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Cablegate: Turkmenistan: Engage, Engage, Engage

VZCZCXRO4566
PP RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHDF RUEHIK RUEHLH RUEHLN RUEHLZ
RUEHPW RUEHROV RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHAH #0801/01 1790401
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 270401Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY ASHGABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1047
INFO RUCNCLS/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHAD/AMEMBASSY ABU DHABI PRIORITY 0374
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA PRIORITY 3940
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 1757
RUEHKL/AMEMBASSY KUALA LUMPUR PRIORITY 0173
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL PRIORITY 0055
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 1624
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL PRIORITY 2193
RHMFIUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEBAAA/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAWJA/DOJ WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
RUEHNO/USMISSION USNATO PRIORITY 1366
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE PRIORITY 2625
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 0796
RHEHAAA/WHITE HOUSE WASHDC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 06 ASHGABAT 000801

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

FROM CHARGE D'AFFAIRES RICHARD HOAGLAND
STATE FOR P, S/P, E, G, R, SCA/FO, SCA/CEN, DRL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM KDEM RS CH TX
SUBJECT: TURKMENISTAN: ENGAGE, ENGAGE, ENGAGE

REF: A. ASHGABAT 0363
B. ASHGABAT 0223
C. 07 ASHGABAT 0873
D. 07 ASHGABAT 0779
E. 07 ASHGABAT 0778

1. (U) Sensitive but unclassified. Not for public Internet.

2. (SBU) Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the
fundamentals of U.S. policy in Central Asia have remained
consistent and on-target: to advocate political and economic
reform as the keystone of America's strategic interests.
After 17 years, the countries have differentiated themselves,
even if they share many common values, and the world has
changed. Russia is no longer the passive basket case it was
in the 1990s, and China is now extending it's economic power
into the region. As we look at what we can achieve in the
homestretch of this Administration, it is time seriously to
refocus our approach to Central Asia. In some ways, over the
years, we have begun to let ideology trump reality. I
suggest it's time to reverse that formula.

THE RUSSIA PROBLEM

3. (SBU) In the decade after Central Asian independence, we
didn't need to take Russia much into account. We in practice
assigned Central Asia, the back-water of the Soviet Union, to
back-burner status. However, 9/11, a newly assertive and
increasingly wealthy Russia, the danger of Iran, the
fragility of Afghanistan, and increased energy diplomacy
require us to reassess our attention to Central Asia.

4. (SBU) During Vladimir Putin's first term as president of
Russia, he asserted what the Kremlin called the "near abroad"
(the former Soviet Socialist Republics) as Russia's special
sphere of influence, which if taken to its zero-sum extreme
would make them minimally sovereign satellite dependencies of
Russia. The "color revolutions" in Georgia, Ukraine, and
Kyrgyzstan dramatically heightened Russian paranoia that the
ultimate U.S. goal was to overthrow existing governments,
install pro-Western regimes, and encircle, weaken, and,
ultimately, break up Russia. By 2004, a flood of Russian
black propaganda, both overt and covert, began to brand U.S.
democracy organizations as fronts for covert operations to
implement "color revolutions." Some Central Asian
governments, buying into this propaganda, began to crack down
on organizations like the National Democratic Institute,
Freedom House, and Human Rights Watch. This, in turn,
contributed to U.S. attitudes hardening against Central
Asia's regimes.

5. (SBU) With Russian economic recovery, and then with the
skyrocketing price of oil, Russia accelerated its effort to
buy up Central Asian strategic infrastructure, and especially
for Gazprom to seal its long-term monopoly on Central Asian
natural gas and export pipelines. However, the Central Asian
states have come to value and protect their independence.
Like all post-colonial states, they will naturally maintain
close, if wary, relations with the former metropolitan power,
but they don't much like Russia's inveterate heavy-handedness
and even less its intransigent racism.


ASHGABAT 00000801 002 OF 006


THE CHINA FACTOR

6. (U) Since Central Asian independence, we have preached
that economic and political reform go hand-in-hand, that
ultimately one is not possible without the other. In
general, that has been true in Western history, including in
the more recent examples in Central Europe and the Baltics
that had a European heritage. But it's not necessarily true
in Central Asia that never experienced the European
Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment that are the
essential philosophical foundations for Western democracy.

