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Cablegate: Understanding Turkmenistan: Descent Into Fantasy

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PP RUEHAG RUEHDBU RUEHDF RUEHIK RUEHLN RUEHLZ RUEHROV RUEHVK RUEHYG
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ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 060615Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY ASHGABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9124
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA 2624
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RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL 0943
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RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 0156
RUEHKP/AMCONSUL KARACHI 0205
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 0127
RUEHLH/AMCONSUL LAHORE 0141
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 0166
RUEHPW/AMCONSUL PESHAWAR 0479
RHMFIUU/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL//CCJ2/HSE/CCJ5//
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC//DHO-2/REA/NMJIC-J2//
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
RHEBAAA/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ASHGABAT 000778

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR P, E, R, SCA, EUR, DRL

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM ECON EINV KDEM RS TX
SUBJECT: UNDERSTANDING TURKMENISTAN: DESCENT INTO FANTASY
-- THE NIYAZOV ERA

ASHGABAT 00000778 001.2 OF 003


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

2. (U) This is a two-part series. This first part reviews
the Niyazov era and how he dragged his country into
international disrepute. The second part suggests policy
directions for Washington to consider, and reviews current
constraints that will make Turkmenistan's recovery a
long-term process.

AN EYEWITNESS TO HISTORY

3. (SBU) Ashgabat-based EU-TACIS Commission Adviser Michael
Wilson has worked in the former Soviet Union since 1985 and
in Turkmenistan since its independence in 1991. In the early
1990s, the Government of Turkmenistan welcomed him as an
EU-appointed foreign adviser in the Cabinet of Ministers for
reform and integration with the West. While Wilson certainly
has no love for Niyazov, his historical perspective provides
a different view of the tragi-comic-book version of reality
Turkmenistan eventually became under Niyazov.

DESCENT INTO FANTASY

4. (SBU) Wilson maintains Turkmenistan at independence had
especially good prospects for quickly joining the
international community. As a far outpost of the Soviet
Empire, it had not been especially exploited by, or even had
very much contact with, the West. Even as a former Soviet
colony, it retained much of its pre-Soviet social and
political culture.

5. (SBU) Wilson insists President Niyazov was very different
in Turkmenistan's first years of independence from the
commonly perceived madman he became by the end of his life.
As an orphan, Niyazov had risen in the Soviet ranks by
obediently learning his lessons well and keeping his mouth
shut. According to Wilson, "Niyazov was a top-of-the-class
student of Stalin. He was not a dim-witted functionary. To
rise in that system, especially as a non-ethnic Russian, he
couldn't have been the village idiot."

6. (SBU) In the first several years after independence,
according to Wilson, Niyazov was a forward-looking and benign
ruler eager to open to the West. He allowed his ministers
and other senior officials to make their own decisions. "The
new Western embassies and businesses simply picked up the
phone and easily made appointments with anyone at all,"
instead of today's onerous system of diplomatic-note requests
through the Foreign Ministry for even the most minor contact
with the government. Unfortunately, Niyazov also empowered
his early ministers to make contracts with foreign
businesses, without any system of oversight or control.

7. (U) During the Soviet Empire, the KGB had maintained a
sort of warped equilibrium within the society and was
permissive, up to a certain point, about "corruption." And
corruption was endemic -- e.g., double book-keeping, minor to
even flagrant pilfering -- the long-established everyday way
of surviving in a fundamentally dysfunctional ideological
system. When the Soviet Union fell apart, the KGB lost its
essential role as the governor on the throttle of corruption.

8. (SBU) According to Wilson, Western business people

ASHGABAT 00000778 002.2 OF 003


flocked to every newly independent republic, and Turkmenistan
was no exception. Some of these people were legitimate, but
there were also a lot of third-rate fly-by-nighters,
including Americans, who had no compunction against bribery
or any other flagrant violation of Western business
standards, if it meant a few more dollars in their
hucksterish pockets.

9. (SBU) One of the legitimate businesses in those early
days was the Argentina-based energy company, Bridas
Corporation, which got one of the first toe-holds in
Turkmenistan's world-class hydrocarbon sector. According to
Wilson, the first several years of the Bridas-Turkmenistan
relationship were positive, especially because Bridas
officials understood, or at least intuited, the Turkmenistani
cultural need to treat Niyazov as a personal friend. But
they had no cultural comprehension of what that "friendship"
truly entailed. In the mid-1990s, when Niyazov decided to
renegotiate the Bridas production sharing agreement more
toward Turkmenistan's favor, Bridas balked. Wilson maintains
that to Niyazov, this was a shattering violation of the
traditional Turkmenistani value of obligations "between
friends." With his narrow Central Asian vision, Niyazov saw
personal betrayal by Bridas -- and, thus, by the West.

10. (SBU) At the same period, Wilson maintains, Niyazov took
increasing note that he had a government of wildly corrupt
ministers enriching themselves beyond his control. With his
Soviet Union political underpinnings gone and the Soviet KGB
in disarray, Niyazov reverted to the only other thing he knew
-- the Central Asian historical memory of absolutist khans,
which happened to mesh well with his Stalinist political
heritage. He didn't want to -- and couldn't -- run back to
Russia, and he believed "the West" had betrayed him. He
began to kick out the more minor Western businesses and
demanded absolute fealty from his minions. His constant
railing against corruption in his government was not
necessarily sheer hypocrisy, because he exiled his own
shockingly corrupt son to Europe and never let him return
permanently to Turkmenistan.

11. (SBU) What about Niyazov's own corruption -- his massive
diamond rings and multi-billion-dollar slush funds in foreign
bank accounts? According to Wilson, Niyazov blindly, by our
standards, didn't see this as corruption but simply his
"droits de seigneur" because he was by then the khan, the
Turkmenbashy, the Father of all Turkmen, the apex of the
pyramid. In Niyazov's own view, he held the wealth of the
entire nation in trust for his people. And, of course, as
khan, he had the right to dip into that wealth as he pleased.
Thus, his white-marble edifice complex that has turned
Ashgabat into one of the oddest capitals in the world.

12. (SBU) Two other seminal events may have pushed Niyazov
over the cliff: the 2002 attempted coup d'etat against him,
in which his own foreign minister was allegedly implicated;
and his late 1990s heart by-pass surgery (it's generally
accepted that such surgery can sometimes negatively affect
the patient's subsequent mental equilibrium).

13. (SBU) By the end of his life in December 2006, Niyazov
had become a malevolent buffoon to the international
community and to many of his own people, and it became common

ASHGABAT 00000778 003.2 OF 003


practice to write off Turkmenistan as "Stalin's Disneyland."

14. (U) The second part of this series will attempt to look
objectively at today's Turkmenistan.
HOAGLAND

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