Article Archive for Year 2005
Earlier this month, Naftohaz Ukrayiny CEO Oleksiy Ivchenko visited Ashgabat to negotiate the future of gas supplies from Turkmenistan to Ukraine. In a now-notorious televised encounter President Niyazov harangued Ivchenko over Ukraine’s alleged failure to meet the conditions of the original agreement, having failed to supply around $480 million worth of equipment.
Initially, Ukrainian Fuel and Energy Minister Ivan Plachkov admitted to the shortcoming, only for that to be later refuted by Ivchenko. The story in full is here.
Ivchenko’s remarks were further worsened by his allegation that his reply to Niyazov’s rant had been edited out of the final footage. In an article (in Russian) published yesterday in Ukrainian daily financial newspaper Ekonomika, it is also related that Ivchenko said that he had in fact spoken for a full 25 minutes, while his aides waited just outside the door in the lobby, listening in on the proceedings. Among other things, Ivchenko charged Niyazov’s entourage with misleading him about the exact nature of financial transactions relating to the gas deal. This is where the plot begins to get thicker. Again, Eurasianet gives a concise picture of all the twists and turns:
One important factor, which was not mentioned in the media reports of the Ukrainian-Turkmen meeting in October, was the future role of RosUkrEnergo, the controversial Swiss-based company contracted by both Gazprom and Naftohaz to act as the middleman for transporting Turkmen gas to Ukraine. In June, the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) began a criminal investigation into RosUkrEnergo. This investigation was stopped, according to Oleksander Turchinov, then head of the SBU, on Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko’s orders.
One of the purported reasons the investigation ended was that there were grave suspicions by the SBU that former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Niyazov, and Russian President Vladimir Putin were all involved in substantial kickback schemes through RosUkrEnergo. Had these schemes been exposed, Ukraine stood to lose gas deliveries from both Russia and Turkmenistan. The other reason provided by Turchinov as to why the investigation was stopped was that some of Yushchenko’s closest advisors were themselves now linked to RosUkrEnergo.
As the investigation gathered steam, Niyazov ordered that the heads of Turkmenistan’s energy companies be arrested. They were all reportedly sentenced to long prison terms.
And then of course there was the sacking in May of Turkmen deputy Prime Minister for oil and gas Yolly Kurbanmuradov. This raises the distinct possibility that the recently publicised purges among the Turkmen political elite may be all about money, and who has or has not been stealing it.
The epilogue to the story, for now, is that Ivchenko has been denied a Turkmen visa, which means that he will be unable to conduct any further dialogue with Turkmenbashi in person. Niyazov is evidently not used to having anybody talk back to him, and if he has anything to do with it, it won’t be happening again.
And so the day has finally arrived. As this post went to press, the plans were for a military parade in Ashgabat’s main square (Independence Square, fittingly), followed by some kind of theatrical performance and a festive demonstration, featuring delegations from all five regions of the country. The parade is to be headed by Turkmenbashi in person.
Further to the festivities a special range of coins was issued to mark the occasion, though they are unlikely to appear at the bazaars as the country is pretty much a bank note economy.
As mentioned in the previous posts, Zhirinovsky is heading a delegation of Duma deputies, and he is being joined by the Ukrainian Prime Minister.
To be exact, it should be noted that today marks the fifteenth anniversary of the first ever presidential election to take place in Turkmenistan. Niyazov received 93% of the vote. The constitution meanwhile was adopted on 21 June 1992, which was followed by another election in which he garnered 99.5%, being the only candidate on the list.
On 1 October the Turkmen Majlis took the decision to endow Niyazov with his celebrated “Father of all Turkmens” title, or Turkmenbashi. During a government meeting in April this year, Niyazov expressed his desire to see a series of elections in the country, beginning with elections for district leaders in 2006, all the way to a new Presidential election. At the time Niyazov said:
“The people are ready to take a new step in the direction of current trends, which have taken hold in the world as models of a just and balanced world order and correspond to the interests, mentality and traditions of the Turkmen people”
And on that note, Happy Independence!
It must be nice when a foreign politician deigns to visit your much-maligned country to tell how well it is doing, how well its people are living, and what a good job is being done all round. Perhaps less so when that politician happens to be the professional troublemaker and extreme right-winger Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the radical Russian Liberal Democratic Party (a fuller comment from him in Russian here). The only thing that has saved Zhirinovsky from being ignored all together back in his own country is the fact that he has acquired something of a clown status, and thus ensures high ratings for all of the many television programs he is invited to go on.