7. (SBU) The Chinese example of the past decade has given
the Central Asian states a powerful new model: economic
strength and wealth-building without political reform. For
Central Asian presidents and the elite who support them,
whose sometimes self-serving mantra seems to be "stability,
stability, stability," the Chinese model is more attractive
than the "messiness of democracy." In the longer term, a
true Central Asian middle class might well begin to demand
greater political plurality, more freedom of expression, and
a greater say in governance. But that process is
generational, as we have seen in Kyrgyzstan, which in the
1990s was considered the most progressive of the Central
Asian states, which experienced a "color revolution" in 2005,
but which, in the end, is not much better than any of the
rest.

TURKMENISTAN

8. (SBU) In Central Asia, Turkmenistan is a special case.
From the mid-1990s until the end of 2006, it was very much
the odd-man-out because of its repressive and xenophobic
dictatorship. The first president of Turkmenistan,
Saparmurad Niyazov (1991-2006), who styled himself
Turkmenbashy ("Father of the Turkmen"), was a Soviet-style,
totalitarian despot who established an eccentric personality
cult, increasingly sank into paranoia and xenophobia, and
turned his government -- and, thus, his nation -- into an
international laughing stock and pariah. When I led the
U.S.-Russia Consultations on the Caucasus and Central Asia
(2001-2003), we would come to Turkmenistan, and both sides --
Moscow and Washington alike -- would simply roll their eyes
and move on to the next topic. Under President Gurbanguly
Berdimuhamedov (inaugurated February 14, 2007), Turkmenistan
is authoritarian, but at peace with its neighbors and with
reformist potential, and seeks to reclaim a respected place
in the family of nations. But deeply scarred by its past,
and hugely lacking experience and ability, Turkmenistan can
and will move only at its own pace.

TURKMENISTAN'S CONSTRAINTS: IMAGE

9. (SBU) Turkmenistan's biggest constraint, after its
stultifying isolation and the debilitating lack of ability
among its officials (not all, but many) is simply but
enormously its reputation. It will take many years to
overcome its many negative stereotypes. One Senior Foreign
Service Officer who has never set foot in contemporary
Turkmenistan but who should know better, archly called
Turkmenistan "the ickiest of all the Ickystans!" It's a
quick laugh line but a poor guide to policy.

ASHGABAT 00000801 003 OF 006

10. (SBU) Turkmenistan does itself no favors by making it
hard for international journalists to enter and report from
the country. It's not impossible, but it takes gumption and
persistence. One who has done so and who has reported
honestly and objectively in the last six months is the BBC's
Natalia Antelava. But too many still parachute in and report
the brainless "lots of white marble and spooky empty streets"
articles. Yes, there's lots of white marble. No the streets
are not empty, at least not if you go one block off the
ceremonial boulevards.

11. (SBU) The Turkmen opposition websites in Moscow and
Europe, which some NGOs and some U.S. government offices rely
on, are another problem. Run by exiles who have never been
in post-Niyazov Turkmenistan (and we speculate some of these
websites might possibly be infiltrated by the Russian special
services), they exaggerate bits of gossip -- most infamously,
the idiotic cockroach-on-the-newsreader's-desk-leads-to-p urge
fantasy that even National Public Radio broadcast as "too
good to check." A similar canard is the recent assertion
that Berdimuhamedov has banned Western clothes and forced
Turkmen women into head-to-toe traditional dress. We still
see regular and sniggering references to President
Berdimuhamedov as "Niyazov's former dentist who might be his
illegitimate son."

