17 June 2001
Shanghai Forum Leaders Pledge To Join Forces Against Separatism
15 June 2001
A meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) ended on 15 June with presidents of the six countries that make up the newly born body pledging to join forces in fighting extremism, separatism, and terrorism.
Russia's Vladimir Putin, China's Jiang Zemin, Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbaev, Tajikistan's Imomali Rakhmonov, Kyrgyzstan's Askar Akaev, and Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov agreed to set up a regional anti-terrorism center with its headquarters in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek.
SCO members are particularly concerned about Islamic movements and their possible connection with Afghanistan's ruling Taliban. China fears that Islamic militants in Central Asia could encourage separatism in its troubled eastern Xinjiang province, where some Muslim Uighurs have carried out violent incidents in the past to protest Chinese authority.
Nazarbaev called on the United Nations to increase pressure on the Taliban, which controls 95 percent of Afghanistan.
The SCO was set up yesterday on the basis of the Shanghai Five group with the admission of Uzbekistan. (RFE/RL, see also FEATURES AND ANALYSIS below)
Turkmen President Sacks Officials, Criticizes Others
15 June 2001
On 14 June, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov chaired the expanded session of the cabinet of ministers and the National Security Council. Turkmen TV broadcasted Turkmenbashi's speech on 14 June.
Niyazov pointed to some cases of abuse of power and shortcomings in the work of the power-wielding bodies, dismissed a number of officials from their positions, and made new appointments.
Turkmenbashi fired the military commander of the western Balkan region, Colonel-General Annamurat Soltanov. Niyazov said: "Having the rank of colonel-general and working as deputy defense minister at the Defense Ministry, you have committed several violations. Between 1993 and 1994, when [Boris] Shikhmuradov [as a deputy prime-minister] was in charge fo the Defense Ministry, you managed to sell some of our military equipment illegally to foreign states. All this is being revealed just now.... You did this all by yourself without letting me know, and you drew up all the necessary documents. And these [documents] were signed by you. These are very serious violations." Niyazov did not specify which countries purchased this equipment. Soltanov was deprived of his rank and all the privileges that Turkmen military servicemen enjoy, and is to be removed from the Turkmen armed forces. Niyazov added that Soltanov would not be imprisoned, but must "wash himself with his own sweat from hard work."
Also sacked was the chief of police from the southern Mary region, Colonel Tagandurdy Niyazov, "for serious shortcomings."
Hadzhimurat Odzharov was appointed to the post of first deputy minister of internal affairs for a six-month probation period. In the event of his failure to carry out his official duties, he is to be relieved of the post without being offered another; Hadzhimurat Odzharov was relieved of the position of deputy head of the National Security Committee of Turkmenistan due to his transfer to another position.
Niyazov has ordered the Defense Ministry, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Border Guards Service Department to reduce their personnel by 10,765 people by 1 July. The Ministry of Economics is to calculate the amount of money saved in reducing the staffs of those bodies and add that total to the state budget.
Niyazov also proposed amending Turkmenistan's military doctrine, and ordered the setting up of special regiments of the interior troops in the following three regions: Balkan, Mary, and Dashoguz, which border, respectively, Afghanistan, Iran, and Uzbekistan. "There is a need to set up well-equipped regiments in Balkan, Dashoguz, and Mary," he said.
"A state body for the provision of materiel for Turkmenistan's defense bodies needs to be set," said Niyazov. "While dissolving the previous groups that have committed violations, we are now setting up a new group, and it will work strictly under the president's guidance." The head of the National Security Committee, Mukhammet Nazarov, will be the executive for these issues. No other body will have any authority to write off military hardware or to sell it, the president said. "Their use should be monitored, too. If there is a need for new armaments," added Turkmenbashi, "please obtain it."
Niyazov accused Deputy Prime Minister Rejep Saparov of using his influence to make his brother the head of Ashgabat's Tekin market. Niyazov ordered that Saparov's brother be stripped of his doctoral degree in medicine.
