As another year passes, Turkmenistan pins great hopes with the coming year 2018. The country has been experiencing a severe financial crisis since last year, amid lack of foreign investments and tense situation on the border with Afghanistan. In an interview with EADaily, Maksat Saparmuradov, Chairman of the Board, Compatriot Russian-Turkmen Friendship Society, raises Turkmenistan’s problems and the reasons behind them.
Turkmenistan is, perhaps, the most closed country in the post-Soviet area. Therefore, the truth about it sometimes comes mixed with misinformation. Was the passing year really that hard for the country?
The year started for Turkmenistan with re-election of president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov on February 12. Within the year, the president has presented his books and songs, while incomes from Western companies developing oil fields on the Caspian shelf are shrinking. The country has faced a financial crisis. The large-scale sports event, the 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, held in the country has made matters even worse. Construction of sports facilities, hotels and other structured required tangible funds. The country had to make external borrowings. This has resulted in budget shortfall. The country lacks cash. People cannot make card withdrawals. There are signs of food shortage. All this speaks of economic crisis in Turkmenistan.
Alarm information has been received from the Afghan-Turkmen border throughout the year. What is happening there now?
Clashes. People are being killed there. There is no army as such in Turkmenistan any longer. Officers prefer dismissal to service on the border. How one can give orders to the army when…My nephew serves in Mary town. His commander lets them go out to eat somewhere. They have no food for soldiers.
At the military parade on the Independence Day of Turkmenistan that is marked on October 27, President Berdymukhamedov showcased the country’s military capacity. Military hardware and other equipment rumbled through the city, including vehicles acquired from U.S. These are open-type high-mobility vehicles. As one of the Turkmen officials said, they are intended for the Tashaus direction. Tashaus is the border with Uzbekistan, where the situation is peaceful. That’s only a pretense.
It is widely rumored that those vehicles will be sold to Afghanistan shortly and with the knowledge of U.S., since they were bought from U.S. They will be selling the vehicles to privates, not to the government army. These vehicles may appear in the hands of radicals, ISIS (a terrorist group banned in Russia and other countries), which will later use those vehicles to break through the state border of Turkmenistan.
How can they sell military vehicles to radicals that will later attack their country?
U.S. is the boss there – they will do everything it will tell them to do, the more so as Ashgabat needs money.
What is the reason of such crisis?
Everyone is waiting for the next year when another Chinese loan will be received. Businesspersons wait for conversion to be resumed, so that they could continue buying goods in other countries. The country may face famine. Foodstuffs are expensive and price hikes continue. People are fleeing from the country. Many Turkmens are trying to leave to U.S., EU countries, whereas Russian-speaking population seeks to get a migrant status in Russia. There are no jobs. A big sale is due to start. The military vehicles were ordered from U.S. long ago and the payments were made. Despite that, the vehicles have been supplied quite recently. If disorders break out in the country, the army even may disregard security of the government.
Is there a high probability of disorders?
It may happen. The people are ready for changes, they are just waiting. However, there is no political force inside the country. Social upheaval may occur. The people rely on Russia. However, Russia will not interfere into domestic affairs of Turkmenistan. Iran may do it, only if U.S. undertakes any actions in Turkmenistan and a threat to Tehran emerges.
It’s not all that simple with Tehran. In the new year, it will be 400 years since Iran sold Firuza, a very beautiful resort in Turkmenistan, to Imperial Russia. They in Iran openly say they want their lands back.
The social and economic situation is very heavy. The population cannot bear the government’s despotism any longer. Before long, the public will burst with anger.
Where is all the money they borrowed? Did they spend all on the Asian Games?
Yes, and even more. Turkmenistan still owes to some countries, including China. Meantime, China is expanding into Turkmenistan and is not going to leave. We have a strong suspicion that Beijing may demand the gas field Galkynysh in exchange for the country’s debts. Besides the interests in gas deposits which China develops and takes the entire gas in exchange for the debt, it has some long-term geopolitical interests in Turkmenistan. The country borders with Afghanistan, Iran. China implements a bunch of joint projects with those countries. Besides, the Caspian Sea is there.
After the agreement on the status of the Caspian Sea is signed, Turkmenistan will get a chance to build the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline and supply its gas to Europe…
Turkmenistan does not seem to succeed in energy projects. Gas supplies to Russia and Iran have been suspended. The country can forgo the dream of supplying gas to Europe and India.
To begin with, Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan have agreed on a number of issues this year. In particular, Russia will be supplying its gas to the north of Iran via Azerbaijan. In the future, Russian gas may replenish Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline – TANAP. Gas from Shah-Deniz will not be enough to fill that pipeline. Initially, they planned to take Turkmen gas. After the leaders of Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan agreed over gas supply to the north of Iran, it is evident that they will manage to agree and fill TANAP with Russian gas. Besides, Russia and Iran signed a memorandum on Gazprom’s participation in the project of gas pipeline construction along the bottom of the Persian Gulf as well as in development of gas fields in Iran. The gas pipeline will extend 1200km.
What is that to Turkmenistan?
Well, Iran will be supplying gas to India. If the deal takes place, Russia will be involved in it through swap supplies of gas from Iran. Such swap supply is more economically viable than direct export of gas from Russia. The arrangement to supply Russian gas to the north of Iran may become a swap element in export of the Iranian gas to India via the new pipeline. Turkmenistan will be left aside in that case. Turkmen gas is supplied to China is exchange for the country’s borrowings, whereas it is not supplied to Russia and Iran. TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline will not be implemented. Forget about that project.
How can one forget about it, if Turkmenistan is building that pipeline in its territory?
These is Islamic money (Islamic Development Bank – EADaily’s note) that is being stolen now, including by Turkmenistan. The latter is trying to build a railway to Afghanistan. This is just a game of U.S. that tries to use Turkmenistan as a new foothold against Iran and Russia. Americans are very active in Turkmenistan now.
EADaily’s Central Asian Bureau