Call it a love affair, an obsession with, or a shameless dash for cash while there is still some at the country’s disposal, Germany’s interest in Turkmenistan, a country in the iron grip of a dictator seemingly hell-bent on emulating the Kim dynasty’s template for running North Korea, shows little sign of waning.
At first glance this would seem to be a relationship based upon what one party can extract from the other, although a reported $23 billion of Turkmen money ‘resting’ in several German bank accounts would suggest the Teutonic giant has in some way entered into an ersatz quid pro quo agreement with the Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedow regime. Although a theory rooted in intrigue and hearsay, it is impossible for this correspondent to overlook such a slush fund, if anything akin to a king’s ransom should it indeed exist, that represents more a rainy-day provision for a president and his family perhaps forced into future exile. Quite aside from if the money is in fact held within Germany and placed there by who and for what purpose, this astonishing amount equates to the 2017 Gross National Product(GNP) of fellow Central Asian ‘stan’ Kyrgyzstan.
Only months after the reported demise of Berdymukhamedow transpired to be premature rumours continue to abound as to his whereabouts during the days of his supposed ‘death’. Again, Germany figured highly, where the president allegedly flew to oversee medical treatment being received by his mother. Not France, the UK, or any other country whose healthcare standards are perceived to be amongst the best on earth, but Germany.
Is therefore the Merkel administration particularly sympathetic to Turkmenistan, its rotten regime, or is this simply an example of the German private sector taking advantage of an absence of sanctions imposed on the Berdymukhamedow regime by, well, anyone, to feed on the country’s hydrocarbon riches before the taps, and money, run dry?
It has often been said that German businesses have routinely looked east for commercial opportunities, something that in theory is far easier to do since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. Where once there was one colossal but otherwise closed marketplace there are now fifteen, all with admittedly nuanced attitudes to embracing free market economics in the wake of Sovietisation’s broad-brush approach. Where though is the intervention from the German government, preventing the dealing with a country, or put another way the far-reaching tentacles of the Berdymukhamedow regime, that has taken levels of narcissism attendant with cults of personality to such dizzying, unprecedented heights?
Leaving no checkbox unticked on the ‘how to be a dictator’ inventory Berdymukhamedow not only surveils his people within Turkmenistan’s borders but also those studying overseas, apparently aided by German technology experts Rohde & Schwarz. Those who fail to toe the line in a country where even having the wrong literature on your bookcase could be seen as potentially seditious, could find themselves purged as a deterrent to others. Whilst snitching by those paid to hang their co-workers, neighbours, and family members out to dry is common, without the alleged help from German surveillance expertise life for those in Turkmenistan, and for its citizens abroad, would be classed as extreme difficult instead of the utterly nightmarish existence that the vast majority, aside from the ruling elite and its obsequious coterie, endure on a daily basis.
Legend had it that members of the Berdymukhamedow family and associated hangers on would requisition commercial aircraft for their own needs, a process that could include emptying jets of their ticket-paying passengers. After being suspended earlier this year from operating within the European Union(EU) Turkmenistan Airlines sought outside help to bring its EU flight services up to code, all the while continuing to operate its non-EU schedule. It did come as a surprise, but perhaps shouldn’t have, to find that German aviation behemoth Lufthansa, through its Lufthansa Consulting subsidiary, put their hand up to assist Turkmenistan’s flag carrier to once more become legally complaint, and in effect, airborne. It again represents an attitude of purely focusing on the (lucrative) task at hand and not instead from where they are being paid and who, and his ruinous and savage approach to governing, the likes of Lufthansa are tacitly endorsing.
I am not suggesting that Germany is the only country keen to get involved in what is perceived, by dint of its hydrocarbon riches, a country of significant wealth. Foreign expertise is often sought by other nations eager to exploit similar geological advantages and whilst nobody can claim the United Arab Emirates or Saudi Arabia are exemplars of democracy, they at least have created Sovereign Wealth Funds(SWF) to enable economic diversification when the earth’s finite resources have yielded their last. Dealing with Turkmenistan in any commercial capacity can only suggest that the brutal way in which the country is run by a suspicious, unpredictable leader is of little importance when there is money to be made. The realities though of working within such an environment for several companies based overseas and who have gone into Turkmenistan has often included invoices going unpaid and in extreme cases, foreign-built infrastructure being unceremoniously requisitioned by and absorbed into the state.
