It’s My Gas And I’ll Cry If I Want To
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.