Article Archive for Year 2006
The question Turkmenistan-watchers must be asking themselves at the moment is what role the country played in the resolution of the gas price dispute between Russia and Ukraine. As the action has panned out it appears the onlooker has got the best of the fight, with the litigant parties having fashioned a solution out of the factor of Turkmen deliveries.
Incredibly, Turkmenistan’s bluff about its proved reserves and its ability to supply both Kiev and Moscow may have been pulled off. However, though Ukraine has proved a more malleable partner in the short-term, the fact remains that Turkmenistan has significantly longer term prospects in Russia, which signed a 25-year agreement that effectively gave it rights over all Turkmen gas production. By all accounts, this would leave small amounts left over for sale to other countries, but unaccountably Ashgabat seems to have achieved the feat of selling the same gas to two countries, a trick that will be ostensibly be underwritten by Russia’s Gazprom in the current scenario.
Whether this has actually occurred will presumably be clarified as data emerges as to the scale of Turkmen-sourced deliveries. As has become plain for anyone with eyes to see, Turkmenistan is an unreliable business partner at the best of times, so yet another turnaround may yet be on the cards. Should this happen, Ukraine will most likely be the one to suffer, though in this scenario there will be no shred of a doubt that it is the victim of double-dealing and backstabbing.
UPDATE: I came across an interesting throwaway sentence in an editorial article in the pro-government turkmenistan.ru website, which I have translated below;
Incidentally, for the last few years the Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has insistently been calling for Russia and Ukraine to unite forces and collaborate on building a new gas pipeline on the eastern coast of the Caspian that would pass through Kazakhstan and would allow greater volumes of Turkmen gas to be transported by the northern route.
And here is a useful map to print out and draw in your own suggestions for pipeline routes.
Its been a while since the last entry, so here is an update about what has been going on in Tajikistan in the last week or so.
Uzbekistan has jacked up gas prices for Tajikistan:
As of 1 January, Uzbekistan is charging Tajikistan $55 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, compared to $42 last year. Tajikistan imports 95 percent of its gas from its neighbor.
According to numerous reports, Iran has been strengthening its ties with Tajikistan, and the possibility of increased Iranian investment has been raised.
Rakhmonov called on Iran to expedite the projects currently underway in his country and its participation in more economic projects.
The Iranian president also invited Tajikistan to attend a summit of Farsi-speaking countries on January 16.
The presidents of Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, whose nations share Farsi as their common language, will meet in Tehran on January 16, a source in the Iranian president’s office said Wednesday.
Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hamid Karzai from Iran’s eastern neighbour Afghanistan and Tajikistan’s Emomali Rakhmonov will focus on “boosting and elevating trilateral ties” and “inaugurate the road link between the three nations,” the source said.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has been making progress in Tajikistan. In a recent interview, Murotboki Beknazarov said:
We have opened facilities and equipped them with furniture and medical equipment for labour migrants and their family members in 30 districts of Sogd province (in the north of the country, over 350 km from the capital, Dushanbe), Khatlon province (in the south of the country, over 200 km from Dushanbe), Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Province (in the east, over 350 km from Dushanbe), as well as in areas under the national jurisdiction (in the centre).
Tajik border guards were recently equipped with US technology and gear.
Tajik border guards received $750,000 worth of equipment Friday from the United States under the Export Control and Related Border Security Assistance (EXBS) program, the Tajik border protection committee said.
“The equipment includes computer systems, night vision devices, radiation control devices, generators, radio frequency scanners and winter gear,” the committee said.
This was the first part of the $1.2-million aid package granted to Tajikistan’s border guards under the program. The second part of the package will include winter and summer uniforms and will be delivered in early spring.
First and foremost a very happy New Year to everyone.
I must apologise for the lack of activity on this blog for the last month – a combination of internet problems, scheduling issues and illness here in Bishkek have continued to thwart my good intentions to post a news catch-up for the last few weeks.
I’m heading back to the UK for a couple of months next week, so hopefully these issues will resolve themselves to at least some extent and posting on my part will be more regular until the end of March.
If you’re reading this and would like to contribute to this or any other of the New Eurasia Blogs, don’t hesitate to drop us a line and we’ll welcome you with open arms – or at least, some login details :)
As a result of the Ukrainian gas debacle Turkmenistan has made it onto the front pages of the world press, if only very peripherally. Meanwhile, Naftogaz Ukrainy CEO Oleksiy Ivchenko has paid another visit to President Saparmurat Niyazov to give assurances about timely payment for gas deliveries in 2006. There is continued doubt about Turkmenistan’s ability to supply both Russia and Ukraine with the announced quantities, though Kiev’s willingness and need to accede to Ashgabat’s strong-arm haggling may give it the required edge. Ivchenko, who has inexplicably managed to retain his position, is unlikely to resume his polemical stance towards Turkmenistan’s erratic diplomatic shifts.
Needless to say, the issue is a moot one as Gazprom now has total control over all gas pipelines leading to the Ukraine border. However, should Russia choose to exert its obvious geographically strategic advantage over Ukraine by seizing this gas, there would no longer such a pressing ethical or legal onus on Kiev to refrain from helping itself to Europe-bound deliveries. Indeed, Ukraine has already raised this aspect in its rejection of accusations of theft of gas. Details follow in this BBC Monitoring translation of a Kiev station Inter TV report broadcast today:
Presenter: Kiev categorically denies all accusations of illegally siphoning off gas. Journalists were invited to a gas pumping station in Boyarka today.
