Editor’s note: An American diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks reveals that in 2007, Turkish businessman Ahmet Çalık believed that, vis-à-vis, Turkmenistan was “on the surface” the most independent of the post-Soviet Central Asian republics, “but not behind the scenes” — to the point that he insinuates Berdimuhamedov was put in power by Moscow. neweurasia’s Magtymguly reports. “This cable is like scripture for me,” he writes.
There is new WikiLeaks cable from middle of May that has not been reported. It is about views of Ahmet Çalık, owner of Çalik Group and ex-minister of Turkmenistan’s textile industry Niyazov days, on President Berdimuhmmedow in the first days of new regime. My comments are after the quote.
Turkish Businessman and Turkmenistan insider Ahmet Chalik […] describes President Berdimuhamedov as weak because he is beholden to outside interests, principally Russian. He says Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan and President Gul are eager to promote a trilateral energy summit involving Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. Chalik insists for Turkmenistan to succeed
as a relatively normal, independent country, it needs to institute democracy, an open economy, and rule of law. While Chalik’s views on Berdimuhamedov may be idiosyncratic, they are worth considering because of his 15 years as an insider in Turkmenistan. However, the fact that he has lost his most-favored status since former President Niyazov’s death may be coloring his views.
[…] Charge asked, “Who is Berdimuhamedov? How was he chosen to become president? Who put him in power?” Chalik answered the third question, “The guys with the guns.” Chalik said he’d known Berdimuhamedov during the Niyazov era as a “nice guy and relatively competent,” but certainly no
one with a national political base or political ambitions of his own. Chalik said those who put Berdimuhamedov in power — at the top of the list he named the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of National Security — did it not so much to protect their own interests as to defend the interests of
others. Asked to be more precise, Chalik chose his words carefully and said, “To the north” (Russia). When asked if he put any credence in rumors that Niyazov did not die a natural death, Chalik shrugged and answered, “Follow the money.” He pointed out that Niyazov signed an agreement in
2006 allowing China to be the first major foreign power to challenge Gazprom for Turkmenistan’s on-shore natural gas. Chalik then added, “But I can sometimes be ‘oriental,'” meaning he recognizes the attraction of conspiracy theories.
Returning to the current political situation, Chalik criticized Berdimuhamedov for stacking his government with “incompetents from his own tribe,” the Geok-Tepes of Ahal Province. “At least Niyazov kept balance by giving ministries and power positions to people from all over the country.” Chalik was especially upset that Berdimuhamedov has removed and, in a few cases, imprisoned those whom Chalik described as the most competent and closest to him personally, especially the former Minister of Culture. When asked why he did this, Chalik replied Berdimuhamedov didn’t do it on his own. “The guys with guns” who put him in power forced his hand to make him more dependent on them.
When Charge suggested Turkmenistan had probably maintained the most independence from Russia of the five Central Asian states, Chalik replied, “Not true. On the surface, maybe, but not behind the scenes.” He explained his view that Russia had always maintained close connections in the power agencies in Turkmenistan, especially through the traditional Soviet-era mafia-intelligence agencies
connection. He specifically critized Deputy Minister of National Security Hojimurad Altayev as the key Russian mafia(s) link in the government.
Charge asked if Berdimuhamedov isn’t the final decision maker on Turkmenistan’s oil and gas resources, who is — Deputy Prime Minister for Oil and Gas Tachberdi Tagiyev? “No, it’s the
guys with guns.” Still, Chalik suggested, a concerted diplomatic effort, including by Turkey and states in the region, might find success. […] People [within the government] now perceive Berdimuhamedov does not have independent power and are unwilling to make any decisions, even to support things Berdimuhamedov says he wants. Chalik added, “In any case, except for maybe four or five, including the Foreign Minister and Minister of Textiles, the ministers are timid non-entities.”
According to Chalik, the longer term hope for Turkmenistan is access to international education and
international information. Charge described U.S. offers for cooperation on educational reform and enhanced educational exchanges, and the difficulty we have faced because of Ministry of Education International Affairs Director Nury Bayramov. Chalik said, “Of course. The minister doesn’t make any decisions. It’s the KGB.”
This cable is like scripture for me. I think Çalık is 100% right that Russians had major influence on President Berdimuhammedow. Maybe today situation is more complex because of the Chinese pipeline. I wonder if 2009 conflict with Chinese workers in the country was part of a secret struggle with Russia, but the project went forward. Now the Soviet era project Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India (TAPI) has Russian support. But indrus.in reports:
Only Turkmenistan is strongly opposed to Gazprom’s participation in TAPI. In October last year, when Medvedev visited Turkmenbashi, Russia submitted its proposals concerning potential roles for Gazprom in the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline consortium. It could take part in development, become the project designer, and invest in the project’s equity, as well as produce natural gas at Turkmenistan’s inland deposits and sell it to other participating countries. Turkmenistan, which is striving to enter the European and Asian markets bypassing Russia, has blocked Moscow’s initiative.
Also, Çalık says future of Turkmenistan is integration into global communication and democracy. Of course it is in his benefit to say so, but that doesn’t make it wrong. I don’t believe cynics or government-paid liars: the rise of Turkmenet has been like God’s grace to us.