Staunton, Nov. 29 – Turkmenistan’s government has kept the lid on protests not only by deploying its enormous security services against any potential protester but also by offering most of the population heavily subsidized basic foods. Faced with budgetary constraints, Ashgabat reportedly is thinking about ending the latter system in early 2022.
If that happens, the average market basket for Turkmens not only in rural areas but in the major cities would jump by at least ten times, a development that would make it impossible for many in that country to feed themselves and almost certainly would provoke protests and clashes between the population and the regime.
The Turkmen service of Radio Liberty reports that the government has not made any announcement of its steps in this direction, steps that the service’s sources say include ending subsidies to food products to the families of Turkmens who are working abroad and to the families of prisoners as well (rus.azattyq.org/a/31589983.html).
That will affect a large swath of the population as there are approximately one million Turkmens working abroad, mostly in Turkey but also in the Russian Federation, and at the start of this year, there were 35,000 Turkmens imprisoned there. Given an average family size of five, that means a majority of the country’s six million residents will lose these subsidies.But that cutback does not appear sufficient to bridge the budgetary gap in Ashgabat, and officials are now considering ending food subsidies for all but military and security personnel and senior members of the government. If everyone else loses access to subsidized prices, it is difficult to see how Turkmenistan will avoid real hunger and political protest.