbe with Afghan opposition head Ahmad Shah Masood.
Envoy Boris Shikhmuradov also met earlier this week in Kandahar with Mullah Mohammed Omar, the head of Afghanistan's ruling Taleban militia. Omar reportedly told Shikhmuradov that he was ready for talks with the opposition at any time, with no special preconditions.
This appeared to be the first time the Taleban, which control about 90 percent of Afghanistan, expressed willingness to hold unconditional talks with Masood, whose forces control the remainder of the country. The Taleban regime has previously insisted that Masood recognize its rule before it would agree to talks.
Shikhmuradov said after the talks with Omar that as a goodwill gesture, the Taleban leader has ordered the release of 85 opposition prisoners.
Shikhmuradov, who is also Turkmenistan's envoy in the Caspian region, began his foreign tour on August 29 in Tehran, where he met with Iranian president Mohammad Khatami to discuss a common position on the legal status of the Caspian sea.
Following the talks, Khatami said Iran may be interested in financing projects in Turkmenistan and that his upcoming visit in the country will mark the beginning of a new stage in Iranian-Turkmen relations.
Shikhmuradov and Iranian leadership also discussed peace prospects in Afghanistan. Iran, which does not recognize the Taleban government, pledged support for Turkmenistan's peace mission.
After the talks in Tehran, Shikhmuradov flew to Afghanistan, where he met with Mullah Omar. Along with security issues, the two sides also discussed economic cooperation between Turkmenistan and the Taleban. The Turkmen envoy said Turkmenistan would start extending cables to supply electricity to the two major Afghan centers of Herat in the west and Mazar-i-Sharif in the north. He also raised with the Taleban leadership Turkmenistan's plan to build a pipeline to export its gas through Afghanistan to Pakistan, a project which has been held up by the Afghan conflict.
"There is a chance to finally get this project started, but we need to be patient enough," Shikhmuradov said. "I don't want to give you more details, but I hope that within a couple of months we will reach certain goals."
On August 30, Shikhmuradov flew from Afghanistan to Islamabad for talks with Pakistani foreign minister Abdul Satter and on September 1 with the country's military ruler General Pervez Musharraf.
Pakistan assured Turkmenistan of its full support for the Turkmen peace initiatives.
Turkmenistan, Pakistan and Iran are members of the so-called UN-sponsored "Six-Plus-Two" group of Afghanistan's immediate neighbors. The group, which also includes China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, the United States and Russia, has tried in vain to find a lasting solution to ensure peace in Afghanistan.
Turkmenistan is the only Central Asia state with which the Taleban have good relations. Other countries that border Afghanistan to the north accuse the Taleban of supporting bids by Islamic insurgents to overthrow the secular governments in former Soviet republics. (RFE/RL, Reuters)
Turkmen Foreign Minister In Turkey: We Are Two States, One Nation
September 1, 2000
Turkey's Foreign Minister Ismail Cem said yesterday before meeting with his Turkmen counterpart Batyr Berdyev in Ankara that Turkmenistan has a pivotal place in Central Asian politics and occupies a very important place in Turkey's foreign policy.
Cem also told reporters that he would meet with the foreign ministers of the Central Asian republics in New York during the UN Millennium summit. He said he would go to Uzbekistan after returning from New York.
Berdyev added in his comments that Turkmenistan and Turkey are two states, but one nation and praised the bilateral relations as "excellent." (Turkish Daily News)
Uzbekistan Introduces Air Patrol To Guard Border With Turkmenistan
August 29, 2000
Uzbek TV reports that the Uzbek military is to begin using An-2 aircrafts and helicopters to patrol the border with Turkmenistan.
According to the report, "internal affairs staff is determined and ready to fulfill any task to defend the population against criminal elements." (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Uzbek TV Channel 1)
Turkmen Team To Attend Sydney Olympic Games
August 28, 2000
Turkmen State News Service reports that the Turkmen president Saparmurat Niyazov has signed a resolution accepting an official invitation from the International Olympic Committee for Turkmenistan to take part in the 27th Summer Olympic games in Sydney, Australia. The Olympics will begin on September 15.
