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Turkmenistan Weekly News Analysis

Turkmenistan’s economic partnership with China continues to grow as China steps up its lending to Turkmenistan and consumption of Turkmen gas. In June, Turkmenistan’s Turkmengaz and China’s National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) signed a deal agreeing to increase Turkmenistan’s natural gas shipments to China to 65 billion cubic meters per year (bcm/y), a leap from the 30 bcm/y originally envisioned in 2007 at the launch of the Turkmenistan-China pipeline. The pipeline, which went online in 2009, and was built and operated by CNPC, starts in Turkmenistan’s Lebap province carrying natural gas from the Bagtyyarlyk fields on the right bank of Amu Darya through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan into Xinjiang in western China. The pipeline, China's first energy corridor designed to import foreign natural gas, has made Turkmenistan into one of China's major gas suppliers in Central Asia.

To date, China has loaned Turkmenistan over $8 billion in soft loans, and now, following the July 27 meeting of the intergovernmental Turkmen-Chinese Cooperation Committee in Beijing, will provide a non-repayable grant, though Turkmen media did not specify the amount or the purpose of the grant. Turkmenistan is considering to find a Chinese company to build another pipeline to China, through the southern areas of Kyrgyzstan. On August 1, Kyrgyz Energy Minister, Temir Sariev, said that Kyrgyzstan is interested in becoming a transit country for Turkmen gas, as it will provide the country more income and jobs.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov seems poised to conduct another Cabinet shuffle, expressing his dissatisfaction with the performance of his government through a fresh spate of criticisms of his ministers this week, singling out the Minister of Agriculture for the poor grain and cotton harvest and the Minister of Water Resources for delays in restoring saline soils and farming development. President Berdymukhamedov’s son, Serdar, is now the Deputy Minister of Agriculture, and the President may be preparing the Minister’s chair for his son to move up the career ladder. The president criticized the heads of regional administrations, the leaders of the Ministry of Trade and Foreign Economic Relations, the State Commodity and Raw Materials Exchange, and the Ministry of Textile Industry, expressing dissatisfaction with the slow pace of construction and renovation of facilities. The president severely reprimanded the Minister of Health and Medical Industry of Turkmenistan, Gurbanmamet Elyasov, for the usual unsatisfactory performance of official duties, lax control over subordinate enterprises, and deterioration of discipline.” From 1997 till 2007 Berdymukhamedov held this post. Under his watch many hospitals were closed and many doctors were replaced by military conscripts. He left the healthcare sector in shambles, making the job of his successor very difficult.

On August 3, at a cabinet meeting, Berdymukhamedov came down on his pet project, the Avaza resort on the Caspian, for what he said was the lack of accommodations. Although this attests to the resort’s popularity, claimed the president, more construction is needed, and he commissioned 20 additional large-scale facilities to be built by next summer. However, independent sources claim that most of these state-of-the-art hotels in Avaza are not nearly booked to capacity, if not empty, even though there are reports that Berdymukhamedov has ordered all of his subordinates to spend their vacations there. These kinds of orders and claims call into question the validity of most of the president’s griping.

But where he may truly have a reason for discontent – for the country’s international reputation and endemic corruption, is with the recent expulsion of a Turkmen boxing referee from London Olympic Games. Ishanguly Meretnyyazov was banished from the Olympics after presiding over a match in which an Azerbaijani boxer was knocked down six times in one round, yet somehow managed to walk away with a decision on points. According to the rules, after three knock-downs in a round, the referee should stop the fight. The outcome of the bout was overturned on appeal, giving the victory to Japanese bantamweight Satoshi Shimizu, and raising questions in boxing circles of whether Meretnyyazov was on the take given earlier reports that had been circulating in the media about suspicious payments made by Azerbaijani officials. Needless to say, this shameful episode has not been reported in Turkmenistan’s state media. That a Turkmen ref might be on the take would be in keeping with Turkmenistan’s reputation as one of the most corrupt places on earth, concludes Justin Burke in article blog posting on Sifting the Karakum.

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Turkmenistan Weekly News Analysis

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