Turkmenistan Weekly News Analysis

Burnishing its reputation as hermetically isolated, Turkmenistan continues to raise its visibility in the international arena, receiving foreign dignitaries, hosting international conferences, and sending representatives to events abroad.

On October 16, Commander of US Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) General William M. Fraser III, visited Ashgabat to discuss peace and security in Central Asia. President Berdymukhamedov received the Co-Chairman of the Turkmen-British Trade and Industry Council, Ronald Nash, to discuss cooperation in trade, economy and investments, energy, construction, sports, and tourism. He also welcomed the Minister of Energy of the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed Bin Daen Al Hamili, who noted the growing interest among his country’s business circles in cooperating with Turkmenistan in the oil and gas industry.

Turkmenistan’s Chamber of Commerce held the IV International Investment Forum of Turkmenistan, which convened over 400 delegates from 22 countries, including Russia, the USA, the UAE, the UK, France, Germany, Austria, China, and others. The Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA) in Ashgabat hosted a roundtable discussion entitled “Preventive Diplomacy as a Tool for Achieving Results in Ensuring Security and Stability in the World.” A delegation from Turkmenistan visited Dubai (UAE) to participate in the 2012 World Energy Forum. Turkmenistan’s Minister of Finance visited Turkey to take part in the First Eurasian Economic Business Forum of the European Economic Interest Grouping.

Relations with Russia have been warming, with increasing dialogue between Berdymukhamedov and Russian leaders. This past week, Berdymukhamedov and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed bilateral cooperation, “confirming their mutual desire to increase cooperation in a wide range of areas,” reported the semi-official web-site Turkmenistan.ru. Turkmenistan and Russia announced plans to develop cooperation in their media sectors, and after talks at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan, the Deputy Director General of Interfax, Igor Porshnev, said that the Interfax International Group of Information Service often quotes the Turkmenistan State News Agency (TDH) in its materials. Berdymukhamedov received the Governor of Russia’s Astrakhan region, Alexander Zhilkin, and after announced that Turkmenistan will open a consular office in Astrakhan. Berdymukhamedov met with the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Special Integrated Programme for the Spiritual and Moral Culture of the Younger Generation of Russia, Svetlana Medvedeva and the Chairman of the CIS Executive Committee, CIS Executive Secretary Sergei Lebedev, awarding both of them Turkmenistan’s national medals. Following a meeting of the Speaker of the Russian State Duma, Sergei Naryshkin, at Turkmenistan’s Parliament, the legislative bodies of the two countries signed a framework agreement of cooperation.

Luring international partners with its rich energy resources, Turkmenistan announced that over 160 promising oil and gas fields, 60 of which are currently being developed, have been discovered in the country. The country also boasted an 11.1 percent GDP growth rate in the first nine months of this year, and these figures are as reliable as any information issued by this very non-transparent government.

Though Berdymukhamedov seems to shed the isolation of the country, that his predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov had maintained, he seems to style a cult of personality much like Niyazov. A contest of artists -- writers, artists, singers, and dancers all had dedicated their works to Berdymukhamedov. Songs and dances were called “Arkadag” (i.e., Protector – as the President calls himself now), “Glory to Arkadag,” “The White Road of Arkadag,” “Viva Turkmenistan, Viva Arkadag!”, etc. Additionally, Berdymukhamedov writes books, like his predecessor, but also has them staged and performed in national theaters; the National Drama Theater staged a play based on the book about Berdymukhamedov’s grandfather, entitled “Your Good Name is Imperishable.” The new Culture Palace is named after Mialikguly Berdymukhamedov, the President’s father.

The crackdown on opposition, which the government has effectively silenced within the country, seems to move into cyberspace as well. On October 21, the web-site of the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, “Turkmenistan Chronicles,” was subject to a cyber attack. On October 22, attempts to access the website took viewers to a black screen with a note “ejen ****. Go home :).” The website creators managed to redirect readers with a notification, temporarily relocating them to: http://chrono-tm.blogspot.co.at/.” The site resumed its work on October 23.

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Turkmenistan Weekly News Analysis

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