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Cablegate: Turkmenistan: A Turkish Businessman Worries

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OO RUEHAG RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHDBU RUEHLH RUEHPW RUEHROV
DE RUEHAH #1014/01 2671135
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 241135Z SEP 07
FM AMEMBASSY ASHGABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9418
INFO RUCNCLS/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA PRIORITY 2791
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 0613
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 0489
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL PRIORITY 1067
RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEBAAA/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEHVEN/USMISSION USOSCE PRIORITY 1783
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 0566

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ASHGABAT 001014

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/24/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR ECON EPET KDEM TU AJ KZ RS TX
SUBJECT: TURKMENISTAN: A TURKISH BUSINESSMAN WORRIES

REF: ASHGABAT 1008

ASHGABAT 00001014 001.2 OF 003


Classified By: CHARGE RICHARD E. HOAGLAND FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D)

1. (C) SUMMARY: Turkish Businessman and Turkmenistan
insider Ahmet Chalik (protect throughout) describes President
Berdimuhamedov as weak because he is beholden to outside
interests, principally Russian. He says Turkey's Prime
Minister Erdogan and President Gul are eager to promote a
trilateral energy summit involving Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan,
and Turkmenistan. Chalik insists for Turkmenistan to succeed
as a relatively normal, independent country, it needs to
institute democracy, an open economy, and rule of law. While
Chalik's views on Berdimuhamedov may be idiosyncratic, they
are worth considering because of his 15 years as an insider
in Turkmenistan. However, the fact that he has lost his
most-favored status since former President Niyazov's death
may be coloring his views. END SUMMARY.

2. (C) During a nearly four-hour dinner in Istanbul on
September 19, Ahmet Chalik, founder and President of Chalik
Holding and with 15 years experience in Turkmenistan,
discussed with Charge his rising concern about the government
of President Berdimuhamedov. Chalik began in invest in
Turkmenistan (textiles and construction at first, now also
energy) in 1992. Although he is a Turkish citizen, because
he was a confidante of former President Niyazov who treated
him like a son, Niyazov awarded him Turkmenistani citizenship
and made him a Vice Premier.

3. (C) Chalik said, "It's been eight months. We hear good
words (from Berdimuhamedov), but we see no actions. Nothing
has changed -- except they've taken down Niyazov's pictures
and put up Berdimuhamedov's. Turkmenistan cannot recover
from Niyazov and become a relatively normal country without
democracy, an open economy, and rule of law."

FOLLOW THE MONEY

4. (C) Charge asked, "Who is Berdimuhamedov? How was he
chosen to become president? Who put him in power?" Chalik
answered the third question, "The guys with the guns."
Chalik said he'd known Berdimuhamedov during the Niyazov era
as a "nice guy and relatively competent," but certainly no
one with a national political base or political ambitions of
his own. Chalik said those who put Berdimuhamedov in power
-- at the top of the list he named the Ministry of Defense
and the Ministry of National Security -- did it not so much
to protect their own interests as to defend the interests of
others. Asked to be more precise, Chalik chose his words
carefully and said, "To the north" (Russia). When asked if
he put any credence in rumors that Niyazov did not die a
natural death, Chalik shrugged and answered, "Follow the
money." He pointed out that Niyazov signed an agreement in
2006 allowing China to be the first major foreign power to
challenge Gazprom for Turkmenistan's on-shore natural gas.
Chalik then added, "But I can sometimes be 'oriental,'"
meaning he recognizes the attraction of conspiracy theories.

5. (C) Returning to the current political situation, Chalik
criticized Berdimuhamedov for stacking his government with
"incompetents from his own tribe," the Geok-Tepes of Ahal
Province. "At least Niyazov kept balance by giving
ministries and power positions to people from all over the
country." Chalik was especially upset that Berdimuhamedov
has removed and, in a few cases, imprisoned those whom Chalik
described as the most competent and closest to him
personally, especially the former Minister of Culture. When
asked why he did this, Chalik replied Berdimuhamedov didn't
do it on his own. "The guys with guns" who put him in power
forced his hand to make him more dependent on them.

6. (C) When Charge suggested Turkmenistan had probably
maintained the most independence from Russia of the five

ASHGABAT 00001014 002.2 OF 003


Central Asian states, Chalik replied, "Not true. On the
surface, maybe, but not behind the scenes." He explained his
view that Russia had always maintained close connections in
the power agencies in Turkmenistan, especially through the
traditional Soviet-era mafia-intelligence agencies
connection. He specifically critized Deputy Minister of
National Security Hojimurad Altayev as the key Russian
mafia(s) link in the government.

