Moscow Moves to Consolidate Control in Belarus and Turkmenistan
Russia's political manipulation of its key position in Eurasian strategic resource networks and markets is once again making headlines. The Kremlin's recent actions in Turkmenistan and Belarus demonstrate two aspects of Moscow's unitary policy that seeks to secure and expand Russia's leadership in European, Caucasian and Central Asian energy security. If Moscow succeeds in attaining all of its goals in the two former Soviet states, the implications for the European Union and the United States will be significant.
Moscow Aims to Play More Dominant Role in Turkmenistan
Following the death of former Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov on December 21, Moscow immediately moved to enhance its political influence in the gas-rich Central Asian country. Turkmenistan plays an important, if not decisive, role in Russia's energy strategy since much of the natural gas that Russian energy giant Gazprom sells to Ukraine (a country that functions as a gateway between Russia and Central Europe) comes from Turkmenistan.
While Russia is not the only foreign power at work in expanding political and economic ties with Ashgabat, it appears to have rapidly gained the upper hand in a game that involves China, Iran, the European Union, and the United States. According to the latest available Turkmen sources, the interim authorities in Ashgabat, led by Acting President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, are attempting to strengthen Turkmenistan's ties with Moscow and its monopolist energy corporation Gazprom.
The provisional rulers in Turkmenistan need strong regional support in order to deal with potential political enemies on the way to the presidential elections scheduled for February 11, 2007. Turkmenistan's recent political history can be characterized as a state with a bogus post-Soviet democracy -- reduced to the mere electoral event, which is also strictly controlled and manipulated -- and severe infringements of basic human rights.
Free press is virtually non-existent, and, according to a modus operandi that is reminiscent of Joseph Stalin's preemptive purges, Niyazov's ruling clan successfully eliminated all potential political rivals even before they could attempt to seriously question his autocratic rule in the period of 1991-2006.
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