Monday, November 27, 2023

Departure of Three Non-Turkmen ‘Gray Cardinals’ in Ashgabat May Presage More Radical Change

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Nov. 25 – Three senior advisors to the previous two presidents of Turkmenistan, all of whom ethnic Russians and thus not within the tribal bounds that define national life there, have left their positions in recent months, Aleksandr Zhadan by death, Viktor Khramov by retirement, and Vladimir Umnov, also by retirement.

            Aleksandr Knyazov, a Central Asia specialist at MGIMO, says their department could have far reaching consequences even more radical than those the new president has shown (

            “Not being Turkmens,” the senior scholar who also teaches at St. Petersburg State University says, means that “while they of course have to deal with the clan system, they are outside of. The presence of such advisors gave [earlier presidents’ the possibility of balancing the influence of relatives in the taking of various decisions.”

            “And their non-Turkmen origin made them dependent on the president which in turn guaranteed their loyalty,” he continues. Knyazev does not say but it is implicit in what he does write that the fact that those replacing them are not ethnic Russians means that the influence of Moscow on the new president is likely to be much less.

            That in fact may be why the new president, although he is the son of his predecessor, has moved to swiftly to open up Turkmenistan to the world in order to address its economic problems and been willing to expand contacts with various countries despite Ashgabat’s constitutionally mandated neutrality.


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