Washington's Game in Turkmenistan
by Mike Whitney
www.zmag.org, December 27, 2006
Did Turkmenistan's President, Saparmurat
Niyazov, really die of cardiac arrest or is he just latest victim
of Bush's "regime change" epidemic?
That may sound paranoid, but it's easy
to be skeptical of an administration which openly promotes torture,
"extraordinary rendition" and "targeted assassination"
as sound foreign policy. These practices indicate that moral restraint
is not high on the list of Bush priorities.
Besides, Niyazov met all the criteria
for regime change; he controlled massive natural gas reserves
and he refused to take orders directly from Washington. Typically,
these are the only factors which matter when Bush decides which
leader is next on his "hit list".
Niyazov was probably on the same "Enemies
List" as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chavez and Saddam Hussein,
the other foreign leaders whose only crime is that they control
vital supplies of dwindling resources. Like his contemporaries,
Niyazov represented an obstacle to the American oil giants extending
their corporate empire through Central Asia and the Middle East.
Now that he's dead, the power struggle can begin in earnest.
Turkmenistan has reserves which amount
to a whopping 22.5 trillion cubic meters, the second largest supplies
in Asia. Nearly all of Turkmenistan's gas is pumped through Russian
energy giant Gazprom's pipelines. As economist Mikail Delyagin
said, "Because of Gazprom's mismanagement, the European part
of Russia cannot exist without Turkmen gas. Control over it is
a categorical imperative for Russia's development during the next
10 years". (Victor Yasmann RFE/RL Current Affairs)
Disruption of gas supplies from Turkmenistan
would be a severe blow to Gazprom's economic vitality. This ensures
that Putin will be deeply involved in the selection of the country's
future president. It also sets the stage for another clash between
Moscow and Washington.
The Bush administration's objectives in
Turkmenistan are the exact opposite of Putin's. The Bush team
wants to build a pipeline under the Caspian Sea to pump natural
gas reserves to the West through Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and
out the Mediterranean corridor or down through Bush's "new
colony" in Afghanistan through Pakistan to the coast. If
the Bush plan goes forward it would be a major setback to Gazprom
which depends on Turkmenistan's gas to supply Ukraine and Europe.
As Stratford says, "Without those shipments, Russian state
energy firm Gazprom would find it impossible to satisfy both domestic
Russian natural gas demand and fulfill its export contracts to
Europe and Turkey".
The administration's plan would also sabotage
Niyazov's prior commitments to China which has signed contracts
for a pipeline to bring natural gas through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
China's future depends heavily on Turkmenistan. According to Alex
Nicholson of the AP, "Niyazov promised to pipe 30 billion
cubic meters of gas beginning January 2009. (China) also won an
invitation last month to tap the giant Iolotan fields, which the
late president declared, contained 7 trillion cubic meters of
natural gas-or more than even Saudi Arabia's proven reserves."
"7 trillion cubic meters of natural
No wonder the Bush administration is paving
the way for intervention.
At the very least, Niyazov's death has
turned out to be another "great opportunity" for Uncle
Sam and it looks like Bush may have already put the pieces in
place to take full advantage of it.
For example, as soon as Niyazov's death
was announced, his second in command, Ovez Atayev, was removed
from power by Deputy Prime Minister, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov,
under the trumped charges of "harassing and humiliating his
daughter in law". The charge is blatantly absurd and politically
motivated. But is Washington behind it?
The elimination of Ovez Atayev is just
the first of the many fortunate "coincidences" which
seem to benefit western interests. Now that the president is dead
and his successor is under indictment, there are reports that
a number of prominent ex-patriots will soon be returning to Turkmenistan
to take part in the political "free-for-all".
Haven't we seen this performance before?
Much of what is taking place in Turkmenistan
resembles the Bush-script for toppling Saddam and replacing him
with expatriate stooges who were assembled and briefed outside
of the country before the 2003 invasion. Is this just a reenactment
of that same worn libretto?
The media, of course, is playing its traditional
role of championing Washington's interventions by demanding "free
elections"; another comical part of the Bush-kabuki which
never seems to change. Turkmenistan has no history of free elections,
but the western press sees an opportunity to serve its constituents
by fomenting dramatic political change; change that is designed
to install a US-friendly client. Once again, Bush's "Global
Democratic Revolution" is being invoked to strengthen America's
grip in Central Asia.
If we look back at the "color coded"
revolutions which were orchestrated by American NGOs and American
intelligence agencies, we can see that (despite the planning and
huge commitment of financial resources) they accomplished nothing
of lasting value. Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan are back within Russia's
orbit and Georgia will soon follow. (or lose access to Russia's
Eurasia is Russia and China's backyard
and they've build up the necessary defenses to keep Washington
out. Bush can waste-away in Afghanistan for another 5 or 6 years
dreaming of "victory", but his "Grand Plan"
for the region is basically in ruins. The United States will not
prevail in Central Asia any more than it will in Iraq.
Nevertheless, the plan is going forward
and Bush apparently has the requisite agents in place to give
him hope for success. According the RIA Novosti, "Many people
in the former president's inner circle were oriented towards Europe."
The power struggle is bound to be ferocious
and Washington is preparing to be right in the thick of it. Bush
has little choice but to do everything he can to establish an
American stronghold in Eurasia's energy-center. The geopolitical
stakes are just too high to ignore. The country is perfectly situated
between Russia and Iran on the Caspian Sea. In fact, the Pentagon's
own maps show Turkmenistan at the very center of CENTCOM's global
resource war; a pivotal location for military installations and
pipeline corridors. It provides ready-access to an estimated 2
trillion in oil reserves in the Caspian Sea as well as the massive
natural gas supplies.
At the same time, a US-friendly president
in Ashgabat could block arch-rival Gazprom from extending its
dominance throughout the region by handing over critical gas reserves
to western energy corporations.
This is not a battle that the Washington
warlords can afford to lose, but victory will not be easy. Neither
Iran nor Russia can allow Bush to take over Turkmenistan without
a fight. Iran would be surrounded on all sides by the US and cut
off from its neighbors to the north by hostile American forces.
At the same time, US military bases would be set up even closer
to the Iranian capital of Tehran.
For Russia, an American client in Turkmenistan
would be a stiff challenge to its role as the region's superpower;
creating the looming possibility that NATO would get an even bigger
foothold in Central Asia and threaten the delicate balance of
Turkmenistan is a key piece in the new
"Great Game"; the ongoing struggle for supremacy in
Central Asia. Whether Washington played a part in Niyazov's untimely
death or not is almost irrelevant. The Bush-Cheney oiligarchy
have demonstrated a willingness to fight-to-the-death for every
thimbleful of oil or natural gas left on planet earth. This makes
the likelihood of a sudden eruption of violence in Turkmenistan
all the more probable.
As the weeks go by, we can expect to see
the usual indications of US involvement; the CIA-funded public
demonstrations, the "democracy promoting" coverage in
the media, and the comical parade of ex-patriots who matriculated
in US right-wing think tanks. The whole charade is being cobbled
together as part of a failed strategy to control the world's remaining
The faces may change, but the routine
is always the same.
While attending Niyazov's Soviet-style
funeral, US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher said
that the president's death signaled "a new beginning"
in relations, and that, he "hoped Turkmenistan would reform,
move towards democracy and curtail human rights abuse."
Once again, "Democracy is on the