According to the Turkmen State News Service, National Olympic Committee of Turkmenistan has been instructed to ensure the timely application of the Turkmen delegation to participate in the Olympic games. Niyazov's resolution also included the list of Turkmen sports delegates to attend the Games. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Turkmen State News Service)
Turkmenistan, ITERA Sign Agreement On Sale Of Additional 10 Bln Cubic Meters Of Gas; Gazprom Delegation Expected In Ashgabat
September 1, 2000
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and ITERA President Igor Makarov signed an agreement yesterday in Ashgabat on the sale to Russia of an additional 10 billion cubic meters of natural gas this year.
According to the ITERA press release, Makarov informed the Turkmen president that the company had met its target goal for transportation and sale of natural gas.
Yesterday, during a telephone conversation, Niyazov and Russian President Vladimir Putin reached an understanding that a delegation from the Russian Gazprom gas monopoly led by Rem Vyakhirev would visit Ashgabat shortly to make a final decision on the price at which an additional 10 billion cubic meters of gas could be delivered to Russia this year. (Interfax)
Niyazov, Putin To Discuss Caspian Status At The Summit
August 29, 2000
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and Russian leader Vladimir Putin have agreed to discuss the Caspian Sea status at a meeting of Caspian leaders in Turkmenistan. The agreement was reached last night in a telephone conversation between Niyazov and Putin.
The presidents believe that the future summit will find ways to solve Caspian problems with due account of interests of all the coastal states. They stressed that the Caspian Sea should become a zone of friendship and accord.
Niyazov invited Putin to visit Turkmenistan at any convenient time. (Itar-Tass)
ITERA Will Not Boost Gas Prices For CIS Countries
August 29, 2000
The ITERA international group of companies will not raise the prices for gas supplied to CIS countries as compensation for their debts, Igor Makarov, president of the ITERA group, has said.
"The price can be raised only if the costs of the extraction, purchase and transportation of gas increase," Makarov stressed in an interview published in the latest edition of Profil magazine.
Makarov said the price of gas supplied to the CIS countries represents the price at which ITERA buys it (for example, in Turkmenistan it is $36 per 1,000 cubic meters), the transportation costs, customs duties, excise duties, taxes and other mandatory payments set by various bodies in Turkmenistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. (Interfax)
Georgian Delegation Visiting Turkmenistan
September 1, 2000
A Georgian delegation led by Georgian Minister of State Georgi Arsenishvili is to begin a visit in Turkmenistan today. Caucasus Press reports that one of the issues to be discussed is the rescheduling of Georgian debts for Turkmen natural gas. Georgian Radio said today the debt totals 330 million dollars. It added that the two sides will also address the Europe-Caucasus-Asia transport corridor. (RFE/RL, BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Georgian Radio)
Turkmenistan Approves Project To Explore, Develop Oil And Gas Structures; Investment In South Gamyshlydzha Deposit Confirmed
September 1, 2000
A resolution signed yesterday by the Turkmen president Saparmurat Niyazov approved an investment project designed by Turkmen state company Turkmenneft to explore and develop the Nebitlidzhe, Western Nebitlidzhe, Shatut and Gerchek structures.
According to the project, total investment in the period from 2001 to 2016 will amount to almost $379 million dollars, including $12.6 million in 2001 alone.
Turkmenneft is to establish a target quota for crude and oil products in the amount of $12.6 million next year to acquire the necessary material and technical resources. Turkmenneftegaz will carry out the sale of this oil.
Financing of the project, which involves opening of a special accumulative account in the Turkmenistan Foreign Economic Bank and monitoring transfer of hard currency revenue from the sale of oil products and crude under the quota, will be organized by the state fund for the development of the oil, gas and mineral resources industries.
The project will be developed by the Balkan Oil Scientific Research Institute and implemented gradually by Turkmenneft. Its first stage involves exploration and preparation of explored deposits for trial exploitation in 2002-2003.
