Staunton, July 18 – No former Soviet republic attracts less attention in Moscow than Turkmenistan, an almost hermetically sealed dictatorship that rivals North Korea in restricting information about itself from reaching the outside world. But now a British report about that country has prompted Russian commentators to worry about it far more than in the past.
Earlier this week, London’s Foreign Policy Centre released a 42-page report suggesting that Turkmenistan is “on the edge of catastrophe” with hyperinflation, hunger and corruption opening the way for the influx of radical elements from Afghanistan and the Middle East (fpc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/FPC-Spotlight-on-Turkmenistan-publication.pdf).
That report was picked up by Al Jazeera (aljazeera.com/news/2019/07/hyperinflation-hunger-turkmenistan-edge-catastrophe-190715200641553.html), and that coverage in turn attracted the attention of Ivan Abakumov and Oksana Borisova of Moscow’s Vzglyad newspaper who argue that “Turkmenistan can become a new problem for Russia” (vz.ru/world/2019/7/18/987690.html).
They cite Russian experts like Andrey Serenko who says that he thinks that the British report is accurate and that the situation in Turkmenistan is “close to critical.” Its regime is clearly in trouble and the country may well be entering “the most dramatic period of its history,” one whose outcome is far from clear.
“The existing authorities there are still saved only by one thing – the obvious growth of protest attitudes has still not been transformed into active protests,” the result of the political culture of the Turkmens and the immensely powerful security structures that the regime has put in place to defend itself.
But now those may not be enough given both the domestic economic problems and the fact that outside actors ranging from the Islamic State to the Western powers are interested in the country as “one of the international transport corridors.” They will take actions, Serenko says; and consequently, Russia must as well.
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