According to a new report released on December 12 and entitled “Energy and Security from the Caspian to Europe,” the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee notes that: “The next phase of the Southern Corridor would advance several US and NATO foreign policy objectives: it would further isolate Iran, assist in cultivating partners in the Caucasus and Central Asia and bolster their sovereign independence, and perhaps most importantly, curtail Russia’s energy leverage over European NATO allies.” The report argues that the Southern Corridor and Eurasian energy security “will require constant attention” by the United States and the European Union, and notes the importance of building a coalition of support around trans-Caspian gas transit.
Notwithstanding the US’ priorities, Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said this week that the US is low on the list of countries important to Turkmenistan, listing the Central Asian states as Turkmenistan’s main strategic partners, followed by Russia, and then China. The US was bundled with others that included Japan, Malaysia, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, India, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, the US, the EU, and the Arab states. The Turkmen President’s statement seems to suggest that Turkmenistan is more important to the US than the U.S. is to Turkmenistan.
At a government meeting, Berdymukhamedov stressed the importance of the strategic partnership with Russia. However, much of these trade, economic and cultural relations are with specific territories of the Russian Federation, such as St. Petersburg, Tatarstan, and Astrakhan. He noted the expansion of Turkmenistan’s diplomatic presence with the planned opening of a consulate in Astrakhan, as well as a trade mission in Moscow, in the upcoming year.
Deputy foreign ministers of Caspian littoral states gathered in Ashgabat to develop a draft Convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea. According to the Turkmen state news agency, all countries “expressed a mutual interest” in agreeing on the text of a Convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea, and “a common desire” to find “mutually acceptable solutions on the conceptual provisions of this basic document” that will define the relationship of the countries in terms of how they operate in the Caspian Sea. Azerbaijan’s
In the domestic arena, Turkmenistan celebrated both Neutrality Day and the Day of Oil and Gas Workers and Geologists. In connection with Neutrality Day – a day celebrating Turkmenistan’s foreign policy of neutrality, President Berdymukhamedov signed the decree “On pardoning of prisoners on the occasion of the national holiday of Turkmenistan - Neutrality Day.” The names or number of the pardoned were not made public.
Turkmenistan made the dubious honor of finding itself on Freedom House’s annual report “The World’s Most Repressive Societies,” as the second most repressive country in the world following only Uzbekistan. In this year’s Worst of the Worst report, Turkmenistan keeps company with the nine worst human rights abusers in 2011 such as Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Uzbekistan. All nine countries received Freedom in the World’s lowest ratings: 7 for political rights and 7 for civil liberties on a scale of one to seven, with seven being the lowest. These countries ban all political opposition, suppress independent organizations, and strike back at their critics.