A meeting held in Ashgabat between Turkmenistan’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Rashid Meredov, and the UK Parliamentary Under Secretary for the Department of Digital, Media, Culture, and Sport, Lord Ashton of Hyde, amount to a tacit endorsement by London of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedow’s totalitarian regime, one squarely accused of countless human rights abuses against its citizens and blatant disregard for Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four freedoms: the freedom of speech, freedom to worship how one wishes, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
Leaving the UK open to accusations of looking the other way in the pursuit of lucrative contracts with the energy-rich former Soviet state, the involvement of several UK-based companies in the field of gas and oil exploration in Turkmenistan highlight why condemnation of the Berdymukhamedow regime is conspicuous by its absence. Quite simply, a nation of the UK’s albeit diminishing standing cannot occupy the moral high-ground while facilitating the involvement of private enterprise within one of the most oppressive, closed countries outside of North Korea.
The prospect of Brexit and attendent muddying of trade agreement waters between the UK and countries of the European Union will inevitable drive the private sector into the arms of markets and territories hitherto kept at arms length, or indeed unknown. Those involved in the oil and gas exploration sector are though a different breed to even the most amoral in the business community. Fossil fuels remain big business, with the rewards being potentially huge for those not risk averse. If that means venturing to comparatively uncharted territory and dealing with volatile, fickle regimes that seem to luxuriate in entwining outsiders in a Gordian knot of bureaucracy, so be it. Seen as a small price to render for extrication of almost limitless pay dirt, the end more than justifies the means.
It can be argued that those in the oil, gas, and petrochemical industries merely have a job to do, and are not, and nor should they be, concerned with the county in question’s political situation. But should they? Such a mandate of moral guidance would have to come from their own nation’s government, unless, and in all unlikelihood, decisions made unilaterally at executive level were made that imposed a self-moratorium on operations in a county, like Turkmenistan, where a totalitarian regime seemingly seeks to hound and humiliate its citizens at every available opportunity. There is also a commercial risk of an unpredictable president arbitrarily annulling agreements at a minute’s notice, without explanation or reason.
The cynical, money-centric remit of the current Conservative regime in the United Kingdom occupies ideological territory where the conditions to decry a regime such as Berdymukhamedow’s just do not exist. An unholy trinity of big business, international trade, and environmentally damaging non-renewables hold hands instead of repelling the other, prioritizing the bottom line before human rights, environmental considerations, and a desire to look beyond the lifetime of the current parliament. Anybody doubting this only need look at the hysterically zealous support for Fracking, and the absurd endorsement of Halite’s Gas Storage plans for the Wyre estuary. If the science says something is unsafe but ministers without portfolio and faceless, London-based mandarins with dubious credentials tasked with the final say believe pie in the sky estimates of increased employment and nebulous, unsubstantiated tales of wealth creation for all are more important and outweigh the brushed aside negatives, there are no prizes for guessing the outcome.
Translating this attitude of alienating huge swathes of the British public by endorsing untold damage on the nation’s green and pleasant land – rampant house building seen as a specious get out of jail card for the nation’s economy is also negatively changing the face of many agriculturally-rich communities – into the country’s business interests overseas is therefore a natural but depressingly predictable progression. By not only allowing private sector involvement in Turkmenistan but also meeting with one of Berdymukhamedow’s inner circle, the UK can forget ever broaching the thorny issues of human rights and alleged misappropriation of perhaps billions of dollars of the nation’s wealth.
Placing a greater emphasis and importance on what can quite literally be extracted for its own financial gain than on the fundamental rights of humans, the UK has shown itself to be little more than an unprincipled nation; on the one hand seeking financial tie-ups that necessitate dancing with the devil, all the while increasingly being seen as inconsequential and superfluous on the world stage. The many inconvenient truths associated with the plight of Turkmenistan’s citizens should be condemned by the UK and all other European Union members in the strongest possible terms. Instead, the deafening silence from London and Brussels remains one of the biggest modern day scandals – of which few outside of Central Asia are cognisant.
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