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Turkmen Report: January 20, 2002

20 January 2002
U.S. Delegation Thanks Turkmenistan For Aid

18 January 2002

A delegation of U.S. congressmen headed by U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle met on 18 Janujary with government officials in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat.

The delegation thanked the Turkmen government for its contribution to the delivery of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. Turkmenistan is a major transit route for World Food Program aid.

On their regional tour this week, the congressmen also visited Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

In Uzbekistan's capital Tashkent earlier today, Daschle thanked the Uzbek government for its support in the U.S.-led antiterrorism campaign in Afghanistan.

But he also expressed concern about human rights in Uzbekistan, and said the U.S. has not seen much progress on issues of political and economic reform. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Turkmenistan Observes Anniversary Of Battle With Russia

12 January 2002

Turkmenistan today observed the 121st anniversary of the battle of Geok-depe Citadel, in which Russian troops crushed Turkmen resistance to the Russian empire.

Ceremonies in the capital Ashgabat commemorated the battle in 1881 in which thousands of Turkmen -- including women and children -- died. In the battle, Russian miners tunneled under the citadel to blow it up with explosives.

The anniversary is marked yearly in what in recent years has become one of Turkmenistan's major national observances. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Once Again, Russian-Turkmen Talks Yield No Substantial Results

21 January 2002

By Jeremy Bransten

Turkmenistan in recent weeks has defied a Central Asian trend in choosing n-o-t to upgrade its ties with the United States and other Western countries involved in the war against terrorism in neighboring Afghanistan.

Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov has instead used the occasion to emphasize his country's official neutrality, prompting some commentators to speculate Niyazov may be aiming for a rapprochement with Russia, which has also expressed some concern about the U.S. presence in the region.

But those expecting a breakthrough at today's meeting between Niyazov and Putin in Moscow were in for a disappointment. Despite the exchange of public pleasantries between the two leaders and promises of deepening relations, little came out of the talks. In the words of RFE/RL Moscow correspondent Arkady Dubnov, who covers Turkmen issues:

"The main agreement they signed was about opening a Russian-language school in Ashgabat."

Putin said today the two countries are working on a new treaty -- proposed by Turkmenistan -- to govern bilateral political and economic relations, but work on a final document still appears to be some time away:

"On your [Niyazov's] initiative, we are now working on a new treaty on cooperation between Turkmenistan and Russia. And needless to say, there are many plans in the sphere of energy, although the volume has gone down recently, but I think we can fix that."

Russia has expressed interest in increasing its purchases of Turkmen natural gas, but Niyazov wants to make this conditional on Moscow signing a long-term framework agreement committing it to gas purchases over many years. The Turkmen leader presented a draft version of the text to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov during the latter's visit to Ashgabat less than two weeks ago. And apparently, Moscow has not had enough time to fully study the document. Dubnov:

"He [Niyazov] wanted to sign an overall agreement on relations but he only presented the text to Moscow for examination 12 days ago and as the saying goes, only cats are born in such a time-frame, not agreements."

For geopolitical reasons, Moscow may be keen to cultivate an ally in Turkmenistan. But Russia has had a difficult time dealing with Niyazov and it has often seen previous negotiations fizzle out before any deal was struck. One notable example was in March 2000, when the two countries started negotiating a deal for Turkmen delivery of 13,000 million cubic meters of gas. But talks soon struck an impasse over purchase price. Under new rules instituted at the start of this year, potential buyers of Turkmen gas will have to put down an advance deposit to demonstrate their good faith. If the deal falls through, the Ashgabat government keeps the money -- hardly an encouragement to investors.

Negotiations on dividing the oil and gas resources of the Caspian Sea also continue to divide the two countries. Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan want to carve up the seabed into national sectors corresponding to their respective territories, but Turkmenistan has been leaning towards the Iranian position, which calls for dividing the seabed equally among all the littoral states. Niyazov twice canceled summits planned for last year on the issue, angering Russia.

If Niyazov knew no important deal would be struck in Moscow today, why would the famously reluctant traveler bother to come to the Kremlin at all? According to Dubnov, Niyazov was most interested in a photo opportunity -- a chance to obtain smiling shots of himself with Putin -- to broadcast on state-controlled television back home. Niyazov's strategy of neutrality has been built on an unwillingness to commit to any single partner. This has seen Niyazov turning alternately toward the United States, Turkey, Iran and Russia when the need suited him. But there are indications politicians in all those countries have become frustrated with Niyazov's erratic style of running foreign affairs, and it may soon stop paying dividends.

"You can't build any strategic relations with him [Niyazov] because he never guarantees the fulfillment of agreements. He can agree to one thing and then do something else entirely behind your back."

Analysts say the case of former Turkmen foreign minister and ambassador to China Boris Shikhmuradov bears watching. Shikhmuradov surfaced in Moscow last November after being dismissed by Niyazov. He issued a searing indictment of the Turkmen leader, saying the Niyazov regime had become a "black hole in which the well-being and hopes of the people and the national property are disappearing."

