Ferocious power struggle in Turkmenistan may result in profound geopolitical changes. Russian experts comment on the situation in the wake of the Turkmenbashi's passing
Aleksei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center:
All key players have rushed to Turkmenistan now, all of them involved in the inevitable tug-of-war. Russia's worst problem is that it lacks the people in Turkmenistan it could rely on. As a matter of fact, the Turkmenbashi weeded out the political terrain so thoroughly that there are no prominent figures there at all nowadays. I do not think that someone, a leader all Turkmen clans will decide to back and follow, will appear. There is no opposition in the country either. If the transition period becomes extended, the Islamic factor may emerge all its ugliness - something like Turkmen Talibs.
Andrei Grozin, Chief of the Department of Central Asia and Caucasus of the Institute of CIS Countries:
Since legitimate mechanisms of power transfer do not even exist in the first place, security structures may undertake something. It is the Interior Ministry that stands the best chance of seizing power in the country. Unlike the Security Service Ministry and Prosecutor General's Office, it has been spared the worst of repressions, staff shuffles, and so on. The army is too weak to try something on its own. The elite will probably try to consolidate and nominate some interim leader, someone suitable for as many state officials in the upper echelons as possible. Still, this man - whoever he is - must be weak. That's the only requirement he should answer to suit everyone. It is clear in the meantime that a weakling may fail to keep the power in his hands.
Dmitry Oreshkin of the Mercator Group of the Institute of Geography (Russian Academy of Sciences):
Russia's interests in Turkmenistan are absolutely clear. As far as I can judge, variants of Niyazov's removal from politics have been considered and toyed with. The opposition made preparations to unseat Niyazov by force. It's hard to say what role Russian secret services have played in all of that. Turkmenistan is a gas exporter and that's pretty much sums it up. Several domestic factions will be viciously fighting for presidency now, every one of them with Moscow connections.
Konstantin Zatulin of the Duma Committee for CIS Affairs, Director of the Institute of CIS Countries:
The system Niyazov set up in Turkmenistan precluded appearance of rivals by definition. Unlike Heydar Aliyev in Azerbaijan, Niyazov kept his son Murad away from politics. There is absolutely nothing I know of indicating that Niyazov ever regarded his son as the potential successor. And of course, the Turkmenbashi himself was the prime minister.
There is the chairman of the parliament as well, but the parliament in Turkmenistan is nothing. All decisions are made by the Assembly of the Turkmen People, a structure run by Niyazov himself.
Alexander Rahr of the Council for Foreign Policy (Germany):
That Russia, America, and China will try to turn the tables and put the latest developments in Turkmenistan to their advantage is beyond doubt. A great deal in Turkmenistan is inseparable from gas structures and gas export revenues. The conclusion is inescapable: whatever forces establish control over gas resources will run the country. Russia is bound to try and deploy its gas companies that wield certain clout. As things stand, it is Russia that Turkmenistan's export policy depends on. Unlike Ukraine or Belarus, however, Turkmenistan cannot be put under pressure. It may be reasoned with or bought but never bullied.
What will happen to gas now?
Valery Yazev of the Duma Committee for Energy, President of the Russian Gas Society:
Nothing. We have long-term accords, they are valid, and I do not see why they are to be annulled or anything. Nobody will want it because Russia is the principal consumer of Turkmen gas.
Yuri Boiko, Fuel and Energy Minister of the Government of Ukraine:
Upping the price or not is Turkmenistan's own affair of course, but the existing accords fixed the tariffs for the next three years.
Boris Nemtsov of the Political Council of the Union of Right Forces:
Dictatorships always give way to more liberal regimes. The Turkmenbashi was the most odious of all dictators of our era. Besides, I have trust in contracts. And of course, what we are paying Turkmenistan earns it at least $75 on every 1,000 cubic meters.
Mikhail Korchemkin of East European Gas Analysis:
If somebody like Gorbachev appears in Turkmenistan (and I do not rule out this possibility, you know), then this country may decide to sell gas to Georgia, Ukraine, or Europe directly, bypassing Gazprom. Rosukrenergo will become history then, and Gazprom's revenues will be different. As for Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus, he may decide that he has as much right to sell Russian gas in Europe as Gazprom has when dealing with gas from Central Asia.
Anatoly Dmitriyevsky, Director of the Oil and Gas Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences:
The late Turkmen leader was thoroughly unpredictable with regard to Russia. He could order gas export suspended on a whim, saying for example that this or that requirement was not met. No matter who becomes the president now, he will be more predictable. The new administration will concentrate its efforts on the relations with Russia. After all, Russia is the only country investing in Turkmenistan, and the only gas pipeline from Central Asia to the Center goes to Russia. And yes, Turkmenistan will probably apply for membership in the Shanghai Organization of Cooperation.
Nortgaz CEO Alexander Krasnenkov:
Nothing. Niyazov did not leave anybody to pass the power on to. The opposition is weak. In short, nobody will want to kick up a quarrel with Russia which is a major article of income for Turkmenistan.
Natalia Narochnitskaya of the International Committee of the Duma:
It depends on what country wins Turkmenistan over now.
Konstantin Zatulin, Director of the Institute of CIS Countries and Duma deputy:
Everything will be fine. Turkmen gas is mostly exported via Russia and that's a nuance that cannot be easily dismissed. Moreover, there are thousands and thousands of Russians in Turkmenistan.
Here is an interview with Artyom Ulunyan of the Institute of History of the Russian Academy of Sciences on consequences of the demise of the leader of a Central Asian republic.
Ferghana.Ru: A great deal is being said about the Turkmen opposition now. Some opposition leaders even claim readiness to return to Turkmenistan as long as their safety is guaranteed by the international community. Any comments?
Artyom Ulunyan: Indeed, very many exiles believe that democracy is truly within reach now. As I see it, however, it's emotions speaking. It is normal for a person to want to go back to his native land and live in a normal democratic country. There is, however, a factor that should be taken into consideration: political prisoners haven't been amnestied yet. It may be done soon perhaps, or it may take time... It is wrong to draw parallels with 1953. The world is different now, and whoever makes decisions like that knows history.
It follows that the opposition may take part in the political life only if the system that has been in place these last 15 years is dismantled. Dismantlement is a must because this system does not allow for anything like that... Unless the opposition gets everything right away but that will take a miracle. Unless the amnesty is proclaimed, opposition leaders will certainly wish they never came back. As for political parties in Turkmenistan itself, they command little respect and wield little influence - if any. Their sympathizers are few, they are driven deep underground and that precludes their becoming a serious political force. On the other hand, someone in the upper echelons of state power may decide to use the opposition to promote his own interests but that will take time.