Until the return of their investment in the project, Turkmenneftegaz and Turkmenneft are exempt from excise duties, exchange and customs tariffs, compulsory payments to the Turkmen inter-bank currency exchange fund and the country's currency reserve, and all other taxes on the revenue from the sale of oil and oil products and on the value of material and technical resources supplied.
President Niyazov also approved investment in the industrial development of the South Gamyshlydzha deposit. The project involves a $25 million investment in 2001, which will be used to buy material and technical resources for the state concern Gosneft. (Interfax)
Niyazov Raps Officials For Currency Weakness; Appoints Deputy Prime Minister For Finance
August 31, 2000
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov told an expanded cabinet meeting today in Ashgabat that the country's currency policy was unsatisfactory and demanded an explanation as to why the national currency, the manat, was weakening.
In remarks broadcast by Turkmen TV the same day, Niyazov also said investigations were under way into "serious violations" in the use of hard currency in Turkmenistan in 1996-98. He also said that in the first seven months of this year, 72 million dollars had been brought into the country by foreign firms, only to go through the black market.
Niyazov appointed a new deputy prime minister, Orazmurad Begmuradov, the former chief of the State Tax Inspectorate, to head key finance areas, including the Finance and Economy Ministry, the state tax service and customs with special responsibility for supervising budget revenues and expenditure.
The president said the current head of the Central Bank would hold his post for another six months, but dismissed the head of the Turkmen Cotton state corporation for unspecified "serious shortcomings." (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Turkmen TV Channel 1)
Turkmen Railways Deputy Chief Sacked For Abuse Of Office
August 30, 2000
Turkmen TV has reported that deputy head of the Turkmen Railways Ministry, Kurbangeldi Kurdov, has been fired from his position for abuse of office.
Kurbangeldi Kurdov was appointed deputy head of the Turkmen Railways in January 1997.
According to the report, in March 1998, the Ministry used forged documents and spent 975 million manats [about 170,000 dollars] to purchase 750 cubic meters of timber from the Yegen private enterprise in the town of Turkmenabat. Kurdov authorized the delivery of the nonexistent timber to a railway storehouse in Turkmenabat and ordered payments to the Yegen enterprise. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Turkmen TV Channel 1)
Turkmenistan Asks Azeris To Submit Terms For Repayment Of Gas Debt
August 28, 2000
Azerbaijani news agency Sharg reports that the government of Turkmenistan has asked the Azerbaijani side to submit proposals for the repayment of its debt for gas purchased from Turkmenistan.
According to the 1995 intergovernmental agreement, Azerbaijan's debt for gas imported in 1993-94 totals over 81 million dollars. The debt should have been repaid starting July 1, 1995.
The Turkmen side believes the remaining debt amounts to 36 million dollars. However, the Azerbaijani side believes this sum is too high and sees its remaining debt at no more than 18 million dollars.
According to the same 1995 intergovernmental agreement, debts resulting from trade and economic relations in 1992-93 were to have been regulated by the end of March 1995. Turkmen Central Bank has calculated them at more than 15 million dollars. Together with the interest up to 1998, this number comes to 22 million dollars.
Yet, Azerbaijan does not agree with this amount either. It argues that the CIS heads of state council had proposed to redraft mutual debts resulting from trade and economic relations among members of the Commonwealth into state debts. However, Turkmenistan had not joined in the agreement. (BBC Central Asia Monitoring - Sharg news agency)
U.S. Energy Secretary Says Kazakhstan Committed To Oil Pipeline
August 29, 2000
U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said today that Kazakhstan was committed to a planned Washington-backed oil pipeline between Azerbaijan and Turkey.
Richardson, speaking to reporters during a visit to the Kazakh capital Astana, said Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev had "reaffirmed Kazakhstan's commitment to secure its participation in a Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline."
The U.S. has heavily backed the two to four billion dollar project to take Caspian crude from Azerbaijan's capital Baku to the Turkish port of Ceyhan on the Mediterranean, which could become operational in 2004.
The Baku-Ceyhan link, which would avoid Russia in the north and Iran in the south, would give the U.S. a major economic and political foothold in the turbulent region.
