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#16 - JRL 7237
June 23, 2003
'People like Putin go to prison in Turkmenistan'
By Ilya Zhegulyov

Turkmen opposition leader and ex-chairman of the Central Bank, Khudaiberdy Orazov, placed on a wanted list by Saparmurat Niyazov's security forces, has commented in an interview to Gazeta.Ru on the growing signs of a cooling of relations between Russia and the Central Asian state.

At the end of last week the Duma passed a statement on the observance of human rights for Russian citizens in Turkmenistan, in which Russian lawmakers voiced their concern about the mounting cases of human rights abuses in that country. Are you aware of the motives behind that statement?

We, who have worked with Niyazov for a long time, and who still continue to follow up on the situation in Turkmenistan, cannot be in the least surprised by the latest events that are taking place in Moscow. The cynicism and degradation of the President of Turkmenistan have gone so far that his actions are beyond one's imagination.

It seems that Niyazov has never seen and never heard of the fact that in the course of the past ten years thousands of people queued up at the Russian embassy in the centre of Ashgabat, and hundreds were granted Russian citizenship daily.

Their number has reached 150,000. He believes that only 47 have received [Russian] citizenship legally. Such is the number cited by the Turkmen side. Who are those lucky ones, I wonder? As far as I understand, the people on that list are the members of his family -- his daughter, son, wife and his aides.

And are you a Russian citizen?

I received it in Russia. But most people received it there [in Turkmenistan]. They form huge queues and only go home only to sleep.

It appears, that by signing a recent gas deal, Russia has abandoned those people. Or is the move on terminating the treaty on dual citizenship Niyazov's unilateral decision, which Russia did not expect?

I believe that Russia, indeed, has found itself in an awkward situation before the international community. To leave 150,000 people to the mercy of fate, defying the tears, entreaties and requests and not to respond in any way proved difficult even for Russia. This is how I perceive the latest step [of Russia's lawmaker's denouncing Saparmurat Niyazov's policy]. Even more so, since Niyazov began making harsh statements, signing decrees…

Nevertheless, according to Putin, last Thursday Turkmen-bashi (the Father of all Turkmens) assured him in a phone call that there would be no actions aimed at worsening the life of Russian citizens in Turkmenistan, until a work group has completed its actions. Do you think he will keep that promise?

Of course, not. If he were a normal person, with whom one could communicate normally, would this travesty ever have taken place in Turkmenistan? He will use all ways to wriggle out of the situation. You see, by what we have learnt of Putin lately, since he entered the federal arena, one can feel that he is a deeply decent person, intelligent and tolerant.

Those are the properties which Niyazov skillfully used inside the country, and then began to crush such people. In Niyazov's entourage there were many people like Putin. Where are they now? Some are dead, others are in jails, and some have fled. For Niyazov to undertake commitments and then to honour them is impossible. He is a creature from another world.

Some say that regarding the gas deal signed, allegedly, in exchange for the termination of the dual citizenship agreement, Turkmen-bashi has failed to live up to Moscow's expectations.

We said from the beginning: What is Russia doing? Who is it signing an agreement with, and why? We, as the former high-placed officials, stated that Turkmenistan doesn't even have 10 per cent of that gas. This is the first thing. The second is the entire infrastructure used for exporting gas to Russia, at least on Turkmen territory, is worn-out and dilapidated. No measures are taken to upgrade that infrastructure.

Some also say that the price of the Turkmen gas proved to be higher than had been initially promised…

The main thing, it seems to me, is something very different. By signing the agreement it was presumed that Russia, in the long run, would establish a monopoly over the pipeline. But, as soon as the agreement was signed, Niyazov met with [Ukrainian President] Kuchma, literally the following day, and agreed with him on supplying 40 billion cubic metres of Turkmen gas to Ukraine.

Several days later he met with the management of Itera and assured it that it, too, will have its share of Turkmen gas at the amount of 10-15 billion. One of the goals pursued by Russia was namely to stop that playing on gas, but Niyazov's conduct has not allowed it.

Opponents of the State Duma deputy Dmitry Rogozin, who initiated the harsh statement in the lower house, said that he judges the situation in Turkmenistan by means of media publications? Is that really so? Did he hold any consultations with representatives of the Turkmen opposition? For instance, has he met with you personally?

Yes, of course. I head the socio-political movement Vatan. I have a deputy, Alexander Dmitriyevich Dodonov, who visited the State Duma several times. In Turkmenistan he was a vice-speaker and the deputy chairman of the cabinet of ministers in charge of agriculture. He met with Rogozin several times, Rogozin also met with an entire delegation of the Turkmen opposition.

When did that take place?

The week before last, and at the beginning of last week. I do not know why so much interest has been taken in us lately, but Rogozin carried out a lot of work with Turkmen public figures so as to find out the true state of affairs.

In the near future a Russian delegation headed by the deputy foreign minister, Alexei Fedotov, is heading to Turkmenistan. Do you think this will help to change something for those who have dual citizenship?

I think that Niyazov will not alter his decision. It is purposeful politics, pursued since 1991. That is why Niyazov will simply try by all means to hush up the clamour. The main thing for him is to have the wave pass by and then to drop the issue quietly.

Niyazov's main task is to turn Turkmenistan into a large cattle farm. How does one do that? By eliminating all thinking people, or at least by banishing them from the country. Russians, the Russian language is a window to the civilized world, and that is what he has been fighting since 1991.

At first ''too many'' Russians had jobs: they started saying, let's make it less. Then other things began to emerge. For example, you must know that if they find a Russian magazine or a paper on you, you will get a prison term. If, for example, you get out of a plane and somebody sees a Russian paper or magazine in your hand -- that is criminal liability. And it's a year since it was introduced.

That is probably why the Duma demanded that Niyazov stop persecuting the Russian media, to permit the issue of papers and magazines. But what effect will the Duma statement have?

Firstly, we are grateful to the deputies for the statement. Turkmen citizens, both those who speak Russian and those who do not, have long awaited Russia's help or at least response on the part of the Russian leadership to what is going in Turkmenistan. This is a great moral victory. But now it is important how consistent the State Duma deputies are. Whether they will follow up on what they have written; whether they will raise the issue again in September, and implement the decisions taken -- everything will depend on that.

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