Without German or wider European Union sanctions imposed upon Turkmenistan nothing will change. Perhaps an attitude of failing to engage with Ashgabat will see Berdymukhamedow’s citizens slip further into poverty can be used by foreign companies to justify their presence within the country, although such specious reasoning falls at the first hurdle. A country that has earned and frittered away so much of its hydrocarbon wealth on futile, Potemkin-esque vanity projects predicated on deifying the president’s unfailing wisdom can only look to itself when questioned as to where all the money has gone. In what appears to be a non-negotiable pact between president and his subjects the riches earned by its hydrocarbon and cotton cash crops from the hands, but expense of those tasked with bringing both to market, are to be spent as the nation’s unassailable guide sees fit. The fact that it is unlikely that this will involve investing in what the country’s rapidly diminishing population require is immaterial; in the mind of the deluded and vainglorious only they know what is needed and best for their country to flourish, which is another way of saying that they have full control of the chequebook and will repurpose the country into what amounts to their own private playground, a veritable blank canvas on which to translate even the most outlandish of his ideas.
I find it sad that with so much information available on the failures of Turkmenistan as a viable state under its current regime that many foreign countries and business interests from within these continue to put money and self-interest ahead of moral considerations, and the potential damage to reputations from dancing with the devil.
Do I advocate isolating the likes of Turkmenistan from the outside world? Such a notion would be hypothetical as it would never happen whilst other nations, aware of its likely vulnerability to their blandishments, cast rapacious eyes over its riches. One could argue that from a reported loss of a third of its population to migration in the last ten years that a regime, dressed up as moral but neutral from an official Non-Aligned status, that the influence of foreign countries and their private enterprises have had absolutely no positive effect on the day to day lives of Turkmenistan’s citizens, and as such they who haven’t already escaped are living an isolated existence cut off from the rest of the world by proxy.
Although again hypothetical and whilst a controversial strategy if officially implemented, what difference would there be to those that matter, the people, if Turkmenistan was isolated by the international community until Berdymukhamedow performed an extremely unlikely volte face, or more preferable still a regime change took place that didn’t merely amount to the reins being handed over to the president’s son, Serdar?
Are though Western powers too far gone to row back from their own and/or private enterprise dealings with Turkmenistan, in effect Berdymukhamedow? It is much harder to justify a change in moral and ethical reasoning, and not be labelled hypocritical, than to simply not engage in the first place. It is of course inevitable that political landscapes change within the so-called developed West and as such, attitudes towards foreign policy and the engagement with egregious leaders(not countries) and their modi operandi will alter accordingly. It should though be enshrined within a country’s constitution that once a foreign nation has crossed a clearly delineated threshold, especially but not exclusively pertaining to Human Rights abuses, that an immediate cessation of public and private sector involvement should take place until such a time a demonstrable, positive change has been effectuated.
By forsaking the lives of those living under an autocratic boot we tacitly elevate own importance, and financial insatiability, above that of our fellow humans. In our cosy, democratic, and materially rich but spiritually bereft nations we hear about the plight of others and sympathise in our own, superficial way. How though can the average man and woman in the street bring about positive, lasting change? For that to occur it is to our governments where we should look, and lobby, but if they are too concerned with engaging, not curtailing, those who are facilitating the oppression we so abhor and allow the private sector to do so, any future token condemnation will always be open to accusations of insincerity and hypocrisy.
It is time for moral arbiters, not those driven by economic growth and unnecessary prosperity to be more than also rans at the ballot box. Whilst many areas of modern life are subjective to individual kinks and interpretations there can surely be no argument that Human Rights abuses and the amorality of tin pot dictators who seek glory garnered from exploitation have no place in any society, country, or era.
If a country wasn’t replete with natural gas then who knows, this might already have happened. There is something extremely unpleasant about keeping hydrocarbon-rich states ‘on side’, in effect betraying an attitude of not rubbing up the wrong way a nation that you never know when you might need it. If though Turkmenistan didn’t have by a quirk of kismet the wealth under its soil, chances are Berdymukhamedow wouldn’t in the first place have jostled so successfully and opportunistically into a position to get his hands on the country’s money and fuel an agenda few could have foreseen, but with hindsight ‘goes with the territory’.
If both Climate Change, and the clueless but sadistic leaders piggybacking onto Fossil Fuel’s ephemeral gold rush to further their own skewed agendas are to be permanently reined in, it would require our reliance on the Oil and Gas industries to be brought to a shuddering, almost overnight halt. I think we all know there is little chance of that taking place whilst money can be made from the exploitation of humans and the environment, distasteful traits of Man since time immemorial.
Source material and further information:
Trend News Agency: https://en.trend.az/casia/turkmenistan/3135700.html