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Turkmen Report: December 31, 2000

31 December 2000
Turkmenistan's President Calls for Flag on Every House
December 30, 2000

Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov has called on his fellow citizens to fly the national flag above every building of the country -- private or administrative -- starting from January. He said those who do not buy a flag and fly it do not love their homeland and do not support the independence of Turkmenistan. The president has organized a massive sale of flags at affordable prices. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service, AFP)

Russia, Turkmenistan Economic Relations
December 29, 2000

Russia regards cooperation with Turkmenistan as an important area of its policy in Central Asia, foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko said on December 29. The goods turnover exceeded $ 1 billion in 2000, which is "a fivefold rise as compared to 1999" he said. The relations between Russia and Turkmenistan "are based on mutual respect, they are developing gradually and successfully", Yakovenko said (Itar-Tass)

10-Year Economic Plan
December 29, 2000

"The GDP growth in 2000 reached 17 percent. Next year we must have a GDP growth of 15 percent minimum. That complies with the strategy of social and economic transformations in the first decade of the new century", Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov told the Cabinet on December 29. A Special State Commission with Niyazov as chairman was formed to create the state plan for the next 10 years. The entire program must be ready by January 16, 2001. Turkmenistan has everything necessary to achieve impressive results in economic development, Niyazov said. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service, Itar-Tass)

Niyazov Closes 10 Years in Power
December 29, 2000

Turkmenistan's official mouthpiece Neitralnyi Turkmenistan (Neutral Turkmenistan) reflected on the close of a decade since Saparmurat Niyazov was elected president, terming the decision of the country's Council of Elders to make him president for life, an occurrence "as natural as breathing." It asserted that only Turkmenbashi could have foreseen the importance of preserving existing social structures and institutions until Turkmenistan was "ready" for transformation. Among Niyazov�s accomplishments the paper pointed to Turkmenistan�s policy of neutrality, the abolition of the death penalty and "eternal" affirmation of the Turkmen language and alphabet. The paper noted: "The country was born with Turkmenbashi and can't think itself without his prophetic wisdom and his endless paternal care." (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)

Sergeyev in Tehran
December 27, 2000

Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev arrived in Tehran on an official visit aimed at broadening Russo-Iranian military cooperation "for the sake of stronger security and stability in Central Asia and in the world as a whole," according to him. He linked the willingness of the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against the Taliban with the concerns of the international community for Central Asia, a region that he identified as "particularly dangerous for Russia from the standpoint of ensuring national security." (Interfax)

Bankers in Cross-Hairs?
December 25, 2000

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov lashed out at top bankers for "sloppy work" at a conference with industrial managers, threatening to sack senior bankers that were not on top of developments. Niyazov reportedly accused bankers of systematically failing to pay back loans thereby crippling key sectors of the national economy, notably the oil, gas and power-engineering industries. During his remarks, Niyazov, alleged that nearly three-quarters (73%) of Turkmen bank profits are fines. (Interfax)

Akhal Province Performance Indicators, Plans for Ministry of Finance
December 25, 2000

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov met with Akhal Province farm managers and provincial administrators at the Niyazov Agricultural University of Turkmenistan. He criticized the province�s agribusiness staff for low yields of both commodities and sacked unidentified local agricultural officials although Akhal was the only region in the country to meet cotton and grain production targets in 2000, reportedly. He tasked the province with supplying 650,000 tons of grain, 320,000 tons of cotton and boosting meat production by 90% in 2001. To reach these targets the province is to receive a 50% boost in investment, thereby funneling the province 3,000 billion manats. During his remarks at the university, Niyazov parenthetically noted that the Ministry of Economics and Finance is to be split into two. The planned Ministry of Finance will be responsible for managing the handling of the national currency. (Interfax/Turkmen TV)

Bezmein Penitentiary Abolished
December 25, 2000

A penitentiary in Bezmein, a satellite town about 50-km west of Ashgabat, has been abolished by decree of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, along with five special police offices for keeping prison inmates released on probation and convicts under surveillance. Convicts from the Bezmein penitentiary convicts will be transported to a similar penitentiary at the town of Seidi in Lebap Province within a month. The decision to close the penitentiary and special commandant's offices was made "to further humanize Turkmenistan's system of criminal law," according an unidentified source in the presidential administration. Police offices all over Turkmenistan in charge of supervising people given suspended sentences are to be closed down, reportedly. (Interfax/Turkmen TV)

