Turkmenistan To Launch Satellite to Escape Russian Dependency
In time for its 20th anniversary of independence, Turkmenistan held a ceremony to announce its plan to launch a communications satellite into space, ITAR-TASS reported.
Thales International Vice-President Blaise Jaeger presented a model of the satellite last week to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.
Berdymukhamedov announced plans for Turkmenistan's space program back in 2009, saying the satellite would be used to "accelerate the development of the country's communication systems, Internet and television, promote environmental programs and survey of new deposits, and assist successful implementation of some other state programs," turkmenistan.ru quoted him as saying at the time. (In covering the story this month, ITAR-TASS left out the words "communications systems" and "television" when citing Berdymukhamedov's quote about the satellite from 2009.)
Apparently these thing take time. It wasn't until May 2011 that the Turkmen leader founded the Turkmen National Space Agency, and Christophe Bauer, vice president of the U.S. company SpaceX said at a Turkmen-US business forum that his company would launch the Turkmen satellite in 2014, says ITAR-TASS.
A Gazprom Space Systems satellite has been providing digital TV and broadcast of Russian TV programs. Turkish TV is also available. Satellite dishes abound in Turkmenistan, as EurasiaNet's David Trilling has reported, and have been an important tool of Russia's influence.
But Berdymukhamedov wants to get rid of Russian TV's effect on his population, and its (relatively) more free coverage of world news events, including those in his own country, like the Abadan explosion. Two words might describe his main motivation: "Arab Spring."
Last December, the Turkmen dictator pulled the plug on MTS, the Russian mobile telephone company that had 2.4 million customers, nearly half the Turkmen population, some able to reach the Internet with this service. MTS' 5-year contract had expired, and Russian executives were unable to negotiate a renewal with a Turkmen ministry demanding more control of ownership. Berdymukhamedov has also repeatedly complained about satellite dishes on buildings, saying they ruin the view, and has begun touting the wonders of domestic cable TV and promising more sports programming with a new channel.
With its own satellite, and a possible end to Russian TV, Turkmenistan could presumably completely control its airwaves -- and the impressions of its subjects. It's not certain how far the government will go, and how much citizens will fight back, as they have ignored admonitions to remove their satellite dishes from homes before, and have been inventive about getting news in and out of their isolated country.