Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Post-Turkmenbashi

In a further ramification of Russia’s new, aggressive energy politics, the death of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on December 21 has led to a distinct shift of natural-gas-rich Turkmenistan’s foreign policy towards Russia. As the acting president, Gurbanguly Berdimukhamedov, seeks to establish a candidate from the several contenders for the presidency - who include himself - it is becoming clear that Moscow wishes to bring Turkmenistan within its orbit not only as an economic partner, but also as a political one, and that Ashgabat intends to accommodate this new orientation. Writing in Jamestown’s Eurasia Daily Monitor, Geoffrey Gleason examines the implications of the mutual policy change, while Roger McDermott discusses the security dilemma posed to the entire Central Asian region by the new situation in Turkmenistan.

From Geoffrey Gleason’s article:
In 1994 Niyazov introduced the idea of “positive neutrality” as a doctrinal breakthrough in Turkmenistan foreign policy. Positive neutrality meant that Turkmenistan would maintain good relations with all countries while remaining aloof from political alliances or binding economic commitments. In reality this was not a grand strategy but merely a specific posture that was designed to address the key challenge of Turkmenistan’s foreign policy — the relationship with Russia. Niyazov wanted to break free from Russia’s monopolistic stranglehold over Turkmenistan’s gas exports. Turkmenistan possessed sizable gas reserves but these would nevertheless require substantial investment in prospecting, drilling, processing, and transporting in order to produce the gas and get it to market. If Turkmenistan could develop its own export capacity across the Caspian and through Iran and Afghanistan, it could break free of Russia’s monopolistic tendencies.

Turkmenbashi’s gambit to circumvent Russia’s influence was unsuccessful. Turkmenistan’s gas revenues fell to a critical level in 1998, convincing Niyazov to reinvent “positive neutrality” so as to rely on Russian marketing of its gas sales. Since 2000 the amount of gas being transported through Russian pipelines has increased every year. When the accounts are in, Turkmenistan’s production in 2006 will probably be about 80 billion cubic meters of gas with about 40 billion having gone to Naftohaz Ukraine through Russian intermediaries.

Turkmenistan’s political succession has now opened a new window for Russian influence in Central Asia. Russian planners want to double their share of Turkmenistan’s gas output in the next few years. They can be expected to try to do that in a way that will assure the continuity of Turkmenistan’s tilt toward Russia. Russia’s strategic planners can be expected to do all they can to help them in this regard.
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