TURKEY READY TO FACILITATE TRILATERAL ENERGY SUMMIT

7. (C) On energy, Charge described Azerbaijan President
Aliyev's idea for a trilateral energy summit: Azerbaijan,
Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan. Chalik said he was well aware of
this effort and knew that Aliyev and Kazakhstan's Nazarbayev
were on board, but he said he did not know if Berdimuhamedov
had been approached yet, or if he had been, how he had
responded. Chalik said that both Prime Minister Erdogan and
President Gul, whom he had seen in recent days, were eager to
assist with the project, and that Gul had told him he would
raise this with the three presidents during his upcoming trip
to the region.

8. (C) Charge described to Chalik the USTDA offer a few days
earlier to fund a feasibility study to link the Caspian Sea
natural gas infrastructures of British Petroleum (Azerbaijan)
and Petronas (Turkmenistan) as a first step to get
Turkmenistani natural gas flowing across the South Caucasus
states, through Turkey, and on to Europe. Chalik said he
himself had already raised with Berdimuhamedov the Importance
of this infrastructure linkage, and Berdimuhamedov had seemed
interested but was unprepared to make any firm commitment,
probably, Chalik speculated, because Berdimuhamedov cannot
make this decision on his own. Charge asked if
Berdimuhamedov isn't the final decision maker on
Turkmenistan's oil and gas resources, who is -- Deputy Prime
Minister for Oil and Gas Tachberdi Tagiyev? "No, it's the
guys with guns." Still, Chalik suggested, a concerted
diplomatic effort, including by Turkey and states in the
region, might find success.

THE OLD RULES ARE GONE, THE NEW ONES UNKNOWN

9. (C) Describing the inner workings of Berdimuhamedov's
government, to the extent he knew, Chalik said there's more
unease now than under Niyazov, mainly because no one knows
the rules anymore. He said Niyazov may have become
increasingly paranoid and cruel toward the end of his life,
but at least he exercised some degree of power, as corrupted
and capricious as it might have been. People now perceive
Berdimuhamedov does not have independent power and are
unwilling to make any decisions, even to support things
Berdimuhamedov says he wants. Chalik added, "In any case,
except for maybe four or five, including the Foreign Minister
and Minister of Textiles, the ministers are timid
non-entities."

10. (C) Asked about Foreign Minister Rashit Meredov's
standing with Berdimuhamedov, Chalik replied it varies,
depending on Berdimuhamedov's psychological mood, but
fundamentally remains strong. "Berdimuhamedov needs him as
long as he maintains the appearance of an open foreign
policy. But if Meredov tries to take steps against the
hidden energy interests, he'll be out."

HOPE? EDUCATION AND ACCESS TO INFORMATION

11. (C) According to Chalik, the longer term hope for
Turkmenistan is access to international education and
international information. Charge described U.S. offers for
cooperation on educational reform and enhanced educational
exchanges, and the difficulty we have faced because of
Ministry of Education International Affairs Director Nury
Bayramov. Chalik said, "Of course. The minister doesn't

ASHGABAT 00001014 003.2 OF 003


make any decisions. It's the KGB."

12. (C) Chalik suggested it would be worth the effort to try
to get CNN-Turk broadcast in Turkmenistan.

13. (C) COMMENT: While it's clear Chalik subscribes, to a
degree, to conspiracy theories, because of his insider
experience it's worth factoring his views into the
understanding we're trying to develop of Berdimuhamedov and
his government. His is one more piece of the puzzle. The
Turkish Ambassador and other Turkish businessmen in Ashgabat
have an equally glum view of Berdimuhamedov's government and
bemoan losing long-standing contracts to Russian interests.
Perhaps they are looking for a conspiracy theory why their
bottom lines are shifting.

14. (C) COMMENT CONTINUED: Our view is somewhat different.
Yes, the new government remains fairly opaque to us, and real
change is coming very slowly, but that is the norm in the
Central Asian states and exacerbated in Turkmenistan by the
destructiveness of the Niyazov era. We see no broad and
concrete evidence that Russia is pulling all the strings
behind the scenes. In fact, Russian open-source material,
which is often officially sanctioned, is beginning to worry
more about Russia's place in Turkmenistan. The primary
concern seems to be their view that Berdimuhamedov is
postponing finalizing the Trilateral Agreement of May 12 to
refurbish and expand the Prikaspiskyy gas pipeline to Russia.
In the end, the fact that Chalik has lost his most-favored
status since former President Niyazov's death may be coloring
his views. END COMMENT.
HOAGLAND

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