The Turkmen establishment compiled the list of candidates for president. The Kremlin won the first round of the battle for Turkmenistan
Russia's stand on Turkmenistan essentially comes down to its wish to see Gurbankuly Berdymuhammedov elevated to president. Not because the Kremlin likes Berdymuhammedov but because the "legitimate heir" i.e. the Turkmenbashi's son is not in the Russian orbit.
Unexpectedly for many, the heir apparent became politically active in summer 2006 when his father the president made him the head of the Turkmen official delegation at trade and economic talks with the United Arab Emirates. The mother Muza Alexandrovna Niyazova received the order from Ashkhabad to see to the son's political education and concentrated on it. It was not difficult at all, considering that the family was not exactly impoverished and that the atmosphere of the good old Vienna facilitated studies. Tutors in the Turkmen language, international law, and political scientists were found for the heir apparent. Active consultations with partners in Israel began in August.
Eural TG is the main communications line to Murat Niyazov's inner circle. One Dmitry Firtash is the key figure there. It was Firtash who "represented" Eural TG in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan and who became a beneficiary of RosUkroEnergo when it was established and took over Turkmen gas export to Europe. Known for his closeness to the Niyazovs, Firtash was even involved in the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. He financed the trip of the Ukrainian president's family from the United States to the inauguration ceremony in Kiev.
Establishment of the Vienna Headquarters comprising numerous pro-Western aides and advisors leads to the conclusion that Murat Niyazov is Western democracies' key project in Turkmenistan now. In the meantime, the People's Council complicated things enormously. It amended the Constitution and removed from it the provision that banned participation in the race for acting presidents. The forum even compiled a list of six candidates for president, one of them Berdymuhammedov. The president must be at least 55, he must speak the state language and live in Turkmenistan for at least a decade preceding the election. It does not take a genius to guess who meets and these fair requirements and who will therefore be elected the president on February 11, 2007.
In short, Moscow won the first round with a knockdown. The verdict of the People's Council of Turkmenistan all but put an end to Murat Niyazov's presidential aspirations. And yet, Niyazov Jr. remains the trump card of the West in the struggle for Turkmenistan, his position as such guaranteed by a sheer impossibility of single out a national leader from the ranks of the Turkmen opposition. Unlike Berdymuhammedov committed to continuation of the previous political and economic policy, Niyazov Jr. may come back as the savior of the nation plunged into a civil conflict by usurpers of his father's throne.
Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan serve as example of how little time and effort is actually needed to foment a conflict like that. The situation being what it is, the pro-Moscow party in Ashkhabad may be wise to invite Niyazov back to Turkmenistan and offer him some portfolio. Say, the one that was Berdymuhammedov's only recently. The heir apparent, however, may turn down so generous an offer. He may suspect that coronary deficiency is really a catching decease.
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Moscow News, No 50, December 29, 2006, p. 22