Transport Sector Performance in 2000
December 25, 2000

According to a report issued by the National Institute of State Statistics and Information, Turkmenistan�s transport sector registered growth during the first 11 months of 2000. Between January and November, freight traffic topped 429 million tons, up 10 % on the same period a year prior. Road transport accounted for the largest share of Turkmenistan's freight traffic � 88% or about 377million tons. A total of 42 million tons were transported through pipelines, more than 8.8 million tons by the rail, more than 1.5 million tons by river, 143,000 tons by sea and 10,000 tons by air. All segments of the transport sector operated profitably; nearly 75% of total profits of 290 billion manats were accounted for by Turkmendimiryollary (Turkmen Railways). (Turkmen State News Service)

Turkmenistan Posts Budget Surplus
December 22, 2000

Turkmenistan closed the first 11 months of 2000 with a budget surplus of 257.3 billion manat, or 1.22% of GDP. Budget revenues were 5,308 billion manat, or 2% below target, and spending 5,510 billion manat, or 15% below target, according to the National Institute for State Statistics and Information. GDP in the period was 21,000 billion manat. The official foreign exchange rate was 5,200 manat/$1 on December 22. (Interfax)

Ukraine, Russia end gas Dispute, but Kyiv's Energy Problems Remain
December 28, 2000

By Michael Lelyveld, RFE/RL

Russia and Ukraine have ended their long-running quarrel over gas debts in time for the new year, but it is not clear that the causes of the problems between the two countries have changed.

Last Friday, officials signed two agreements covering Russian gas transit through Ukraine and payments for gas supplies to Kyiv for the coming year. The deals opened the door to a further pact on cooperation in the gas sphere, raising hopes for accords on determining Ukraine's past debts and assuring Russian electricity deliveries.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed the developments, saying, "The fact that specific agreements have been reached has changed the attitude to Ukraine," the Ukrainian News reported.

The agreements have calmed a crisis that began last July when the Russian government announced plans to build a bypass pipeline around Ukraine through Poland to Western Europe. The idea emerged after years of Russian complaints about Ukrainian thefts of transit gas.

Since about 90 percent of Russia's gas exports to Europe pass through Ukraine, Moscow appeared largely helpless to stop the gas diversions, despite Kyiv's mounting debts for supplies. The situation was aggravated this year by accusations that Ukrainian traders were selling stolen gas at a profit in Europe, undercutting legitimate sales by Russia's Gazprom.

The final straw seems to have been an admission by President Leonid Kuchma in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel that gas thefts were sanctioned by the Ukrainian government to supplement supplies. Fears of a Russian bypass and the threat of a cutoff prompted efforts to reform Ukraine's energy sector and collect unpaid bills for gas and power.

In the search for a settlement, many plans were also aired to give Russia part ownership in Ukraine's pipelines. The bypass proposal gained credibility after Gazprom opened talks with European gas companies to build the new line and the European Union announced plans to double its imports of Russian gas.

Under the latest agreements, Russia will supply Ukraine with 30,000 million cubic meters of gas for transit of 124,600 million cubic meters to Europe next year. Ukraine could receive an additional 1,000 million cubic meters as a wintertime "credit" and another 5,000 million cubic meters as "insurance" in case of disruption in gas deliveries from Turkmenistan.

Russia is said to have allowed a 10-year delay in payments on at least $1,400 million in Ukrainian debts in exchange for a pledge to treat the bills as sovereign obligations of the state. Ukraine also promised to halt thefts, but in the event that they occur, they would also be counted as debts of the state.

The settlement came, as some analysts had predicted, by the start of the calendar winter season. Despite months of discord, observers noted there was little alternative in the near-term to gas transit through Ukraine, in light of the fact that a bypass project could take years. If Russia had failed to reach an agreement, it might have risked damage to its reputation as a reliable supplier to Europe.

But Putin has sent mixed messages about the settlement and future reliance on Ukraine. On the one hand, he portrayed a new era in relations on the issue, saying that "Ukraine and Russia will enter the European gas market together -- Russia with its product and Ukraine as an independent partner supplying this product."

On the other hand, Putin indicated that Russia would continue to pursue plans for the bypass project. In other words, Moscow means to strengthen compliance with the agreements by reducing its export dependence on Kyiv.

The approach means that Ukraine may have a limited time to make changes in its own energy dependence. Russian supplies will give the country less than half of the 78,000 million cubic meters of gas it will use next year. Turkmenistan has agreed to supply 30,000 million cubic meters, while Ukraine produces 18,000 million cubic meters for itself.

But Turkmenistan only agreed to resume deliveries this year after Ukraine pledged advance payments every week. Supplies have been cut off in the past, and there are doubts that Central Asian pipelines can handle gas for both Ukraine and Russia without more work.

Last week, Kyiv won a temporary respite from its financial troubles with a decision by the International Monetary Fund that allows Ukraine to draw $246 million. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has promised energy loans, while the EU is trying to organize more international aid following the shutdown of Ukraine's crippled Chornobyl nuclear power plant. Those efforts may help Ukraine to keep up with its payments for Turkmen gas.