A Mr. Baigeldiev, the head of the Garashsyzlyk bank, previously relieved from the same position at the Daikhanbank, was sharply criticized by Niyazov for having employed his relatives in different Turkmen banks. The banker was said to have built several cottages in Bekreve and Yanbashi near Ashgabat and to have gained 30 hectares of land from the Ashgabat regional governor. Niyazov stressed that on 13 June Baigeldiev had handed all the said houses to the state of Turkmenistan voluntarily. Though we do not need gifts like these cottages, Niyazov said, "we must accept such presents from thieves." Baigeldiev was sacked for the aforementioned violations.
Niyazov sharply criticized the mismanagement and poor work of the Turkmen state railways company and the state airlines company and gave them three weeks in which to rectify the situation.
The problem of theft in agriculture was touched on at the session. The Turkmen president reported that 60 people had been arrested this year for stealing wheat from the fields. As punishment for the crime, instead of jail terms all of them will be ineligible for free gas and electricity for the next three years and will instead have to pay "world" prices for these things.
Niyazov signed a program on measures to combat illegal drug trafficking and to provide the necessary help for drug addicts for the period of 2001-2005.
He also discussed the construction of engineering and technical installations on Turkmenistan's borders. "Our borders should be protected reliably," he stressed, "so that not a single person can cross them without permission. There are special border checkpoints to prevent any undesirable things."
At the session, Niyazov admitted publicly that begging exists in the country and the number of beggars in the country has grown. Among them, commented Turkmenbashi, there are even 15-20 year-old-girls. He ordered the internal affairs state organs to take care of them and put them into "proper places." "There should be no beggars in the streets," he ordered. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)
Caspian Nations Try To Define Caspian Status
15 June 2001
Deputy foreign ministers of the five Caspian states gathered in Azerbaijan on 15 June to try to reach agreement on mutually acceptable principles of how to divide up the resource-rich Caspian Sea.
The meeting was held in preparation for a summit of Caspian leaders planned for October this year, where a declaration of principle for dividing the sea is to be signed.
The Caspian leaders' summit in the Turkmen port of Turkmenbashi has been postponed twice this year due to a lack of agreement among the littoral states. (RFE/RL, AFP, Interfax)
Railway Service: For The First Time Something Criticized In Turkmenistan
15 June 2001
In a special report on 13 June, Turkmen TV criticized the national railway service. It said some passengers traveled without tickets and that railway stations and carriages are in a poor state. Video showed the Ashgabat railway station, a ticket office, trains, a railway car with broken windows, and a dirty toilet with no water on a railway car.
Afterwards an article criticizing the Turkmen railway system, was published in "Neitralny Turkmenistan" on 14 June. Several passengers were reported to have the same single place in a train from Dashoguz to Turkmenbashi, while many people with luggage stood because they didn't have seats. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)
Railway Chief Finds Death On Rails
15 June 2001
According to the official report of the Turkmen General Prosecution Department, published on 15 June in "Neitralny Turkmenistan," an accident took place at the Ashgabat railway depot on 14 June in which Khalmurat Berdiev, the chief of the Turkmendemiryollary (Turkmen Railways), was killed by a moving train. The newspaper reported the time of accident as 10:50 am. The case is being investigated.
However, according to the Turkmen TV broadcast of the Security Council session on 14 June, Niyazov sharply criticized Berdiev personally at 11:30 am for his shortcomings, blamed him for bribe taking, and gave him 21 days to improve the situation at Turkmen Railways (see earlier story above). In this case, it remains unclear why Berdiev is reported to have been killed before the Security Council session. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)
Turkmenistan, Russia Discuss Arms For Gas Deal
15 June 2001
Turkmenistan is contemplating bartering natural gas for Russian weapons, a top official from the Russian state arms trading company said, indicating the Central Asian nation is looking for new ways to market its energy riches in the cash-poor former Soviet region.