Unlike the event of Turkmenbashi’s mythical meeting with Putin and Bush, photos memorialising their encounter will not have to be forged.
And so the saga of the Turkmen-Ukraine gas deal continues to plod on. This time round Ukraine’s Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov is visiting Ashgabat in a bid to iron out the latest hitch. For those who haven’t been paying attention, Ukraine had signed an agreement with Turkmenistan to purchase 50-60 billion cubic metres of natural gas at the rate of $58 per 1,000 cubic metres, half being paid in foreign currency and half in equipment and commodities. The priced had been upped from an earlier $44, but the Ukrainians relented in January this year as they faced the prospect of a cold winter without fuel. Since then Ukraine has fallen short of their payments in commodities to the tune of $480 million, and Niyazov isn’t happy.
In light of the very recent reprivatisation of their flagship steel plant Kryvorizhstal for $4.8 billion, there is every reason to believe that Ukraine will be feeling a bit flush. Does this mean that the capricious Turkmens will get their way yet again? Given Yushchenko’s current problems, there is every reason to believe they will.
In the broader perspective, this marks another victory for Turkmenistan’s crude energy diplomacy, which consists primarily of threatening to switch the tap off every few months. The bluff failed some months ago with Russia, which is a decidedly tougher and better-resourced opponent, as Mosnews reported some months back:
Russia and Turkmenistan reached an agreement to resume deliveries of Turkmen natural gas to Russia’s Gazprom from May 1. Gazprom was able to convince its Turkmen counterparts to sell the gas for $44 per 1,000 cubic meters instead of the $58 initially demanded. In return Turkmenistan cut its supplies from seven to four billion cubic meters.
Naturally, Russia is a pretty vital piece of the jigsaw, so Kiev may have been annoyed, if unsurprised, when Niyazov proposed three-way talks during his talks with Yekhanurov. A statement from Yekhanurov after a meeting with Turkmenbashi is a tantalising suggestion of the behind-the-scenes strategy games that are currently being played between Kiev, Moscow and Ashgabat:
“I think this question too should be taken into consideration. We’ll see. … [On an agreement for a 25-year delivery deal] It is indeed fundamental that we discuss matter in a tri-lateral format. … It is difficult to speak today about a 25-year contract, insofar as such long-term matter need to be assessed in the context of a process of dialogue with Russia.”
Keen watchers of Central Asian developments will remember the recent visit to Turkmenistan by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and it would not be too extravagant a supposition to conclude that the tri-lateral idea was raised at that time. Bargaining over Turkmen gas has had Ukraine and Russia on a collision course for quite a while, especially as there is no shortage of industry specialists who believe that Turkmenistan does not even have sufficient gas reserves to supply both these customers.
As the pieces stand now, Russia looks to be sinking its claws back into Ukraine, whose political future depends on gas it can barely afford, while Turkmenistan retains its neutrality policy unsullied. Again it should be recalled that while Ukraine uses most of the imports for domestic consumption, Russia merely uses it as a geopolitical pawn that enables it to sell gas to Europe at enormous profit. Ukraine’s despair and diplomatic proximity to an EU that is energy-hungry and prepared to spread further east would seem to make it a better bet, but it would seem safer to believe that Ashgabat is more reliant on Russia’s discretion about its eccentric political order.
As always, though it is tempting to glaze over yet more dull gas stories in Turkmenistan, there is ample reason to pay attention, especially when the ultimate outcome has very real implications for the West.
A final factor to consider is that Turkmenbashi may be feeling particularly benevolent as he basks in the pleasantries of Independence Day celebrations on 27 October. Already he has pledged to release 8,000 prisoners as part of the goings on (not including the political prisoners one assumes), so who knows whether he might be in a magnanimous frame of mind.
The office will remain closed for at least six months. Prominent reporter Monica Whitlock had already been forced to leave the country in June this year.
Official responses? Not really:
The Uzbek ambassador in London, Tukhtapulat Riskiev, has declined an invitation to discuss the issue with the World Service. He said he was unaware that the BBC was experiencing any problems in Uzbekistan.
UzReport.com presents the government’s line of reasoning.
China’s soaring demand of oil is boosting ties between SCO countries. RiaNovosti reports that Kazakh Prime Minister Danial Akhmetov has offered Russian oil companies the use of a Kazakh pipeline to transport oil to China.