12. (SBU) In Turkmenistan, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
(RFE/RL) has a special problem. At its best -- and it does
indeed often do good work as I saw in Tajikistan -- RFE/RL is
a "surrogate" source of news and information in countries
that bend and distort the truth and deny open discussion. In
recent years, in too many cases in Central Asia -- and this
is especially true in Turkmenistan -- RFE/RL has hired
dissidents, sometimes even cranks (one threatened in
frustration to blow up a police station in Ashgabat), rather
than reasonably professional journalists. This simply feeds
the maw of the Russian propaganda machine, and, as a result,
RFE/RL has picked up the negative sobriquet of Radio Oppo.
Governments like Turkmenistan's, with whom we conscientiously
and persistently engage on human rights, including freedom of
information, sometimes ask why they should tolerate, let
alone legally register, a radio service not just lacking
objectivity but also, as they perceive it, dedicated to
undermining stability and overthrowing their government.
When we advocate strongly for RFE/RL, we, sad to say, lose a
degree of credibility on the larger democracy and human
rights issues.

TURKMENISTAN'S CONSTRAINTS: HISTORY AND PSYCHOLOGY

13. (SBU) Turkmenistan is in the earliest stages of
transition from its 20th-century Soviet experience and its
debilitating dictatorship. When pressed on Western values,
Turkmen officials are wont to remind us that they are subject
to the "oriental mindset." To many of us, this smacks of
facile rationalization. In fact, there's something to it.
At a fundamental level, it is a recognition that Central Asia
does not have the long-established institutions of the West
that facilitate and support democratic civil society. It
also accounts for other things we find annoying -- especially
their profound aversion to saying "no" to suggestions and

ASHGABAT 00000801 004 OF 006


proposals and their consequent strong preference simply not
to answer. And sometimes silence means their equivalent of
an interagency process is grinding away. The imperative for
U.S. policymakers is to recognize when silence really does
mean "no," and then hold back on our efforts until a more
propitious time. Brow-beating in a culture that puts great
emphasis on "face" and "respect" gets us nowhere. We need to
discern better when to make tactical retreats until we have
built stronger relationships of trust. Those relationships
will, however, develop over time and with repeated high-level
contact.

TURKMENISTAN'S REALITIES

14. (SBU) Within four hours of Niyazov's death, one of his
deputy prime ministers, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, was
anointed before dawn on December 27, 2006, as the consensus
choice of the Turkmen ruling elite. They knew what had gone
badly wrong under Niyazov and wanted a new direction, while
maintaining peace and stability. President Berdimuhamedov
has started to

-- rebuild (but not yet reform) the education system Niyazov
had devastated (he once said, "A dim people are easier
ruled");

-- renovate the health-care system Niyazov had gutted;

-- reinstitute pensions Niyazov had cancelled and kick-start
rural development;

-- reopen Turkmenistan to the world and repair relations with
neighboring countries;

-- undertake economic reforms to create a market economy and
encourage entrepreneurs to create small and medium businesses;

-- bring Turkmenistan up to international human-rights
standards;

-- open Turkmenistan's world-class hydrocarbon deposits
(mostly natural gas) to international investment and
development; and, concurrently,

-- begin to break the Russian Gazprom monopoly on
Turkmenistan's hydrocarbon exports.

15. (U) Within 48 hours of Niyazov's death, the U.S.
government crafted a forward-leaning policy that offered to
engage with Turkmenistan to the fullest degree Turkmenistan
was willing (and able) to engage with the United States. In
practice, our daily effort has been to exercise the patience
necessary to move at Turkmenistan's own pace, so long as it
moves generally in the right direction. This policy has
proved to be wise. In the last 17 months, Berdimuhamedov has

-- reaffirmed Turkmenistan's UN-approved "permanent
neutrality," and has conscientiously balanced Turkmenistan's
relations among the major global and regional powers --
Russia, China, the United States, the European Union, and
Iran -- without favoring one too much over the others;


ASHGABAT 00000801 005 OF 006


-- received over 500 diplomatic and business delegations --
the United States alone has sent more delegations since
Berdimuhamedov's inauguration than it did in the previous six
years;

-- traveled broadly internationally to build diplomatic
relationships, and repaired frozen relations with neighbors
Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan;

-- sought increasingly to play a positive role to stabilize
and reconstruct Afghanistan;

-- created and empowered a number of government think tanks
to review legislation and propose new policies, especially
for fiscal responsibility, economic reform, empowerment of
entrepreneurs, and human rights -- of these, the star in the
crown so far is the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights;
and

-- reformulated his economic team to achieve reform results
and has begun working productively with the international
financial institutions, and has begun infrastructure renewal
projects to benefit the provincial centers and the more
isolated rural populations.