Sergei Chemezov, first deputy director of the Rosoboronexport firm, said Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov expressed interest in an arms-for-gas deal during a meeting on 14 June with him and Igor Makarov, president of Itera, a U.S.-based gas-trading company affiliated with Russia's natural gas monopoly Gazprom. Itera has a monopoly on Turkmen gas exports to other nations in the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Chemezov offered to organize deliveries of the latest weaponry and also to upgrade the control systems of the weaponry already used by the Turkmen army. Chemezov said Niyazov instructed the Defense Ministry to examine the plan in more detail and work out a cooperation program for the next five years.
Chemezov said Niyazov expressed particular interest in "naval hardware and informed us that Turkmenistan is currently negotiating with Ukraine." Turkmenistan has a coast on the Caspian Sea, and impoverished Ukraine is a major customer for Turkmen gas.
Niyazov first called last year for a modernization of Turkmenistan's weaponry, which has not been significantly upgraded since the 1991 Soviet collapse and the devolution of the Soviet military into national units. He told Chemezov and Makarov that Turkmenistan followed a policy of strict neutrality. "At the same time, certain steps to strengthen the defensive power of the country are permitted," he said.
Makarov spoke to the Turkmen president about the implementation of a contract, signed in February, to supply 10 billion cubic meters of gas to Russia. Turkmen gas extracting companies are working ahead of schedule to supply export volumes of gas through the main international pipeline, Makarov noted.
Itera, for its part, pays on time for the gas supplied in accordance with the mechanism approved in the contract.
Issues related to Itera's commitments to transporting Turkmen gas to Ukraine were discussed. Itera represents the joint-stock company Neftegaz Ukrainy, which is to buy 30 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas this year.
Confirming the successful fulfillment of all of Itera's commitments regarding Turkmenistan, Makarov expressed a willingness to continue cooperation in the transportation of Turkmen gas and its supply to Russia. (AP, Interfax, RFE/RL)
Arab Company Completes Drilling Of Exploratory Well In Turkmenistan
15 June 2001
The Dragon Oil Company has completed drilling a 3,700 meter deep exploration well at the Dzheikhun (former LAM) field in Turkmenistan.
A government source has told Interfax that it is the first well in the Cheleken contract area on the Caspian shelf. The well will be licensed for commercial use soon, the source said.
The production sharing agreement on Cheleken, which comprises two fields, Dzheikhun and Dzhigalybek (formerly the LAM and Zhdanov banks), was signed between the Turkmen government and Dragon Oil in 1999.
Experts estimate deposits at 82.2 million tons of crude and 65 billion cubic meters of gas. They are to yield up to 5 million tons of oil annually by 2007. (Interfax)
Turkmenbashi Meets Head Of UN Mission In Afghanistan
14 June 2001
Turkmen president Saparmurat Niyazov received the UN secretary-general's special envoy to Afghanistan, Francesc Vendrell, on 14 June.
During the meeting there was an exchange of views on the current situation in Afghanistan and ways of speeding up the process of searching for a peace settlement in that country.
Francesc Vendrell informed Niyazov about the problems facing the UN-sponsored process of finding a peaceful solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. There was an exchange of views on what needed to be done to resume the negotiating process. Today, according to Vendrell, the situation in Afghanistan is critical.
And today, Niyazov emphasized, Turkmenistan is ready to do everything in its power to make sure that peaceful dialogue between the warring sides resumes in the interests of the Afghan people.
Discussing the full range of issues concerning the mechanism for helping to resolve the regional problem, Niyazov and Vendrell agreed that the UN should be given a decisive and coordinating role in working out any plan for resolving the Afghan situation. At the same time, the special envoy said that he fully agreed with the Turkmen president's position that only the Afghans themselves can establish peace and stability in their war-torn land by means of peace negotiations. (RFE/RL, Turkmen State News Service)
Turkmenistan Demands $50,000 And Accommodation To Wed Turkmen Citizens
14 June 2001
Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov has decreed that foreigners must pay $50,000 to the state to marry Turkmen citizens.
