The first Caspian Corridor Conference held on November 26 and hosted by London’s Lancaster House, focused on the rapidly expanding economic zone in the Caspian Corridor and attracted governments and businesses from around the world seeking to enter the region's trade and innovation sectors such as energy, infrastructure, and banking. At the same time, Moscow held a conference on the Central Asian region's security challenges. President of the Russian Council for Foreign Affairs, Igor Ivanov, opened the conference saying that, “throughout the recorded history of mankind, the Central Asian region has been one of the most difficult regions in the world security-wise.” Ivanov spoke of how the great world powers have their interests in the region, and that, “the way Central Asia develops will determine many things in neighboring regions and beyond.”
Director of Kazakhstan-based Risk Evaluation Group, Dosym Satpaev, in an interview with Tengrinews.kz, speaks of a decline of Russia’s dominant position in the region, particularly in relation to China. China is attractive to the ruling regimes of the region for its significant financial resources and capacity for lending. Outpaced by China in the contest over Turkmen gas resources, Moscow is now concentrating on blocking Western access to those resources, writes Vladimir Socor, an East European affairs analyst for the Jamestown Foundation, for AsiaTimesOnline, adding that Russia wants to cement its position as Europe’s main gas supplier. Bolstering Russia's dominant position are the challenges to the construction of new pipelines across the Caspian to supply Europe, hampered by disagreement among all of the five littoral states, as well as the lack of assurances that Turkmenistan will have the resources to meet all of its clients’ demands.
Nonetheless, the US and the EU continue to support the Trans-Caspian pipeline project and European countries continue to press for access to Turkmen energy resources. This week, European countries made overtures to Turkmenistan, from the Swedish Embassy in Turkmenistan, in a meeting of the Turkmen-Austrian business forum organized by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Turkmenistan last week, and during Ashgabat’s Days of German Economy, which brought in a delegation of representatives from major German companies including CLAAS, Wirtgen International, Hospitalia Interhational, R-Biopharm AG, Siemens AG, BASF, Wintershall Holding GmbH – Caspian Region, RWE Dea AG, Bentec, and others.
However, trade overtures from European and US governments and businesses are often tempered by those countries' expression of concern about the human rights situation in the country -- a matter about which Russia and China tend to remain silent. Illustrating how poorly human rights are regarded in the country on an almost daily basis, in the name of creating an illusion of public satisfaction and of a happy citizenry, Turkmenistan’s authorities have always compelled citizens to participate in public events to glorify the president or in national festivals, forcing even young children to rehearse outdoors in severe weather conditions and without access to water or toilets.
The Turkmenistan Human Rights Initiative reports that there have been more cases of people dying during rehearsals or at such events: a university instructor died at a cross-country fitness run, senior citizens rehearsing chants for hours before a meeting of the Council of Elders died, or after long hours of waiting for the arrival of the President, people were treated for frostbite in freezing temperatures or heat strokes in summer.
Nevertheless, these tragedies had never stopped officials responsible for organizing these events. But after the recent deaths of two students who caught pneumonia after rehearsing outside in cold weather, rehearsals for the various upcoming festivities stopped, and festivities slated to be held at stadiums across the country on the Day of Neutrality (December 12) were cancelled.