But the project has come under criticism for its high budget amid concern over whether Azerbaijan has enough oil to make the pipeline commercially viable. Its future is expected to depend on crude commitments from Kazakhstan and the size of oil reserves it has discovered at Kashagan on the Kazakh sector of the Caspian shelf.
"In addition to possible other oil from Kazakhstan we hope strongly that Kazakhstan's partners and operator will secure capacity in this pipeline for Kashagan's early oil," Richardson said.
But Kazakhstan has kept its options open.
Its first priority is a 1,500-kilometer (930-mile) pipeline project to transport oil from the giant Tengiz field to the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiisk.
The United States as well as Russia and Iran are some of the major players battling for influence over the transportation of oil and gas from the resource-rich Central Asian region. (Agence France Presse)
Two Kyrgyz Soldiers Wounded In Fighting With Islamic Rebels
September 2, 2000
Kyrgyzstan's National Security Secretary says two Kyrgyz soldiers were wounded today when about 200 Islamic rebels attempted to cross into the country from Tajikistan.
Bolot Dzhanuzakov said three groups of armed rebels attacked the Zhyly-Suu border post in southern Kyrgyzstan last night. The fighting went on until daybreak today.
Islamic rebels have launched almost nightly attacks on Kyrgyzstan since an initial incursion by about 100 fighters on August 11. Kyrgyz officials say the rebels were trained in extremist-run camps in Tajikistan, but the Tajik government denies the allegations.
Turkey and Ukraine said yesterday they will help Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan fight the militants. Turkey said it is offering financial help but Foreign Minister Ismail Cem declined to give details.
Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement the country would provide needed aid to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, but gave no details. (RFE/RL)
Tajik News Agency Photographer Shot Dead
September 2, 2000
Reports say a photographer for a Tajik news agency has been shot and killed in Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe.
The Itar-Tass news agency reported that Alexander Alpatov, who worked for the Khovar news agency, was gunned down near his home last evening.
Reports say no motive was immediately known. Investigators were working at the scene of the incident. (RFE/RL)
Azeri Journalist Charged With Links To Highjacking Case
September 1, 2000
The editor of an independent Azerbaijani newspaper was charged yesterday with organizing an attempt to hijack an airplane. But a lawyer for journalist Rauf Arifoglu says the charges are a political attack by the government.
Arifoglu, editor of the newspaper Yeni Musavat, also was charged yesterday with terrorism and illegal possession of a weapon. Arifoglu was arrested last week. Police allege that his Musavat political party is linked to a man who tried to hijack a domestic flight on August 18. The Musavat party has denied any involvement in the case.
Dozens of Azeri journalists have gone on strike to protest the arrest. The U.S. government also has urged Baku to reconsider its decision to close the Yeni Musavat newspaper. Also, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today deplored Arifoglu's arrest on terrorism charges and demanded his immediate release. The director of the independent, non-profit watchdog for journalists called the charges against Arifoglu "absurd." Ann Cooper also said CPJ feared this incident, along with other press freedom violations in Azerbaijan, constitutes an organized government campaign to stifle independent media in Azerbaijan in advance of scheduled parliamentary elections November 5. (RFE/RL)
Russian Region Drops Cyrillic Alphabet
September 1, 2000
The Russian Republic of Tatarstan marked the start of the new school year today by beginning the process of dropping Cyrillic in favor of the Latin alphabet. A Tatarstan spokeswoman said the transition will take 10 years and will make European culture more accessible to students. (RFE/RL)
Kazakh President Urges Parliament To Act Against Capital Flight
September 1, 2000
Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev today continued his campaign against the country's business tycoons, urging parliament to act against capital flight.
Speaking at the opening session of parliament in Astana, Nazarbayev accused many businessmen of failing to pay taxes. He urged the deputies to adopt a new tax code and new laws on so-called transfer pricing.
The president has accused Kazakh companies of using so-called transfer pricing to sell goods at artificially low prices to affiliated companies in offshore havens. The offshore companies then re-sell the goods at world market price.