The Foreign Ministry's decree says: "Turkmen citizens can marry foreigners or people without citizenship by signing a marriage contract, which is to define property rights and matrimony duties, and also their commitment to provide for children in case of divorce." The money must be paid to the state insurance organization.
In addition, the foreigner should be no younger than 18 at the moment the marriage is registered, while for marriages between Turkmen citizens the age requirement is 16.
Turkmen males have for centuries paid a "kalym" or dowry to marry, but it was never compulsory.
The payment applies to both foreign men and women. (RFE/RL)
International Convention Calls For Moratorium On Export Of Black Caviar
13 June 2001
The members of the UN Convention on Nature Protection and Wildlife Preservation intend to work to get Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan to introduce a temporary moratorium on the export of black caviar made from sturgeon caught in the Caspian Sea.
Negotiations within the framework of this convention (in which all littoral states, including Iran, took part) were held in Geneva.
Vadim Brukhis, a senior official in the Russian State Fisheries Committee, explained that Russia shares with convention members their concern about the critical state of sturgeon resources in the Caspian Sea, which is due mainly to the "outburst of poaching" that started after the collapse of the USSR.
In 2000, Russia caught 450 tons of sturgeon in the Caspian Sea, which is 20 times less than in 1990.
Russia has more than once proposed to Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Iran, and Turkmenistan to take joint measures to combat poaching. However, "this proposal was not backed by other littoral states, above all by Iran," Brukhis said.
At the same time, "the proposal to introduce a temporary moratorium on the export of black caviar for all littoral states except Iran causes bewilderment," Brukhis said. According to information possessed by the State Fisheries Committee, a large part of Azerbaijani underground black caviar goes to Iran, where it is legalized and then brought to European markets.
"The negotiations are expected to be difficult and will be continued on 18 June in Paris. It is too early now to talk about declaring a moratorium on the export of black caviar, the issue is very undeveloped," Brukhis said. (Interfax)
Turkmen Airlines To Begin Flights To Canada
11 June 2001
In a few months the national air company, Turkmenistan Airlines, will receive a certificate that will allow it to undertake regular flights to Canada. This was stated at the end of a meeting of a group of specialists of the Canadian Transport Department with representatives from Turkmen Airlines and its national directorate Turkmenhovayollary (Turkmen Airlines). Canadian air officials ended their inspection of the Turkmen air company for international standards.
The national directorate Turkmenhovayollary informed the correspondent of TDH (Turkmen State News Service) that regular passenger air flights to Canada will be carried out via the Ashgabat to Birmingham (Great Britain) to Toronto route on modern Boeing 757s.
Currently, the Turkmen air company aircraft flies regular air routes to Turkey, India, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Iran, Thailand, Great Britain, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, and some other countries. (Turkmen State News Service)
Turkmenistan's President Accepts Invitation To Visit Pakistan
11 June 2001
The head of Pakistan's executive power, General Pervaiz Musharraf, has invited Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov to visit Islamabad. The Pakistani ambassador to Turkmenistan, Babar Malik, handed the invitation to Niyazov on 11 June.
At the meeting the sides discussed both political and economic aspects of the bilateral cooperation, which could be more effective in case of the end of the war in Afghanistan, the ambassador told reporters after the meeting.
In accepting the invitation, Niyazov thanked Pakistan for its help in training Turkmenistan's military personnel, a source at the presidential press service said. (ITAR-TASS)
Turkmen Students In U.S.
