The Gas Lion

turkmenistan.jpgHuman rights abuses in Turkmenistan, Central Asia’s largest gas producer as a presumed primary contributor to the proposed Nabucco pipeline, are just as prolific under a new president as they were under Saparmurat Niyazov, who ruled the country with an iron fist for 21 years, reports Amnesty International in a new report.

“The list of human rights violations is long: clampdown on dissent, unfair trials, internal exile, enforced disappearances all continue two years after the government’s pledges to improve the human rights situation. Unless it takes immediate measures, there will be little to distinguish the present government from the previous one,” said Nicola Duckworth, AI’s Europe and Central Asia Program Director.

The report is interesting, given the number of rival governments trying to access the country’s massive gas supplies-the world’s fifth largest-and since two-thirds of Turkmen gas goes through Gazprom, whose tacit sponsorship of this cloistered regime is rivaled only by the EU’s plan to hijack it. As energy demands increase in Europe, such human rights/energy access paradoxes are destined to become a thorny issue. Today, for example, Czeck Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek discussed gas supplies for Europe with officials in Turkmenistan, Reuters reports, in a meeting (perhaps not coincidentally) off limits to Western media. In a recent report, BusinessWeek tells of how the first mention of the global financial crisis in the Turkmen media didn’t come until November 26, weeks after the story had broke.

“Turkmenistan managed to avoid the influence of the global financial crisis,” said Vice Prime Minister for Economy and Finance Khojamyrat Geldimuradov laconically.

Writes BusinessWeek:

“According to Watan [the national news broadcast], ‘Geldimuradov emphasized that [Turkmenistan’s]economy is part of the global economic system.’ An interesting way todescribe a country that has an official state agency for managinginternational trade, no ATMs, only a half dozen hotels accepting creditcards, and a tightly controlled currency. There is probably no countrywhose importance to the world’s resource markets – in this case due tomassive natural gas reserves – is so far removed from its level ofparticipation in the world’s financial markets.

“On the surface, as usual, Turkmenistan strives to project the image ofa booming young nation. While there are few or no reliable economicstatistics available, facts on the ground suggest that the same trendsthat marked the first 18 months of the Berdymukhammedov regime continueto hold true: cities are booming with new construction funded by energyexports, but virtually nothing in outlying regions. All of this is theresult of government, rather than private, initiative.”