China has already won President Putin’s support for a pipeline from Eastern Siberia, knocking out the other contester Japan.
The leader of the ‘Sunshine Uzbekistan’ political opposition movement appears to have been drugged in custody, according to the organisation’s weblog:
I looked at where he was being held, he was without clothes, before we went there, they said he threw all his stuff out the door of his holding cell, he doesnâ€™t react to anything I was saying even though I attempted to call his name, his hands are covering his face, he isnâ€™t reacting, just mumbling.
Wednesday morning, time for a quick blog roundup:
Nick writes that the BBC is facing an increasingly hostile environment in Tashkent. Ali posts that the leader of the opposition movement ‘Sunshine Uzbekistan’ has been arrested. Follow up on the Registan and on the organisation’s blog.
Claire posts pictures of a pro-Kulov rally on Bishkek’s main square. The heat is on in Kyrgyzstan, and the mounting pressure on the prominent Northern political could lead to a potential crisis.
Rico posts on unusual discontent with a presidential decree: The Khalk Maslahaty (Peopleâ€™s Council) uniformly rejected the president’s decision to hold presidential elections in 2009. Apparently, that’s not consistent with prior legislation that appointed Nyazov for president-for-life.
Ben has two posts over at the semi-reactivated Kazakh blog. One gives a brief roundup of news related to the upcoming presidential elections in December, the other discusses an outrageous construction project in Astana.
This story appeared already some time ago in British papers, but I thought it would be interesting: British star architect Norman Foster, who designed quite a handful of the world’s most famous landmarks, will be applying his skills in Kazakhstan, according to the PR Newswire:
Called the Palace of Peace and Accord, architect Norman Foster’s pyramidal masterpiece will grace the urban landscape of Kazakhstan’s capital city, Astana as a global centre for religious understanding, renunciation of violence and the promotion of faith and human equality.
A little search on Foster’s website brings us to this staggering draft:
In addition to representing all the world’s religious faiths, the Palace houses a 1,500- seat opera house, a university of civilisation, and a national centre for Kazakhstan’s various ethnic and geographical groups. This programmatic diversity is unified within the pure form of a pyramid, 62 metres high with a 62 x 62-metre base. Clad in stone, with glazed inserts that allude to the various internal functions, the pyramid has an apex of stained glass by the artist Brian Clarke.
I guess this building will cost some $??? million.
Its cost is guarded as a state secret. Were it built in the UK, it would run into hundreds of millions of pounds.
First and foremost, IFES again proves to be the most reliable provider of information. The head of the Kazakhstan mission, Jennifer Wilson, publishes her collection of news stories on the Kaz-elections group, the latest edition is just out (HT: Nathan).
The registration process for the December presidential election ended yesterday, officially initiating the campaigning period that will end two days before polling day. Each of the five candidates will be allocated $41,000 for advertising and organising their campaign.
92 international observers were accredited, shared between the OSCE, IFES, and the CIS Mission.
Update: This report from the same source puts the number of international observers to 600.
Zharmakhan Tuyakbay was a deputy chairman of the pro-presidential Otan party and was elected to the new Majlis as No 1 candidate on the party list. Tuyakbay said he would give up his deputy mandate in the new Majlis and leave the Otan party over what he described in a newspaper article as unlawful actions by representatives of the executive bodies during the parliamentary election, held on 19 September 2004.
Yerasyl Abylkasymov (Communist Party)
Is known to the public for quite drastic words. When bans on religious parties were discussed in the Kazakh parliament, he said:
Communist party deputy Yerasyl Abylkasymov told Forum 18 that “in the time of Genghis Khan such ideological saboteurs were hung, drawn and quartered. Alas it is now unfortunately not possible to do this and so we have to defend ourselves by means of laws.”
Alikhan Baymenov (Ak Zol)
Co-chairman of the moderate opposition party Ak Zol that only has one deputy in the current parliament, but a growing number of members.
Mels Yeleusizov (Tabigat)
De facto independent candidate of the ecological Tabigat union. He evaluates his chances to win ‘rather highly’.
According to government media outlet Kazinform, it’s already clear who is going to make it:
The absolute leader of the five is the acting President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev. Almost all political analysts and experts consider the other nominees have no chances to confront his authority. For the last 15 years the country, led by its permanent leader, achieved impressive success in all spheres of life.
In other news: Happy Republic Day:
The President has also pointed out, we must cherish our political stability, friendship, mutual understanding and love to each other. Everything we do we do for the sake of our country’s future.