Shikhmuradov's statement said a democratic, popular movement ready to oppose Niyazov was coalescing in Turkmenistan. The fact that Moscow allowed Shikhmuradov to make such a statement and that it has continued to provide him shelter, ignoring Ashgabat's extradition demands, leads some observers to conclude that Russia may be helping to prepare the ground for a post-Niyazov Turkmenistan.

Dubnov says that remains speculation but he adds that many Russian government officials do not hide their sympathies toward Shikhmuradov:

"The fact that many people sympathize with him [Shikhmuradov] here is absolutely clear and many members of the leadership � although one can't say this about the president [Putin], as he doesn't know him personally, because they didn't have a chance to get acquainted when he was [foreign] minister -- have good relations with him."

And so, the game of diplomatic poker between Russia and Turkmenistan continues. For now, it's a game no side appears to be winning. (RFE/RL, RFE/RL Turkmen Svc)

Turkmenistan's Oil Output: Numbers Fall Short Of Targets

16 January 2002

By Michael Lelyveld

A decade after Turkmenistan's independence, the country's petroleum output remains a fraction of what it was in Soviet times.

Last week, Turkmenistan's government reported impressive growth in its energy sector during 2001, with a 9 percent increase in gas output and a 12 percent gain in oil production over the previous year.

But the numbers fall far short of targets set by President Saparmurat Niyazov. In December 2000, Niyazov told his cabinet that the country would produce 70 to 75 billion cubic meters of gas in the coming year. The final figure of 51.3 billion was 27 percent below the government's plan.

Similarly, Niyazov predicted that Turkmenistan's oil production would reach 10 million tons in 2001. The Interfax news agency reported that output totaled 8.02 million tons, or 20 percent less.

Niyazov has a history of setting unattainable targets, which are often forgotten when results are announced. The president has repeatedly promised that Turkmenistan will regain its place as the second-largest gas producer in the CIS after Russia and become a strategic supplier for countries from Asia to Europe. But over the past decade, progress has been slow.

In 1993, the government forecast that gas production would total 130 billion cubic meters by the year 2000. In 1996, Niyazov scaled back the projection to 100 billion by 2001, according to a 1997 study entitled "Energy Choices in the Near Abroad" by Robert Ebel of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Last year's production was little more than half of the more modest goal. It was also about 40 percent below Turkmenistan's production in 1991, when the country served as a major source of Soviet gas.

The country's meager oil production has now risen above the 1991 level, but it is still at only half its peak level in 1975.

Turkmenistan's gross domestic product has shown strong double-digit gains on paper for the past three years, culminating in a 20.5 percent growth rate reported in 2001. But much of the increase has been hollow, since it represents growth in gas production for Ukraine, which pays for only half of the exports in cash.

Despite its recent progress, Turkmenistan is still struggling to recapture lost ground. The country's economy suffered losses in every year from 1991 through 1997, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Turkmenistan's troubles in its vital gas sector seem to be due to two problems. The first is lack of access and continued reliance on the Central Asia-Center pipeline. The former Soviet network runs north through Russia, making it subject to Moscow's control, as in Soviet days.

The creaking system has limited capacity, while Russia has made sure that Turkmen gas reaches only as far as Ukraine, where it cannot compete with Russian gas exports to Europe.

Niyazov has spent much of the past decade in failed plans for a pipeline across Afghanistan to Pakistan and India. His plans for a trans-Caspian line to Turkey have come to nothing because of a dispute with Azerbaijan. The country's only new export route since independence, a pipeline from the western Korpedje fields to Iran, has been a disappointment.

Since its opening in late 1997, Turkmen gas exports to Iran have repeatedly fallen short of predictions. Wrangling over prices and the payback for construction costs hurt the trade for several years.

Last week, Niyazov said Iran had requested an increase in Turkmen exports to 8 billion cubic meters this year, but he indicated that the country would provide only 5 to 6 billion, according to the official Iranian news agency IRNA. In the first 10 months of last year, only 3.5 billion cubic meters were reportedly sent to Iran.

In March 2000, the two countries started negotiating a bigger deal for annual sales of 13 billion cubic meters, but the talks soon faded away. A similar fate befell negotiations with Russia after President Vladimir Putin announced two months later that Moscow would buy up to 50 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas annually. The yearly volume of sales to Russia has been no more than 10 billion cubic meters since then.

The failures seem to be linked to Turkmenistan's second great problem in the energy sector -- the sheer difficulty of dealing with Niyazov. While he has repeatedly sought better terms and higher prices, countries like Iran and Russia have responded by keeping their imports low.

Most recently, Niyazov has announced new rules for energy exports that seem likely to drive potential buyers away. The rules, which took effect on 1 January, call for weekly auctions of gas, oil, and electricity, which are to be supervised by an "observer council." The council includes officials from the government, as well as tax and law enforcement agencies, the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS said.

Under the system, which is apparently aimed at fighting some undisclosed fraud, potential buyers "must file an application and make a monetary deposit to demonstrate the seriousness of their intentions."