10 June 2001
The American Universities Admission Program-AUAP (http://www.auap.com), the leading organization helping foreign students to enter U.S. universities, said in a press release on 10 June that a total of 65 students (27.5 percent) from Turkmenistan were studying in 1999/2000 in U.S. universities, 61.5 percent were at the undergraduate level, 36.9 percent were at the graduate level (Masters/PhD.), while the rest were postdoctoral or following non-degree studies. (RFE/RL)
Shanghai Cooperation Organization Ends Summit, Prepares to Take International Stage
15 June 2001
By Bruce Pannier
The presidents of the so-called "Shanghai Five" -- China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan -- concluded their summit in Shanghai on 15 June after welcoming a new member, Uzbekistan, and signing an agreement on fighting terrorism and extremism.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking at a post-summit press conference, talked about the significance of the regional alliance, which has now been officially renamed the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO):
"I am convinced that this new union will serve a more rational and more effective use of the potentials of our governments. It will provide for the strengthening of peace and stability in Central Asia. It is not an accident that the motto of the new organization is 'Security through cooperation.'"
Security was the central issue of this year's summit. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, in his post-summit remarks, said the threat of terrorism and extremism is not confined to the Central Asian region:
"We declare once again that the threat facing Central Asia today is a threat facing the whole of Eurasia. The source nourishing terrorism and extremism is the instability in Afghanistan."
Putin and China's President Jiang Zemin have pointed to Muslim separatists in their own countries -- Chechens and Uighurs respectively -- as a source of ongoing instability. Both leaders have portrayed their domestic conflicts as international in origin, saying they are fueled by extremist networks based in Afghanistan.
During the summit, the six members signed an agreement pledging to back Russia and China in their regional conflicts. The added support of the neighboring Central Asian countries -- which are predominantly Muslim -- may help both Russia and China in dealing with they perceive as an organized extremist threat.
China and Russia also gained backing in their opposition to plans by the United States to develop and deploy a missile defense system. The pledge comes just one day before Putin's first face-to-face meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush.
The group's final statement called the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty -- from which the U.S. is hoping to withdraw -- a cornerstone of stability, peace, and nuclear deterrence. It said the group would reject any U.S. plan to amend or abandon the ABM Treaty.
In return, the Central Asian nations received promises of support in their own area conflicts. Another extremist group -- the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan -- has been causing concern in the region for the last two years. Islam Karimov, president of new SCO member Uzbekistan, said he was confident the alliance could resolve key security issues in Central Asia:
"Naturally, there will be stability and peace in Central Asia. The great needs will be met. We will realize the possibilities that exist in the Central Asian region."
The agreement in Shanghai to open an anti-terrorist center in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek provides at least moral support to the Central Asian governments. A CIS rapid-reaction force was already created last month at a meeting of the CIS Collective Security Treaty states -- Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Belarus, and Armenia. A unit of some 2,000 soldiers from Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan is expected to be ready by the start of August to fight any potential insurgencies in Central Asia. The SCO anti-terrorist center, in turn, may do little more than coordinate information between the six member states. An additional summit agreement stipulates that China, in theory, can send troops into Central Asia at the request of one or more of the Central Asian states in the SCO.
The organization will now seek international recognition. Russian President Putin said the regional alliance can serve as an example to other nations:
"We are confident that the example -- of good relations among neighbors and a mutually advantageous partnership across the wide space from Europe to the Pacific Ocean, which the countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization are demonstrating -- will be positively received by the world community. According to the general consensus, which we reached yesterday in our closed session with the leaders, the material [to register for formal status] will be officially handed over to the United Nations."
The presidents seemed content for now to leave the organization's membership at six countries. Officials from the original five member countries have said repeatedly that the organization, though based on geographical links, is open to all nations which share the group's goals. But Putin's special representative, Vitaly Borobyev, said entry bids by India and Pakistan would not be considered in the near future because these states "are not related to the given region."