16. (SBU) Despite this enormous change in such a relatively
short time, Turkmenistan does not meet our standards:

-- it listens to us, but certainly not exclusively;

-- it is secretive and sometimes makes bone-headed decisions
we have to try to walk back;

-- it is a one-party state without separation of powers and
does not have even a glimmer of independent media;

-- it is leery of empowering civil society for fear of
engendering instability and losing control of its fragile
progress; and

-- it is inevitably a creature of its Soviet legacy and,
thus, is wildly corrupt by Western standards.

17. (SBU) Because of the Niyazov era, Turkmenistan is
starting from even less than zero, below where the other
Central Asian states were at independence in 1991.
Turkmenistan matters strategically because it is one of the
five littoral states of the Caspian Sea and possesses
enormous natural gas deposits. Two of the other
hydrocarbon-rich Caspian states, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan,
have long been making a credible effort on financial and
economic reform, and are reasonably pro-Western. We should
nurture the U.S.-Turkmenistan relationship so that Ashgabat,
Astana, and Baku form at the least an informal,
self-confident bloc with which we can work.

WHAT TO DO: ENGAGE, ENGAGE, ENGAGE

18. (SBU) The U.S.-Turkmenistan relationship will never grow
any faster than President Berdimuhamedov and his circle want
it to grow. But we can accelerate that pace through
significantly greater engagement with him. By this I do not

ASHGABAT 00000801 006 OF 006


mean greater resources for assistance and exchange projects
-- although we most certainly do very badly need that; the
consistently falling budgets are shamefully
counter-productive.

19. (SBU) What is needed is more frequent and sustained
face-to-face engagement at very high levels. This is crucial
because in an Asian (and post-Soviet) society like
Turkmenistan's, all boils down to relationships-of-trust and
building "face." This is not acquiescing to despotism; it's
engaging with reality to achieve a longer-term greater
objective. It is reality versus dogma.

20. (SBU) Our democratic ideals can be implemented but they
cannot be imposed -- especially where the institutions to
support them do not exist. And they do not now nor have they
ever really existed in Central Asia. The Soviets and Niyazov
so devastated Turkmen society that we can expect no quick
embraces of democratic structures. Niyazov drove out the
educated elites who would be the nucleus of democratic
reform. We cannot, moreover, automatically expect Central
Asian governments to welcome or even to tolerate those
organizations that Russian black propaganda has branded as
"color revolutionaries," especially when we never much fought
back against that propaganda in the first place.

21. (SBU) The implication for us is that we need to shy away
from list-making and public embarrassments and give every
effort instead to precise application of effective measures.
In Turkmenistan, as USAID is already doing successfully, that
means working at the grass roots -- with village councils,
parent-teacher associations, water-user collectives, farmers'
cooperatives, and anything else at the most fundamental level
where people need to be convinced they can shake off 80 years
of the Soviet legacy that turned them into passive cynics.
If we can be patient enough to work "slow and low," democracy
will prevail.

22. (SBU) I believe Turkmenistan is on an upward trajectory
toward international standards, but it will not ever move at
our desired pace. We need to be firm without lecturing:
what is tough-minded in our eyes can appear by Turkmen
standards of reality to be ill-informed, supercilious, and
ideologically arrogant. Equally important, it gives Russia
ammunition to label our altruistic efforts as "democracy
bolshevism." Most to the point, when we limit attention to
and contact with a country like Turkmenistan because of
ideological touchpoints, we cut off our noses to spite our
faces. We simply cannot afford anymore to limit our
engagement because they have not achieved quickly what we
have advocated. To achieve our long-term goals of human
dignity and freedom for all, we need to let reality trump
dogma. We need to pursue our national interests with a
maximum of creativity, intelligence, and flexibility. We
need to engage frequently -- candidly and consistently -- at
the highest levels.
HOAGLAND

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