Ashkhabad seems to be drastically changing its foreign policy: it abandons CIS and becomes more loyal to America
The Uzbekistan Government has recently demanded that Americans must withdraw the US contingent from Khanabad, and soon the American base will be removed to Turkmenistan, a neighboring country. If it happens Turkmenistan's policy will seriously change and at the same time will indicate changes in US's priorities in Central Asia.
The authority of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov is unlimited in Turkmenistan which became a close state after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The country often revealed its absolute neutrality in the past years. Until recently, Turkmenistan has been a formal CIS member, and now after the CIS summit in Kazan it is an associated member. Russia always criticizes Turkmenistan for discrimination of Russians and other national minorities in the republic. The US from time to time emphasizes that people's freedom is violated in the republic. At that, Americans applied no strict measures to the republic and its president just because Turkmenistan is one of the world's largest gas exporters.
It seemed that Turkmenistan would not like to expand relations with other countries in any spheres except gas export. During his visit to Ashkhabad last spring, CENTCOM Commander General John Abizaid arranged that the US base stationed in Uzbekistan's Khanabad would be moved to Mary in Turkmenistan. At that time, Uzbekistan was not yet requesting removal of the American base. Several construction companied from the United Arab Emirates have repaired the Mary-2 airbase to be ready to receive US army technique. American pilots will also be able to use an aerodrome in Kushka, once the most extreme south settlement of the former Soviet Union.
Ashkhabad seems to be drastically changing its foreign policy. One of the Turkmenistan vice-premiers came to the CIS summit in Kazan to announce the republic would abandon the Commonwealth to have just associated membership. The Turkmen Government is obviously seeking separation from Russia and wants to be closer to the US to get secure against a revolution in the republic. It is not ruled out that the Turkmen president has struck a deal with the American Administration as a result of which the republic must abandon the CIS and allow Americans to deploy their bases on the Turkmenistan territory, and in return the US helps Niyazov remain the president.
America has several concerns in Turkmenistan. The republic is first of all one of the largest gas exporters. Gas pipelines go from Turkmenistan along the Russian territory, but Americans want to build a gas pipeline of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan type bypassing Russia. Attempts to build such a pipeline were made in the mid-1990s but there was little hope that Talib Afghanistan would be a transit country.
Turkmenistan's coast of the Caspian Sea is attractive for Americans as well - large-scale petroleum production is to be started there soon.
Geopolitics is absolutely essential for the US that wants to have a military base in Central Asia close to Russia, China and neighboring Afghanistan. Iran is Turkmenistan's neighbor in the south. America has already deployed its military bases in Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Bahrain; Georgia and Azerbaijan are likely to allow Americans to their territories to exert pressure upon Iran if necessary. To have wider authority in the region, America needs to deploy its base in Turkmenistan.
Having decided to deploy bases in Turkmenistan, America demonstrates that the issues of freedom, democracy and human rights may be ignored when it comes to energy resources. And it may happen so that the Turkmenistan president will all the same lose the position even being really loyal to Washington, the same way it happened to Eduard Shevardnadze and Askar Akayev who actively cooperated with America and were still dethroned. Today, there is no opposition in Turkmenistan that is why no overthrowing of the president can be expected in the nearest time. Now Washington wants to get settled on the strategic territory of the republic to have wider authority there in the future and probably exert pressure upon Turkmenistan's neighbors, Russia and even China.
First and foremost, it goes about the replacement of the French-Russian SaM146 engine with the Russian PD-8 aircraft engine