Over the past month, Nazarbayev has repeatedly attacked Kazakhstan's big businesses for tax evasion and lack of transparency. (RFE/RL)
UN Says Uzbek Drought Could Lead To Social Unrest
September 1, 2000
UN aid workers say the drought now devastating Uzbekistan could lead to famine and social unrest.
Uzbek officials have appealed for aid to people near the Aral Sea basin in the northwestern Karakalpakstan area where the drought is most severe. Officials said virtually all food and forage crops in Karakalpakstan have been lost.
Also today, the UN's World Food Program said in Geneva about 3,000 people fleeing droughts in rural Afghanistan have arrived in the western city of Herat over the past two days. About 10,000 refugees are already living in makeshift camps on the outskirts of the city. The drought has hit most of southern and western Afghanistan, killing entire herds of livestock and badly affecting the country's nomadic tribes.
Drought is also a problem in Tajikistan, where the Red Cross says almost three million people are facing famine. A delegation from the International Red Cross and Red Crescent is in Tajikistan to determine the extent of the problems. Delegation leaders said yesterday that the Tajik people are not yet in danger, but that food will become scarce in the next three months. (RFE/RL)
Kyrgyz Election Commission Registers First Presidential Candidate; President Akayev To Run For Re-Election
September 1, 2000
The Central Election Commission in Kyrgyzstan today registered the first candidate for the October presidential election. The candidate, Melis Eshimkanov, is the owner of an opposition weekly newspaper (Asaba) and chairman of the People Party.
More than fifteen people have announced plans to run for president in Kyrgyzstan, among them the incumbent President Askar Akayev, who made the announcement on August 28. His supporters have already collected the 50,000 signatures from registered voters Akayev needs to register himself as a candidate.
The Kyrgyz constitution prohibits more than two terms in office. Akayev was elected president of the Kyrgyz Soviet Socialist Republic in October 1990 and in 1991 again as president of the independent Kyrgyz Republic. He was re-elected in 1995 in a poll moved forward by nearly one year. Kyrgyzstan's constitutional court ruled two years ago that the adoption of a new constitution in 1993 meant Akayev had served only one term as president, making him eligible for another term. (RFE/RL)
Kyrgyz Opposition Leader Jailed For 16 Years
September 1, 2000
A Bishkek court today found Kyrgyz opposition leader Topchubek Turgunaliyev guilty of planning an assassination attempt against the country's president and sentenced him to 16 years in prison.
Five other defendants in court with Turgunaliyev also received 16 years in jail. Another defendant, Raiym Sarykov, received 17 years. All had their property confiscated as well. One other defendant received a three-year suspended sentence.
One defendant, Timur Stamkulov, was amnestied and released. Turgunaliyev says Stamkulov turned witness for the state, falsely implicating him in the plot.
The alleged plot to kill President Askar Akayev was first reported in May 1999. Turgunaliyev was never a suspect until November that year. Turgunaliyev has long been considered a leading opposition figure and has served time in jail before. (RFE/RL)
Trial Against Independent Newspaper Begins
August 29, 2000
A district court judge in Bishkek today began hearing the case against an opposition weekly newspaper brought by a member of the Kyrgyz parliament. Turkdakun UsubAliyev accuses the Asaba weekly of insulting him regularly during the past eight years and wants the court to force it to close and pay him about one million dollars. The Asaba editorial board says Kyrgyz authorities want to silence the paper ahead of the presidential election in October. (RFE/RL)
Ismailian Leader To Open Central Asian University's Branch In Kyrgyzstan
August 30, 2000
Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev and Prince Aga Khan IV, the leader of the world's Ismailians, signed a treaty on Wednesday on setting up a Central Asian University branch that will promote education in and studies of mountainous areas and societies.
The university will become a Harvard for Central Asia, Akayev said. People living in Central Asian mountainous areas need an infrastructure if they are to lead a normal life, he said. An understanding has been reached with Aga Khan that a tourist infrastructure will be developed in Kyrgyzstan, Akayev said.
