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CIS: Turkmenistan Reduces Ties To ‘Associate Member'

Is the CIS good for anything but photo opportunities? The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is losing one of its current full members, Turkmenistan. Instead, Ashgabat will become an “associate member.” In a letter to the participants of Kazan's summit, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov called for the change in his country’s ties with the CIS, saying they are in line with his policy of permanent neutrality. Niyazov, also known as Turkmenbashi (Father of the Turkmen), was the only CIS leader who did not attend the Kazan summit.

Prague, 29 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Turkmenistan is reducing its ties with the 15-year-old CIS to become an associate member.

Yesterday, Turkmen state television announced the move and hailed it as a victory on the country's road towards independence: "In the future, it could be evaluated as the latest glorious victory of independent, neutral Turkmenistan in developing relations with the CIS countries that aims at expanding transparent and mutual beneficial cooperation."

The announcer said Turkmenistan, a country of 4.8 million people, is interested in developing its relations with the CIS countries only on a bilateral basis.

Ashgabat cites its neutral status as the formal reason for its initiative. The country refuses to join any organization because of its “status of permanent neutrality,” which was accepted by the UN General Assembly on 12 December 1995.

However, analysts say there are more reasons for the move. The director of the Center for Strategic Studies in Moscow, Andrei Piontkovskii, told RFE/RL that the CIS is an organization that has helped countries to get cheap natural resources from Russia and enjoy Russian political support. But he said that has not proved essential for Turkmenistan. The country possesses one of the world’s largest natural gas reserves and annually exports around 5 million cubic meters of natural gas.
"The move will not benefit [Turkmenistan] but it will also do no harm. The CIS is a an ineffectual organization." - Piontkovskii

Artion Ulunian, a Moscow-based expert on Central Asia, said mainly political -- not economic -- reasons were behind the Turkmen move. He said Turkmen authorities have observed Moscow's inability to prevent democratic revolutions in CIS countries and have no hope the CIS would come to Niyazov's assistance if something similar happens in Turkmenistan.

"I think, observing what has happened in CIS he [Niyazov] has discovered that the CIS is not a panacea for such events in his own country," Ulunian said. He added that Ashgabat wants to be at a certain distance from the CIS, where the voices of democratic Ukraine and Georgia are becoming stronger.

Turkmenistan's move comes a week after the chief of the U.S. Central Command, General John Abizaid, visited the country on 24 August. Abizaid assured Niyazov that the U.S. military is in the Central Asian region to help bring stability to Afghanistan.

The autocratic rule of President Niyazov is widely criticized in many quarters of the CIS as well as in the West. Ulunian said the country's neutrality means it would not tolerate such criticism from other countries and would take less notice of it. Niyazov's domination of political and economic life in Turkmenistan is total and human right abuses are reported to be widespread.

Human Rights Watch, a rights watchdog, said the abuses "include violations of civil, political, social, economic, and cultural rights. In a practice reminiscent of the Stalin era, the government banishes to uninhabitable desert regions individuals and groups it deems 'dangerous.’"

Will the downgrading of ties with the CIS have negative consequences for Turkmenistan? Piontkovskii says not at all. He said the CIS is an ineffectual organization and leaving it will bring neither bad nor good. "The move will not benefit [Turkmenistan] but it will also do no harm. The CIS is a an ineffectual organization," Piontkovskii said.

Analysts widely agree that the CIS has failed to hammer out a coordinated foreign policy and there has been little or no progress in creating a sphere of economic cooperation. Many say that the group remains only a venue for personal contacts and consultations between the heads of the states.

(RFE/RL's Turkmen Service contributed to this report.)

See also:

"CIS: If It's So Ineffectual, Why Do Leaders Keep Meeting?"

For RFE/RL's coverage of issures related to the Commonwealth of Independent States, see "News And Features On The CIS"

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