[A-List] Russia/Turkmenistan tensions
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Wed Dec 11 07:38:36 MST 2002
Russia plays down Turkmenistan taunt
By Sergei Blagov
Asia Times, December 12 2002
MOSCOW - Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, also known as Turkmenbashi or
head of the Turkmens, claims that alleged assassination and coup attempts
against him are the work of international terrorists, and Turkmen
authorities also allege that the plotters had Russian backing. However,
Niyazov's opponents argue that the Turkmen leader's speculation about a
foreign-backed coup attempt is simply a pretext to crack down on domestic
and exiled opposition.
In the wake of the alleged coup attempt, Turkmenbashi has repeatedly hinted
that Russia is implicated in an attempt to topple him. For instance,
Niyazov, speaking on state television, claimed that the plotters had planned
to seize parliament building and stage public demonstrations, and then seek
foreign assistance. "As leaders of a democratic country they would have
sought help from one state, and on the next day two cargo planes with elite
special troops, spetsnaz, would have arrived" in Turkmenistan.
Niyazov refrained from naming the alleged foreign backer of the plotters,
but he did cite Yazgueldy Gundogdyev, former head of the presidential
protocol, as implicated. The investigation will continue until December 22,
Niyazov stated. However, mention of the elite special troops, or spetsnaz in
Russian, can be interpreted as a reference to Russia.
Niyazov's motorcade reportedly came under machine gun fire in the downtown
of the capital Ashgabat on November 25. No one among Turkmenbashi's
entourage was hurt in the attack. Niyazov later said that he knew nothing
about the incident and was already at work when he was told about it. There
has been no independent confirmation of the official version of the attempt.
However, Niyazov lost no time to allege that four former senior officials
were behind the attack: former foreign minister Boris Shikhmuradov, former
central banker Khudoiberdy Orazov, former deputy agriculture minister
Saparmurat Yklymov and Nurmukhammed Khanamov, a former ambassador to Turkey.
Niyazov's spokesman Serdar Durdyev has described the attempt as a coup and
"an act of international terrorism". Durdyev also said that 23 people had
already been arrested, of whom four were ethnic Georgians. However, Georgian
ambassador in Turkmenistan Piotr Chkheidze denied that any Georgian
nationals were among the plotters.
The Turkmen authorities alleged that six Turkish and three Russian citizens
were among those detained: Amirbek Bishoyev, Magambet Nuraliyev and Ruslan
Sadullayev, all ethnic Chechens. If charged and found guilty, they could be
jailed for up to 20 years or put to death under Turkmen law.
Among the 23 suspects being held in Ashgabat, there is one US citizen,
Leonid Komarovsky, 55, along with his friend and business associate Guvanch
Dzhumayev, who was jailed along with his father, brother and son on November
25. Dzhumayev published an independent newspaper in the early 1990s that was
shut down by Turkmen authorities for its critical coverage.
Nonetheless, Turkmenistan has accused Russia of protecting the plotters.
"When they suffered from terrorism, they understood everything, but today,
when terrorism is taking place elsewhere, they do not understand anything,"
Niyazov stated at a meeting with Muslim clerics. In this hardly disguised
referral to the recent hostage crisis in Moscow, Turkmenbashi obviously
expressed his displeasure of other nations' failure to take seriously his
allegations about international terrorism in Turkmenistan.
Niyazov's subordinates sounded more specific. "I cannot say that it was
ordered from Russia, but I can say absolutely officially that there are
political activists in Russia who protect the organizers," Durdyev has
stated. He also singled out Orazov as enjoying Moscow's backing. "There are
interested politicians in Russia who protect Orazov. There exist recordings
of Orazov with one very high official in the Russian government," he
Durdyev said that Yklymov, exiled in 1994 and who now lives in Sweden, had
organized the weapons used in the plot, while the others had financed him.
Yklimov, in turn, was quoted by the Russian TVS television channel as
accusing Niyazov of orchestrating the failed assassination as a pretext for
Relatives of Yklimov were among some 100 people to be rounded up during the
night of November 25-26 and detained, according to Memorial, a Moscow-based
human rights monitoring organization.
Shikhmuradov was quoted by Russian media outlets as dismissing allegations
of an assassination attempt on Niyazov. Shikhmuradov was one of Niyazov's
closest aides as foreign minister for eight years and then ambassador to
China. But when Shikhmuradov, a former Soviet diplomat educated in Moscow,
was recalled in October 2001, he fled instead to the Russian capital and
launched an anti-Niyazov opposition group. Orazov, in exile in Latvia, was
quoted by the Russian Kommersant daily as describing the alleged attempt as
"coup de theater".
Not surprisingly, Ashgabat accused the Russian media of legitimizing exiled
"activists" living in Russia. "They do not need to be very smart to slander
in the media, spread rumors and misinformation," Niyazov told a meeting with
Muslim clerics. However, Niyazov's accusations have so far failed to impress
Russian government and Foreign Ministry spokesmen have declined to comment
on the Turkmen allegations of Russia's complicity, but Sergei Mironov,
speaker of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the parliament,
describes the charges as absurd. And Mikhail Margelov, head of the
Federation Council's international relations committee, says "Russia is not
a rough state and it is senseless to accuse Moscow of complicity in
Due to its far-reaching interests in Central Asia, in recent years Russia
has tended to ignore Turkmenistan's totalitarian ways. However, in recent
months ties between Russia and Turkmenistan have been strained, notably due
to Niyazov's perceived obstruction in dividing the Caspian Sea at the
Caspian summit in Ashgabat last April.
Moscow is also unhappy with what it sees as his discrimination against
ethnic Russians. When in July Turkmen authorities banned the distribution of
Russian newspapers, Russia's press ministry voiced an official protest.
Yet despite acute disagreements over Caspian division, Russian still has oil
and gas interests in Turkmenistan. Earlier this year, the Russian
state-owned Rosneft and Zarubezhneft oil firms and Itera gas trader formed a
Moscow-registered ZaRIT joint venture to explore oil deposits on the Turkmen
shelf in the Caspian. In the immediate aftermath of the alleged coup
attempt, Itera head Igor Makarov traveled to Turkmenistan to discuss the
joint venture, as well as the transit of Turkmen gas via Russian pipelines,
some 10 billion cubic meters planned for 2003.
It remains to be seen whether Russian and exploration interests could be
affected by allegations of Moscow's complicity in the attempt on Niyazov.
For instance, on December 10, the Russian deputy foreign minister and
Caspian envoy Viktor Kalyuzhny accused Turkmenistan of sabotaging a meeting
of the working group of the five littoral states. As Turkmen officials
declined to show up, the meeting, scheduled for December 10-11 in the Azeri
capital, Baku, was skipped.
Surprisingly, some Russian politicians have supported Turkmenbashi. Niyazov
remains the only Central Asian leader who is yet to sell out his country's
natural resources to Western corporations, argues Alexey Mitrofanov, deputy
of the state Duma, the lower house of parliament. Niyazov has not allowed
the US to use Turkmen air bases, he is married to a Russian and has
half-Russian children, this is why Moscow should extradite all of the
Turkmen exiles that Niyazov wants, says Mitrofanov, a member of the
ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party.
In the meantime, circumstantial evidence suggests that Turkmenbashi himself
hardly takes the allegations of the coup attempt seriously. For instance, in
the immediate aftermath of alleged attempt, Niyazov traveled to Iran to
discuss the Caspian division - a foreign visit highly unlikely to take place
in the wake of an actual coup.
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