But there are greater questions about whether the country can reduce its extravagant energy consumption, which has been largely unchanged since the Soviet period. Ukraine's economic growth is forecast to continue, implying that it may need even more gas unless efficiencies increase.

If Putin pursues the pipeline plan through Poland, Ukraine's leverage will inevitably wane, even though the harsh political rhetoric of the past year may be toned down. Ukraine's energy problems, like its debts, may be delayed. But real solutions are still needed in addition to the agreements that have been signed.

Proposed Pipeline Link to Kazakhstan Not in View Soon
December 27, 2000

By Michael Lelyveld, RFE/RL

A proposal to extend the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline to Kazakhstan has captured the imagination of officials in the region, but it may be harder to turn the idea into reality anytime soon.

Last week, the president of the Georgian International Oil Company, Georgy Chanturia, met in Astana with Kazakhstan Prime Minister Kasymzhomart Tokaev to discuss the option of an oil line from Baku to Kazakhstan's port of Aktau on the opposite Caspian shore.

The idea seems to stem from a comment by President Nursultan Nazarbayev in October during a visit by Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer. At that meeting, Nazarbayev unexpectedly proposed that the Baku-Ceyhan project be renamed the Baku-Aktau-Ceyhan oil line, signaling his intention to ship Kazakh oil over the east-west Caspian route.

Since then, the plan has been the subject of numerous reports, based on several versions of the idea. Earlier this month, the Financial Times quoted U.S. officials as having renamed the oil route to include Kazakhstan's northern Caspian port of Atyrau instead of Aktau. But a map that accompanied the report showed a dotted line across the Caspian, connecting Baku with Aktau, not Atyrau.

The official Iranian news agency IRNA reported more improbably that the proposal was to extend the Baku pipeline to Astana, Kazakhstan's capital city, which is hundreds of kilometers from Caspian oil.

The varying reports suggest that little is known or settled about the plan. Yet, all accounts agree on the reasons for the idea. While Kazakhstan seeks assurance that it will have enough export routes for its giant Kashagan offshore field when it starts to produce oil, the backers of Baku-Ceyhan are eager to attract the oil to make the pipeline commercially viable.

Since November, U.S. officials have repeatedly encouraged Nazarbaev to either pursue the pipeline proposal or make some other firm commitment to Baku-Ceyhan. Georgia has been particularly active in pressing Kazakhstan on the issue of the pipeline extension, in hopes of collecting more transit fees.

Last August, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze reported that Nazarbayev intended to ship 20 million tons of oil annually through the Baku-Ceyhan line, but that statement fell short of a contractual pledge. Since then, Kazakhstan has also discussed building a pipeline to Iran, as well as swapping oil through Iran and increasing transit through Russia.

So far, there have been few details of the Baku route for Kazakh oil, if it comes. But the choice of Aktau as a point of origin implies shipment through a trans-Caspian oil line. Most reports have not used those words, apparently because trans-Caspian projects have faced problems in the past. Plans for a trans-Caspian gas pipeline from Turkmenistan have been stalled for the past year by President Saparmurat Niyazov's insistence on better terms and disputes with Azerbaijan on shares in the line. The issues of Caspian borders and a legal division also remain unresolved.

The idea of an oil line across the Caspian has been dormant since early 1998, when U.S. officials last tried to convince Turkmenistan to take part in the plan. For the previous two years, the administration of President Bill Clinton had promoted the idea of Baku-Ceyhan as a link in a larger east-west energy corridor that would stretch all the way to Central Asia.

But in late 1997, some officials threatened to shift the trans-Caspian oil route to Kazakhstan because of Turkmenistan's reluctance to participate, even though the distance from the Kazakh shore would be longer to Azerbaijan. The officials argued that Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan were then "the only two U.S. partner countries on opposite shores which do not have a border quarrel."

The idea of a trans-Caspian oil project gradually faded, although officials continued to press for a gas line from Turkmenistan. Until Nazarbayev's statement, officials had spoken for the past two years only in terms of barging Kazakh oil across the Caspian to Baku. But now, the proposal appears to have been revived by Nazarbayev's comments, as Baku-Ceyhan backers pursue the goal of drawing oil to the east-west pipeline.

The prospect still seems distant, however. The questions of firm cost estimates, engineering and financing all remain to be answered in a region where many pipelines are proposed but few have been built. If progress on Baku-Ceyhan seems slow, the pace of developing a line from Aktau is likely to be even slower, considering that agreements have yet to be negotiated and signed. Kazakhstan has already been barging oil to Azerbaijan successfully for shipment through Georgia for several years. Nazarbayev has said that he plans those shipments to increase.

Any attempt to reach Baku by piping Kazakh oil around the Caspian would mean crossing Russian territory. While Moscow has not addressed the issue, it has previously opposed Baku-Ceyhan. So far, the reports of talks between Georgia and Kazakhstan have barely touched on the Russian position.

