It is a link that refuses to go away, with neither party seemingly in a hurry to deny a tacit tie up between the two nations, but why does Germany persist with cosying up to Turkmenistan when such an alliance does little for the image of Europe’s powerhouse nation?
Unsubstantiated but persistent rumours place $23 billion of Turkmenistan money in German bank accounts, a veritable king’s ransom, and the equivalent of neighbouring Kyrgyzstan’s Gross National Product. In most hydrocarbon-rich countries it is the perceived norm to set up a Sovereign Wealth Fund(SWF) to enable the diversification of economies otherwise at risk of tanking once the taps run dry. Such a concept is though alien in Turkmenistan(and Venezuela) where despotic leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedow has already blown the budget on white elephant and Potemkin-esque schemes that have taken in, amongst others, Jack Nicklaus and Jennifer Lopez. Often regarded as North Korea-lite, in other words hell on earth for its citizens but without the nuclear capability, consider the bizarre relationship Dennis Rodman has/had with Kim Jong-un, and you will understand the watered down, DPRK-like comparisons.
When Turkmenistan Airlines were grounded by concerns with its air worthiness it was the might of Lufthansa that flew to the rescue. It can be argued that assisting airlines not deemed as competitors by providing technical expertise is a viable revenue stream for one of the world’s biggest and most revered carriers, indeed, diversification which a SWF is predicated upon, but it was nevertheless surprising and not so in equal measure when Lufthansa were the first to put their hand up.
German businesses have for decades looked east to the component parts of the former Soviet Union for new market opportunities, where the Teutonic work ethic and high levels of efficiency and competency will steal a march over the more ‘manyana’ approach by rival nations. There is though a sense that Germany is turning a blind eye to the human rights abuses within Turkmenistan that are hardly a closely guarded secret. Rather than being the ‘go to’ country for Berdymukhamedow to seek international assistance where it suits him, the Merkel administration should be reining in the private sector from doing business with a tyrannical regime where basic foodstuffs for everyday citizens are by no means a foregone conclusion, despite and because of the countless billions frittered away on bizarre and needless statuary, a deserted purpose-built resort on the Caspian Sea, Awaza, a golf course designed by Nicklaus for roaming pachyderms and the best of everything for Berdymukhamedow whilst his subjects emphatically go without. Where though Germany’s private sector must be encouraging to steer clear from, its national government must first lead by example.
It is though with some dismay that the Lufthansa link and a potential multi-billion-dollar slush fund should Berdymukhamedow ever need one in exile is the tip of the iceberg. It must be considered that the German government has little concern for the oppressive conditions which the overwhelming majority of Turkmenistan’s residents must live under if technology obtained from Germany is being used to monitor internet usage, block websites and even limit the efficacy of VPN’s circumventing the already draconian measures implemented by Ashgabat. It is only in countries diametrically opposed to the democratic freedoms enjoyed by the majority of the world where such lengths are gone to, which go far beyond simply monitoring internet usage for inappropriate and terrorism-related activity. The president has an image, and his skewed narrative to protect, without the entire reality of his at best hobbledehoy approach to running Turkmenistan, at worst a brutal and Narcissistic reign of terror, being laid bare for all to see.
Private flights between Turkmenistan and Germany are commonplace, with speculation ranging from the president himself and even his mother at one time or another having sought medical treatment in Europe. History shows that it is not unusual for dictators to seek medical assistance abroad as a contrast to their own chronically underfunded health service, but instead of using the nation’s wealth to bankroll a countrywide dedication to medical excellence the specious prestige of being seen to travel overseas and being able to personally afford to, albeit with the nation’s cheque book, trumps the more humble alternative strictly at odds with rampant egomania that comes as standard within an admittedly narrow but nevertheless destructive set of traits within the mind of an identikit tyrant.
As the European Union(EU) seek a paper tiger approach towards Turkmenistan that continually fails to address the inconvenient truths slowly strangling the country, once more we see the reluctance of other nations and trading blocs to ‘upset’ the hydrocarbon-rich. It is therefore unrealistic to expect the EU to demand of its member states a cessation of cooperation with Ashgabat, especially as a regime change will in all likelihood result in Berdymukhamedow’s son, Serdar, taking the reins and imposing greater peremptory demands on the county’s already fearful and beleaguered citizens. It is therefore incumbent on individual states within or outside the EU to take the lead against Turkmenistan but for all the North Korea comparisons and harrowing reports of life within the country, there is not even lip service to suggest that anyone is prepared to do so.
When it comes to money/business it is often said that everybody is of the same religion, and even the angels will listen to its persuasive blandishments. Is though the money garnered from a dictator worth taking when the events behind how it was earned were without conscience, and that it could and should have been spent where it was needed the most? There is more at stake than just providing services for someone classed as good payer, when a continued dance with the devil cements a tacit endorsement of the regime’s antics. The hypocrisy of being appalled by the Berdymukhamedow way of working but still doing business with him just plays into the president’s hands.
Why though the otherwise good name of Germany keeps being linked to Turkmenistan is not certain, but it does it little credit.
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