The regulations state, "If the customer defaults on the purchase contract and the deal is stalled, the seller retains the collateral." In other words, buyers will have to put up a non-refundable deposit if they want to do business with Turkmenistan. The government would keep the money if the deal falls through, assuming the rules are enforced.

It is unlikely that foreign countries and companies will rush to Turkmenistan to trade on such terms. But Niyazov seems determined that investors will do business his way, or not at all. (RFE/RL)

Drug Addiction -- The National Problem Of Turkmenistan

16 January 2002

By Shanazar Berdiyev

After a decade of independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the nations of Central Asia are finding themselves increasingly at risk of conflict and internal strife. Authoritarian governments that have failed to meet the economic and political aspirations of their people are increasingly reliant on repression to remain in power. Rather than joining together, the nations of Central Asia have cut themselves off from one another, instituting tougher border controls and visa regimes in an area where people once moved freely. Tensions over borders, trade, and such resources as water and gas are on the rise while the conflict in Afghanistan, drug trafficking, and Islamist extremism are sources of concern in the region and beyond.

Now the scale of drug addiction in Turkmenistan is reaching menacing levels. In 1989 there were 124 drug addicts per 100,000 inhabitants of the republic. For comparison: on average, in the USSR this parameter was 28 persons.

Today, according to international experts, the number of registered drug addicts in the country has reached 13,000. According to official data of the Ministry of Public Health, in 1996 there were registered 4087 drug addicts in the country, in 1997: 5,809, in 1998: 8,000. According to data of two-year prescriptions, only in the Mary region were there 2,000 registered drug addicts. It's noteworthy that this only concerns those addicts registered by medical establishments or drug clinics. Long-term observations show that this is 1/10th of all drug addicts. The number of addicts continues to grow, Turkmen narcotics experts are compelled to state. At the same time, during the last two to three years there have been measures to limit access to official information on the number of addicts. Most likely, this is connected to the severity of the situation and the tendency to avoid the real situation, which darkens the picture of general well-being artificially created by the authorities.

However, some pieces of the general situation are becoming known to the public. Such as the survey conducted by doctors which shows that teenagers of 14 to 16 years of age and young people from the age of 20 to 25 are most prevalent among those addicted to drugs, and more of them are female.

Opium, the traditional drug in Turkmenistan, is used by 80 percent of addicts. According to addicts, heroin has recently become more available than opium everywhere.

According to data from the first Russian expeditions to Central Asia in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries, approximately two-thirds of the local men routinely, openly, directly in chaikhanas used plant-based drugs. Even later the clandestine crops of poppy and Indian hemp became widespread in the Turkmen SSR and mass demand for drugs gave birth to illegal trade. In Turkmen prisons of the Soviet epoch, every second criminal was in some way connected to narcotics.

And now the punitive measures used against drug addicts and drug dealers do not have any effect, though, according to the president, "we severely penalize drug addicts and dealers, up to the death penalty."

Today, Turkmenistan is becoming a transit country for delivery of Afghan heroin to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Europe. Turkmenistan shares an 800-kilometer border with Afghanistan, the protection of which requires considerable human resources, technical measures, and investment. Foreign experts note that Turkmen customs services lack modern equipment for high-quality inspection of people and vehicles crossing the frontier. There is no telephone or radio contact with police checkpoints, if trouble breaks out. The old wire fence that runs along the border is in places broken, and anyway provides little challenge for smugglers. Some border officials even complain of no fuel for their cars. Experts say that in comparison the drug smugglers are increasingly well-armed. Rocket launchers have been seized in skirmishes, and some even have night-vision equipment the Turkmen border guards can only dream of.

The activity of smugglers on the Turkmen-Afghan border was displayed four years ago, when more than 40 tons of drugs -- about 2 tons of heroin, 1.5 tons of opium, and 38 tons of hashish -- were smuggled out. The largest quantity of narcotics was seized by customs officers in 1998: 10,558 kilograms of hashish routed from Afghanistan to Russia. It is easy to imagine the huge quantity of drug traffic passing through border posts and customs examination if one proceeds from the calculation of UN experts. In their opinion, no more than 10 percent of drugs are actually seized from the total turnover of contraband narcotics.

In comparing volumes of intercepted narcotics in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, the official information coming out of Ashgabat is amazing. According to official data from 2000, 2,900 kilograms of opium and 220 kilograms of heroin were seized. It is much less than in Tajikistan, even though the Turkmen border is more accessible for smuggling because of the flat terrain. Probably, these figures show that the Turkmen authorities deliberately underestimate the volumes in order not to spoil the image of the country. Turkmenbashi does not want his country to be called a heroin republic.

However, according to Russian experts, the transit of narcotics through Turkmenistan is by water -- across the Caspian Sea, run by Iranian, Azerbaijani, Kazakh, and Russian criminal groups.

As a result the overall situation in Turkmenistan is favorable for the growth of drug addiction: unemployment and the lack of educational institutions and recreation and entertainment facilities make youth turn to drugs. Lots of drugs grow wild here, and even pensioners have been growing poppies to make ends meet. At the moment, drug control is not a high priority because other demands are so pressing, but hopefully this situation will change before the problem completely gets out of control. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)