The summit received broadly positive coverage in the Chinese press, for the SCO is the only international group founded by China. Chinese President Jiang Zemin is reported to have suggested the city for next year's summit, which by rotation is to be held in Russia. Jiang, well aware of Putin's origins, proposed St. Petersburg -- an idea supported by all the presidents in attendance. (RFE/RL)
In Caspian, Ecological Concerns Mask Political Aims
11 June 2001
By Michael Lelyveld
Environmental concerns are emerging as a political tool in the Caspian Sea region as shoreline nations cite ecological reasons for opposing rival projects.
Last week (7 June), the new U.S. representative for Caspian affairs, Steven Mann, denied Russian claims that pipelines across the Caspian would threaten the environment. Speaking at a conference in Baku, Mann said that any pipeline built by Western oil companies "would meet the highest standards of environmental security."
Mann added: "I can speak for U.S. firms in particular and Western firms in general, and say that they are extraordinarily sensitive to the ecological implications."
At present, there are no pipelines that cross the Caspian. A trans-Caspian gas project was shelved last year because of disputes between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. U.S. officials have said there are no current plans for a trans-Caspian oil line.
But an oil link from Kazakhstan to Azerbaijan has been seen as a possibility for exports through the U.S.-backed Baku-Ceyhan pipeline. Oil from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan now reaches Baku by barge.
Although trans-Caspian projects remain only possibilities, they have become favorite environmental targets for both Russia and Iran.
During a visit to Moscow three months ago, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami joined with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a public statement that said: "The parties openly declare their disagreement [with the idea of] laying any trans-Caspian oil and natural gas pipeline on the sea bed. That would be dangerous in the environmental sense in conditions of extreme geodesic activity."
Both Iran and Russia have brought environmental fears to the fore in support of their own export routes. Similarly, both have argued against the Baku-Ceyhan route on the grounds that it would not be "economic" or "commercially viable." By contrast, they both view pipeline routes across their own soil as sensible and ecologically sound.
But the wording of the joint Khatami-Putin statement in March backfired after Kazakhstan asked how it was expected to get oil piped from its offshore fields without laying pipelines on the seabed. The question prompted Russia's Caspian envoy, Viktor Kalyuzhny, to fly immediately to Astana to assure the Kazakhs that the statement did not really mean what it said.
Since then, Russia has been careful to criticize the environmental problems it associates with pipelines that go all the way across the Caspian, instead of only part of the way from a country's oil fields to its shoreline. There has been no explanation of what the environmental difference is.
Most recently, during a visit to Astana two weeks ago (30 May), Kalyuzhny argued against a Caspian oil route between Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. Kalyuzhny said: "Before starting to realize a project on underwater trans-Caspian pipelines we need to first resolve the problem of ecological safety."
Kalyuzhny did not say what it would take for the problem to be resolved. He also did not explain why Russia's Blue Stream project to pipe gas across the Black Sea to Turkey should be any safer than a comparable Caspian line.
Recent Russian statements have taken a progressively softer tone on U.S.-backed pipelines that could serve the interests of allies like Kazakhstan.
In March, Kalyuzhny said Russia would not oppose any pipelines "if they are economically profitable." Then last month, Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Ivanov was reported as saying that Russian firms were ready to take part in building the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, although he continued to argue that "the line is not economic."
Russia now seems to be using the environmental issue in much the same way -- saying, in effect, if only it were safe, Moscow would not oppose it. That approach could leave options open in case Russian companies find a future use for trans-Caspian routes. Only Russia will decide when it finds a pipeline to be environmentally safe.
Unfortunately, an approach that combines ecology with strategy can only detract from the legitimate concerns about the Caspian environment. A century of oil development in the region has already left much of it in deplorable shape.
Declining fish populations, together with the lack of a binding international agreement among the five shoreline states, are important reasons for concerted action. Despite its concern, Russia has done little to curb its industrial waste in the Caspian. The bombing of Chechnya's oilfields in the most recent war has reportedly added to the polluted runoff.
A true test will come when the Caspian nations see their environment as a reason to regulate themselves -- instead of regulating others with competing pipeline projects. (RFE/RL)