The population of Central Asian mountains is extremely impoverished and isolated, Aga Khan said. The new university will make it possible for them to create an intellectual environment and resources that will bring them closer together, he said.
The university will be active in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, China, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Aga Khan said he has personally donated $5 million to the university in Kyrgyzstan, adding that he hopes the country's parliament will ratify the treaty shortly and the university will start its activities there. (Interfax)
Russia To Withdraw From Visa-Free Travel Accord
August 30, 2000
The Russian government has announced it will withdraw from the agreement on visa-free travel for citizens of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said in a statement today that Russia valued the 1992 agreement, but could no longer abide by it in the face of such challenges to Russia's security as terrorism, organized crime and drug trafficking.
Ivanov said the decision was also meant to curb illegal immigration from former Soviet republics.
Ivanov said Moscow would shortly file formal notice of withdrawal from the accord with CIS headquarters in Belarus. It would come into force 90 days afterwards. A ministry spokesman could not say when the notice would be served. (RFE/RL)
Uzbekistan Has No Political Prisoners - Interior Ministry
August 28, 2000
There are no political prisoners in Uzbekistan's penitentiaries, a representative of the Uzbek interior ministry's press service told Interfax today in Tashkent.
"Radical changes for the better are taking place," he said. Over the past two years, three new colonies for criminals convicted of unintentional crimes have been opened in Uzbekistan. The country also has penitentiaries for former policemen, inmates who have contracted tuberculosis, foreigners, and female teenagers. (Interfax)
Putin May Be Set To Pursue Deal For Turkmen Gas
by Michael Lelyveld, RFE/RL
August 31, 2000
The latest maneuvers of Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov appear to have captured the attention of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who may now be ready to reach a deal for more Turkmen gas.
On August 28, Putin called Niyazov to talk about issues including the legal status of the Caspian Sea and bilateral cooperation, the Interfax news agency reported. Shortly afterward, a Russian energy official told the Reuters news agency that Gazprom chief Rem Vyakhirev would soon visit Ashgabat, adding that the two presidents had also discussed the unfinished business of gas sales.
The timing of the call may be as important as the substance. During a second week of crises in Russia, Putin took the time to deal with the problems of energy. One implication is that after the sinking of the submarine Kursk and the burning of the Ostankino television tower, the last thing Putin needs is for Russian voters to run out of winter fuel.
In addition to seeking more gas from Turkmenistan, the Russian Energy Ministry announced that oil producers will be required to keep 90 percent of their fuel oil and 75 percent of their diesel fuel inside the country in September. Export allowances will be set each month for the winter, marking the latest of many changes to oil export policy since Putin took charge. The idea may be that after the recent sorrow and anger, the government will be more careful about the risks of darkness and cold.
The call to Niyazov comes three months after Putin traveled to Ashgabat and agreed to an increase in gas purchases, but only in principle. The two sides failed to settle on a price after Russia insisted on paying even less than it does for its current supplies from Turkmenistan.
Most recently, Gazprom has said that it wants to buy 8 billion cubic meters of gas in addition to its original contract for 20,000 million cubic meters this year. Although Russia's gas production remains high, so are its export commitments, giving it a motive to secure further supplies from Turkmenistan.
Many analysts saw a victory for Putin in May even without a deal, because Turkmenistan's offer to provide up to 50,000 million cubic meters of gas annually might leave it with little for the competing trans-Caspian pipeline, which is backed by the United States. In the weeks that followed, a U.S. consortium for the trans-Caspian project closed its offices and all but abandoned hope.
But Niyazov has since told Royal Dutch/Shell that he is still interested in the pipeline to Turkey, leading the company to announce that an approval could come in a matter of days or weeks.
That statement appears to have caught Putin's attention and made him more serious about concluding a deal. Niyazov has recently played another card in the Caspian, showing that Ashgabat is not to be taken for granted as a Russian source of cheap energy.
In July, Niyazov firmly rejected proposals on dividing the Caspian after meeting with Russia's envoy, Viktor Kalyuzhny. Turkmenistan sided instead with Iran, which insists on either joint administration or a 20 percent share.
