Turkmenistan Weekly News Analysis

Boasting of Turkmenistan’s attempts to increase its presence in the international arena, following years of isolation under past dictator Saparmurat Niyazov, the country’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Rashid Meredov, enumerated the number of high level international visits from and to Turkmenistan in the first five months of 2012: 275 foreign delegations visited Turkmenistan, while 272 Turkmen delegations traveled abroad. What remains to be known is whether all of this international engagement will transform the country in which the old system remains highly entrenched, and reform is glacial. Little has changed since the ascent of Turkmenistan’s President, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in December 2006, after his predecessor’s sudden death.

This week President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov traveled to China heading Turkmenistan’s delegation at the 12th summit of the Council of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The SCO focuses on member nations' Central Asian security-related concerns.

On June 6, Berdymukhamedov met with Chinese President Hu Jintao, who said he believes Berdymukhamedov’s visit will give a strong new impulse to the relationship between the two countries. Turkmenistan’s President said that Turkmenistan is ready to take an active role in the regional and inter-regional cooperation projects of the SCO. Over the last several years, relations between China and Turkmenistan have warmed, with the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan-China gas pipeline going online in December 2009 that as of last year has been transporting 65bcm of gas per year, double the volume originally agreed upon. China has also provided Turkmenistan with soft loans in excess of 8 billion dollars.

Now China and Turkmenistan are also planning to partner militarily, and prior to his trip to the SCO summit, Berdymukhamedov received a Chinese military delegation headed by Chief of General Staff of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, Chen Bingde, to discuss prospects of cooperation in training servicemen and supporting exchanges between staff of military and law enforcement agencies.

On May 30, Ashgabat hosted the CIS Heads of Government Council at which participants signed a number of joint documents on cooperation between the members of the CIS. In the framework of the Council, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov met with Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and said that Russia was Turkmenistan’s third largest trading partner during the first three months of 2012, reaching 1.235 USD. The President also received the Executive Secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States, Sergei Lebedev, to discuss prospects for cooperation.

Turkmenistan held a number of international seminars, including a very timely workshop on energy diplomacy organized by the OSCE Centre in Ashgabat, in co-operation with the Office of the Co-ordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Activities (OCEEA) and the Association of International Petroleum Negotiators (AIPN) shortly after the signing of a deal for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India natural gas pipeline (TAPI). The OSCE Centre in Ashgabat in co-operation with the Office of the Chancellor of Justice of Estonia and the Office of the National Ombudsman of the Netherlands, also organized a visit to Estonia and the Netherlands on practices in processing individual human rights complaints and communications for representatives of the Turkmen National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights under the President of Turkmenistan. It is unclear what impacts such tours might bring, as the Institute, as the name suggests, is strictly controlled by the president. Also, given the recent performance of the Turkmenistan delegation to the UN Human Rights Committee in New York, in which delegation members simply read from their Constitution and Criminal Code, and did not address questions about the country’s appalling human rights record, it seems unlikely that following such a training we can expect to see more complaints before international institutions.

Other international workshops included a conference "Globalization of the financial system and inter-regional criteria for its sustainable development," organized by the Turkmen government together with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which gathered representatives of World Bank, EBRD, IDB, ADB, the International Finance Corporation, Citibank, Deutsche Bank, China Development Bank, Turkish Central Bank, national banks of Switzerland and Belgium, and other majors. Participants discussed issues such as the changes in the global financial system and their consequences for the countries of Central Asia and Caucasus. Junior Achievement Worldwide, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and Chevron Nebitgaz organized the seminar “Standards and Quality in Hospitality Industry: International Experience and its Application in Turkmenistan,” which was held in the Avaza resort on the Caspian coast. Berdymukhamedov toys with the idea of turning Avaza into a resort that would compete with Spanish or Greek resorts. Last summer he said that, "the time is coming when our tourism zone will seriously compete with global tourist brands, making Turkmenistan among the most competitive tourism states." But Turkmenistan remains a closed country, difficult to access for foreigners. Since most of Turkmenistan’s population lives below poverty line, few citizens of the country will be able to afford to spend their holidays at Avaza, save for some of the country’s elite.

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Turkmenistan Weekly News Analysis

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