It is as of yet unclear if recent US policy prohibiting the acquisition of Turkmenistan cotton has taken effect, or if it amounts to little more than lip service without actual implementation. Nevertheless, for the central Asian republic such publicity regarding its vital cash crop can only be bad, highlighting in the strongest terms the country’s dirty secret of the many human-rights violations committed to bring its cotton to market.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedow’s forthcoming visit to America can hardly be coincidental. Indeed, part of the autocratic leader’s visit is dedicated to firming up relations with the US-Turkmen Business Council, an organization founded on furthering commercial interests between the two nations. It is through such a tie up that the former dentist will presumably seek to neutralize the negative headlines generated by the U.S. embargo of Turkmenistan’s cotton production, although the abundance of fossil fuels beneath much of the country ensures that far from from being an economic ‘one trick pony’, there will always be covetous designs on what foreign investors, many lacking the scruples to look the other way, will see as rich pickings. Turkmenistan badly needs foreign currency; the world still continually craves natural gas, and the lucrative contracts attendant with the tee to green process of extraction to delivery. For all his Potemkin-esque, narcissistic excess and highhanded behaviour towards the Turkmen people, Berdymukhamedow still holds several influential bargaining chips.

In a country that has seen countless billions squandered on the president’s pet projects, most of which are dreamed up to deify the man with the purse strings, there appears to be few limits to an appetite for lavish governmental spending. One would assume that an inconsistent electrical supply and queues for basic foodstuffs would indicate a country on its knees, and crucially without the means to generate sufficient wealth to increase living standards, a la Yemen. Thing though work a little differently in Turkmenistan, a totalitarian state whose citizens are made to feel that they must be grateful that their president, who apparently transcends standardized human greatness, has ‘gifted’ the country a vast, bird shaped airport, a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, and the Caspian Sea resort of Awaza. It is just a shame only the favoured few are allowed to glimpse, let alone use these and other examples of despotic excess designed to show the world that Turkmenistan has the money and power to do as it wishes. The fact that only the merest fraction of the largesse poured into these and other projects will ever be recouped is incidental, and seemingly irrelevant, as is the absence of a Sovereign Wealth Fund.

Apocryphal they may be but tales of the president’s family and hangers on requisitioning commercial flights prior to takeoff, necessitating the removal of fare paying travellers are certainly believable, in a country where the ruling elite keep the population firmly under their jackboots. Despite an apparent lack of hard currency it isn’t particularly surprising to note that Turkmenistan has placed an order for three Boeing 737 MAX 7 aircraft, at an estimated unit cost of $96 million. I doubt very much that the purchase of three 737’s would make Berdymukhamedow eligible for a bulk purchase discount, although their order predicated for civil aviation use by flag-carrier Turkmenistan Airlines includes one jet designated for VVIP(Very Very Important Person) status, suggesting that their use for commercial operations may at best be perfunctory.

Will Berdymukhamedow use his participation in the 73rd Session of the UN(United Nations) General Assembly as a glad-handing opportunity, to in effect show the outside world, and detractors of the regime within Turkmenistan, that his premiership is tacitly endorsed by an international community increasingly jumpy over the potential for ISIS to exploit Central Asia’s porous borders? It is hoped for, but not anticipated, that the detail behind Turkmenistan’s flimsy facade will be drilled down into, and that a clear desire for democratic principles and regime change is explicitly expressed. Although such an outcome might be preferred, there will always be a concern that destabilizing Turkmenistan will give hope to Islamic extremists within the country, and those hammering at its doors. With regret, it seems there are still few, if any, viable alternatives to Berdymukhamedow’s misrule.

Further information and source material:

Trend News Agency: https://en.trend.az/casia/turkmenistan/2951981.html

Aviator Airline Market Intelligence: https://newsroom.aviator.aero/turkmenistan-to-order-three-b737-max-7s-from-boeing/

US-Turkmenistan Business Council: www.us-tbc.org/