In Tehran this week, Turkmenistan's representative, Boris Shikhmuradov, met with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and declared a common interest in the Caspian. The message to Putin may be that more attention is needed to make Ashgabat a compliant partner for Moscow again.
In addition to moves on Caspian division and the trans-Caspian pipeline, Niyazov has been talking with Ukraine about possible new supplies of gas. The option is likely to be a false hope for Kiev, which is struggling with its gas debt to Russia, considering that Turkmen gas must still come through Russian pipelines. But even a preliminary agreement on alternate supplies could undercut Russia's position in its dispute with Ukraine.
All things considered, Putin may have good reasons to negotiate a gas deal with Turkmenistan now. The question is whether Turkmenistan will simply reverse its recent positions if a new deal with Moscow is signed.
If Niyazov is serious about the trans-Caspian pipeline plan, he will not abandon it simply for the sake of some additional gas sales to Russia. But if Niyazov sees the project as little more than a bargaining chip with Moscow, both Gazprom and the pipeline developers may soon find out.
by Paul Goble, RFE/RL
September 2, 2000
Moscow's decision to withdraw from the visa-free regime with other members of the Commonwealth of Independent States may help the Russian government to protect itself against terrorism, organized crime and drug trafficking.
But it also likely to affect Russia's relationship with other CIS countries, simultaneously offending many while giving Moscow new political leverage over some. In addition, this move seems certain to affect the attitudes of the 11 non-Russian countries toward Russia and Russians and possibly even Moscow's ability to recruit low-income workers from abroad.
Consequently, Russia's use of this tool to defend one part of its national interests may have the effect of undermining other important interests as well.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov announced on Wednesday that Russia was withdrawing from the 1992 Bishkek accord which established visa-free travel among all but three of the members of the CIS. (Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Ukraine have remained outside.) He said that terrorism and organized crime meant that Moscow will withdraw from this regime after giving the 90-day notice required by the original agreement.
Some of his aides pointed out that the Bishkek arrangements themselves had already begun to break down, with several of the Central Asian countries already having imposed visa agreements on the nationals of one another.
But the Russian foreign minister himself went out of his way to stress that this decision was not intended to divide the CIS countries: Russia's withdrawal, he said, "does not mean that Russia intends to create artificial barriers and to fence itself off from Commonwealth partners." He added that Russian diplomats will now begin discussions with CIS governments about travel documentation requirements in the future.
Nonetheless, many people across the 12 countries currently part of the CIS are likely to view this Russian decision as the latest blow to the continued existence of an organization that has tried to maintain ties among the 12 Soviet republics since 1991.
After all, despite numerous meetings, the CIS could point to few real achievements beyond the visa-free regime system, an arrangement that allowed some of the countries involved to survive as their workers abroad sent back part of their earnings to their homelands. Russia's decision to withdraw will not only lead others to do the same but call into question whether the CIS has any future at all.
But regardless of whether this Russian decision actually has the effect of ending the CIS, it clearly will have an impact on Moscow's relationship with the other members. On the one hand, it will reduce Russia's ability to present itself to them as the guarantor of CIS arrangements. But on the other, it will almost certainly allow Moscow to step up its pressure on particular countries, demanding concessions as the precise for a more favorable visa regime.
In addition, this decision may prompt many in the non-Russian countries to revise their views of Russia and their treatment of ethnic Russians resident on their territory. They will certainly view this decision as a reflection of Russian, even ethnic Russian national interests, a perception that may lead some of them to become more nationalistic in the defense of their own interests domestically and internationally.
Finally, this decision seems certain to affect Russia itself. Economically, it appears likely to have the effect of depriving certain Russian firms of low-paid guest workers from the former Soviet republics who up to now have provided some of the muscle behind Russia's recent economic gains. Such enterprises will certainly seek special arrangements for "their" workers, thus adding a new element to Russian politics.