Eduard Zanyuk, Chief of the Naftohaz Ukrayiny public relations centre: Taking into account that it takes 36 hours for Turkmen gas to get to Ukrainian territory through the pipeline, then on 1 January, when Mr Medvedev [Gazprom deputy chairman] accused Ukraine of siphoning off gas, Ukraine was receiving Turkmen gas bought in 2005. So, the fact of lying by the Gazprom leadership is obvious.
Vasyl Filipchuk, Head of the Foreign Ministry’s press service: Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk today signed a letter to European Commission President [Jose Manuel] Barroso, asking him to send to Ukraine EU experts who would have access to gas pumping stations and all the information regarding the amount of gas entering Ukraine and leaving it.
The as yet unpublished memoirs of a former British ambassador to Tashkent have become a cause celebre thanks to the release of formerly confidential Foreign and Commonwealth Office documents appearing to indicate that the British government knowingly received information from the government of Uzbekistan; information gained under torture.
The documents were initially published on the website of Craig Murray, who resigned from the diplomatic service in 2004 following a turbulent and headline-grabbing two-year spell as Our Man in Tashkent. The documents have subsequently appeared all over the internet, eagerly reproduced by those wishing to cock a snook at the powers-that-be.
Craig Murray’s book, tentatively titled Murder in Samarkand, will presumably lift the lid off the seamy underside of Great Power geopolitics in Central Asia. (Love the title, though; redolent of all those Great Game memoirs: A Mission to Bokhara, Mission to Turkestan, Mission to Tashkent etc.) Maybe it will also chart his wanderings through the highways and by-ways of diplomatic service, including his involvement in the “Arms to Africa” affair (BBC story from 1998 & UK parliamentary report).
Here are some of my thoughts:
1) A Little Bit of History Repeating – Great Game rhetoric was often masked by concerns about human rights. The plight of Russian slaves in Transcaspia and Bukhara in particular was used by Tsarist hawks to justify intervention in Central Asia. But, as noted in Peter Hopkirk’s masterly study on the period, legal punishments such as mutilation continued to be meted out even after the Emirate of Bukhara was forced to become a Russian protectorate in 1868.
2) What to do? – Clearly the regime in Tashkent is at fault but what model of political reform should be pursued? Many critics of Anglo-American links with Uzbekistan also opposed the war in Iraq, so presumably we can can any thoughts of removing Karimov by force, as in the cases of Saddam or Manuel Noriega (Panama).
Meanwhile, if we are looking for alternative political voices, Ahmad Chalabi (Iraq) and Viktor Yushchenko (Ukraine) are good (or should that be bad?) examples of what happens when one pins one’s hopes on charismatic but unpredictable individuals.
Finally, we could hope that the implementation of sanctions (economic, travel, arms etc.) might force Karimov et al to reform. Good, if you are thinking of South Africa and the dismantlement of Apartheid – bad, however, if you remember how sanctions entrenched Saddam and the Iraqi people suffered. Which leads me onto my next point …
3) It’s not really about Uzbekistan – by which I mean the release of the FCO documents has been used by the anti-war movement to attack Bush-Blair rather than to press for reform in Uzbekistan. Mr Murray has never stinted in his criticism of the government of Uzbekistan because he has seen at firsthand the effects of its policies, but he has now been added to the pantheon of British whistleblowers that contains an eclectic bunch of individuals – Katharine Gun, David Shayler, Richard Tomlinson etc.
4) What Do We Want? – Whistleblowers, such as those named above, often cite honourable motives for leaking classified documents and telling all. Yet Mr Murray was in a stronger position to champion human rights in Uzbekistan as HM Ambassador than he is now, now that he is simply Mr Murray rather than Ambassador Murray.
Furthermore, with authoritative foreign media representation in Uzbekistan emascalated by the withdrawal of the BBC and constant harassment of RFE/RL (pdf), Western perceptions of Uzbekistan are bound to be much diminished.
Also, we run the risk of ignoring the elephants in the corner – China and Russia. Through the aegis of EURASEC and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Beijing and Moscow are better placed than Washington or London to influence Tashkent’s thinking, and with both countries able to cite the examples of Chechnya and Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Republic (XUAR), are more attuned to the Uzbek government’s fears about militant Islamism, real or imagined.
As I have already hinted, Mr Murray has become more of a rallying point for the anti-war left, and therefore the criticisms of Washington and London’s relationship with Tashkent have become embroidered into the tapestry of opposition to the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s not hard to find examples of where Mr Murray’s revelations have triggered reams of conspiratorial nonsense about oil, Iraq, Enron, Halliburton, Cheney, “Bush knew!”, Mossad ad nauseam. “What we want” (or, “something must be done!”) is but empty rhetoric if governments lack the incentive to do anything, especially now that Uzbekistan and NATO are further apart than ever.
5) What Do They Want? – Well, presumably the Uzbek government would like us to turn our gaze elsewhere, but I’m talking about the problems of Uzbeks unrelated to “extraordinary rendition” or the “war on terror”. (Two in particular interest me – (dessication of the Aral Sea), and “the curse of cotton“). Amidst all the shouts and catcalls, the continuing trial and imprisonment of local police and prison officials in Andijan goes on.