The combination of obstacles make it appear that the extension of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline to Aktau may be a goal based on the desirability of the route. It may take more time before the pipeline proposal can be developed into a concrete plan.

The Question of Democracy in the Turkic World
December 24, 2000

By Nadir Devlet for RFE/RL

Western-style pluralistic democracy remains but a distant hope for the Turkic republics.

Although the Republic of Turkey does not have a presidential system, and its presidents have limited political powers, provision has been made for a change in office-holders. Since 1991, Turkey has had three presidents: Turgut Ozel (1989-1993), Suleyman Demirel (1993-2000) and the current president, Ahmet Necdet Sezer.

By contrast, in the Turkic republics where a presidential system does exist, we see the same individuals serving as president for the past seven years or from the beginning of their country�s independence. Except for Kyrgyzstan�s Askar Akaev, all of these current leaders --Haidar Aliyev in Azerbaijan, Nursultan Nazarbaev in Kazakhstan, Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan and Saparmurat Niyazov in Turkmenistan-- were formerly top party bosses, first secretaries of their republics even before independence.

In other words, throughout the newly-independent Turkic world, today�s rulers inherited their powers from the communist past and successfully prolonged, indeed widened, their powers since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Predictably, they are ruling their respective countries more-or-less with an iron fist.

A decade ago, these men were obliged to report to Moscow, a reality that made them cautious. The fruit of independence has meant, ironically, that they no longer must account for themselves, and duly take decisions freely, having responsibilities only to themselves.

At this juncture, it is widely known that that presidents in these Turkic republics have extensive powers that no serious opposition to them can survive. Central Asian leaders retain full authority in even as their countries face daunting economic and social problems.

Invariably, this begs the question why. Can we explain the pervasiveness of this authoritarianism by pointing to the oriental tradition of obeying the leader as an individual anointed by god? Or is the current state of affairs the by-product of a lack of democratic experience in these Turkic lands? And are the citizens of these countries satisfied with their rulers or do they accept them merely as part of their fate?

In both the old Turkish tradition and Islamic belief, the necessity to obey the ruler was and is accepted. Much of the Islamic world remains dominated by kings, sheikhs or self-appointed rulers, namely dictators. And Central Asians, before they became Russian vassals, were ruled by khans, emirs and clan leaders. Thereafter, they came under the absolute authority of the Tsar. And after the October 1917 revolution they were subjects of a single party, namely the CPSU.

In other words, the Turkic peoples of the former Soviet Union have had no chance to experience a pluralistic political system. Therefore, when these republics became independent it was very easy for the former communist leaders to manipulate the people. Thanks to the nomenklatura-bureaucratic apparatus, all kinds of state power structures were in their hands. If preparing new draft constitution represented a challenge, ratifying it was easy. The former communist leaders duly set up the rules for the creation of new political parties -- to secure and consolidate their own power.

When these leaders believed that an opposition party could challenge their authority or question their legitimacy, such "shameless" groups were banned as occurred in Uzbekistan. Another method was simply to close the door on the possibility of creating political parties, as in Turkmenistan. Or, much easier still, simply put regime critics into jail.

In most Turkic republics, elections have been manipulated to varying degrees and opposition party leaders hobbled by accusations to prevent them from running in elections, as in Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan. In some republics puppet "opposition" parties have been created in order to give a democratic patina to an otherwise authoritarian system. And in presidential campaigns, all kinds of state facilities and government-controlled press have been used to favor the ruling president. Due to the lack of financial means and other possibilities, opposition candidates have known they don�t have a prayer of winning, long before the elections start.

It has been argued that in developing countries where a plethora of economic and social problems are in evidence, strong leadership is essential to address them. And such an argument might be valid if these countries had registered progress in addressing their economic, social, and political problems in the last nine years. But the situation in almost every field has become worse, despite the official claims to the contrary. The majority of ordinary people are no better off and their standard of living has only continued to drop, rather than improve. A sense of insecurity has grown, not diminished, and common people have no confidence in the future.

Responsibility for all these difficulties cannot be placed at the feet of the rulers of Central Asia and Azerbaijan. The poor economic infrastructure inherited from the Soviet period, lack of export products and avenues to paying western markets, the difficulties of adopting a liberal economy, high unemployment, security issues, and other complex problems are involved. So, pluralistic democracy is not a cure for every kind of disease. But, at least in a free society it is much easier to find a solution because you can discuss problems and sometimes find the right way.

Yet for those in the Turkic republics, now experiencing such social and economic hardship, to wait for the creation of a free society is to engage in wishful thinking. Unless something extreme and unexpected happens, the Turkic presidents of today will be in power for many years to come.