And politically, this decision could have the effect of increasing Russian hostility to non-Russians living in the Russian Federation regardless of their citizenship. Not only is it likely to increase demands like those already in place in some Russian cities for the expulsion of "persons from the Caucasus," but it may be seen by some as giving a kind of official green light to Russian nationalist organizations of various stripes.
Moscow's move this week thus may have a very different impact on Russian national security than its authors intend.
U.S. Envoy Rejects Report On Baku-Ceyhan Pipeline
by Michael Lelyveld, RFE/RL
August 29, 2000
A U.S. envoy on Caspian affairs has rejected a highly critical report on U.S. energy policy for the region, arguing that it is still possible to build the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline by 2004.
Speaking in Ankara last week, Ambassador John Wolf, the U.S. special adviser on the Caspian, disputed the report by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies that called the pipeline policy "unrealistic and overoptimistic."
The Turkish press carried accounts of the report by Bulent Aliriza, a senior scholar at the CSIS think tank and an expert on Turkey, on the same day that Wolf began a trip to the region to promote U.S.-backed pipeline projects. Wolf is scheduled to join U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson today in a visit to Kazakhstan, which is a potential source of oil for Baku-Ceyhan. Aliriza argued that all aspects of the Caspian policy should undergo a "thorough review."
But Wolf denied the report's conclusion that the U.S. effort to establish an east-west energy corridor through Caucasus has been a failure. Without naming Aliriza, Wolf told a press conference that the opinions were not those of the CSIS but only of an individual analyst who he said has been "consistently wrong and mistaken," the Turkish Daily News reported.
Behind the controversy is a concern that has been smoldering for years over the activist role that the U.S. government has taken in promoting the energy corridor and Wolf's relentless pursuit of the goal.
In the past, Wolf and other officials have faced frequent criticism for their efforts to persuade oil companies that Baku-Ceyhan and the trans-Caspian gas pipeline from Turkmenistan should be built for strategic as well as commercial reasons. Industry analysts have argued that the commercial decisions of the companies and the countries in the region should be the sole factors in determining whether the projects proceed.
That difference has led to a long-standing split between officials who stressed the reasons for building the pipelines and analysts who focused on reasons why they were unlikely to be built.
In the case of Baku-Ceyhan, Wolf and Aliriza agree that the critical issue is whether enough Caspian oil will be available to justify construction of the line, which is designed to carry about 1 million barrels per day. Wolf continues to voice confidence that enough oil will be found. Aliriza doubts that there will be enough by 2004, and that in any case, the oil may move by Russian or Iranian routes.
But the split between U.S. officials and the oil industry took an unexpected turn last October when oil giant BP Amoco announced that it was ready to pursue the Baku-Ceyhan plan. Some analysts argued that the decision was little more than a tactic aimed at easing official pressure. But reports continue to surface that BP and other companies are ready to take shares in the company that would build the pipeline.
The idea that U.S. strategic interest alone is driving Baku-Ceyhan seems to ignore the strong push for the project from Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia. One BP official has cited the line's importance to the government in Baku as a persuasive reason for going ahead.
Such considerations cannot overcome commercial factors, but they can make a difference, particularly if the signs of returns from the Caspian are mixed and if oil prices remain high. Countries along the planned east-west corridor seem as interested as ever in export routes that are not reliant on Russia or Iran.
Expansion of the existing Baku-Supsa oil line through Georgia could serve Azerbaijan's export needs in the medium term in combination with other routes, but it seems too soon to say that it will become a substitute for the goal of Baku-Ceyhan.
In the case of the trans-Caspian gas line, the underwater project still faces an even longer list of hurdles. But Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov has recently shown new interest in pursuing the project with Royal Dutch/Shell. As with Baku-Ceyhan, Ashgabat's motive is the desire for routes other than those through Russia or Iran.
In the end, the success of the U.S. pipeline policy is likely to depend far less on how much Washington wants it and more on the goals of the Caspian countries and the oil companies. If they want east-west pipelines enough, they will have to make major compromises to make them work. In that regard, little has changed over the past five years since the U.S. initiative started, and the realization of the east-west energy corridor still seems too close to call.