DEFENSE IN THE TURKMEN WAY

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President Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan held a meeting with the leaders of the security structures at the end of 2004. The meeting concerned the results of the year and tasks for 2005. The president stated on national television after the meeting that the past year was successful because the security ministries “contributed to integrity and security of the fatherland, decreased the crime rate, strengthened law and order and defended the border”. Niyazov’s prospective plans were more categorical. He stated that, “the enemy will not come from beyond; he will seek malcontent people within”. This means that the role of law enforcement agencies and military organizations will increase. The president told the security ministries, “Keep your arms in readiness.” After that many remedial organizations and foundations made noise that the authoritarian regime in Turkmenistan allegedly became so strong that the president ventures to threaten the entire nation. However, the president did not react to the West’s reaction. Niyazov is doing his business; he strengthens the republic’s defense. Sometimes he runs to extremes but who can stop him?

Strengthening of Turkmenistan’s defense affected Russia. The operational group of the Russian federal border guard service was withdrawn from the republic in 1999. Askhabad’s decision looked strange. The Russian and Turkmen governments concluded an agreement on protection of Turkmenistan’s border and the status of Russian border guards in the republic in 1993. The agreement was considered as being permanent. However, Turkmenistan announced its decision to unilaterally invalidate the agreement six years later. This happened after Saparmujrat Niyazov’s close contacts with Steven Sestanovich, special envoy of the US state secretary for the CIS.

Regardless of Ashkhabad’s statements about the right to defend its border and remain neutral towards the combat for spheres of influence in the post-Soviet republics, we can see that all this was a mask. US emissaries currently frequent Turkmenistan. For instance, a seminar on technical maintenance of patrol boats was held in the republic within the framework of the Export Control and Security of the Border program (the US) in November. A bit earlier Saparmurat Niyazov met with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. Lance Smith, deputy commander of the US Central Command, visited Ashkhabad in September in order to consider issues of military co-operation and protection of the border.

In other words, it becomes clear that the “banishment” of Russian border guards from Turkmenistan was not a demonstration of independence. What independence is it if Turkmenistan does not have a good school for training skilled military specialists? Anyway, Ashkhabad is forced to use foreign services but does not want to make contacts with Moscow. The Russian-Turkmen agreement according to which Russian officers served in the republican army under special contracts was valid until 2000. This helped the republic retain law and order in the Army and solved problems linked with training of skilled servicemen. However, almost all Russian officers left the republic after 2000, and Niyazov was forced to mobilize a special officer’s corps consisting of around 2,000 people. The contingent consisted of citizens who previously served in the Army as sergeants and privates. All officers had higher education. In addition, Niyazov enacted a decree to create special labor units in the Army. At present the republic calls up 80,000 draftees per year. The Army’s needs amount to only 60,000 draftees. Thanks to the president’s decree, the republican ministries have an opportunity to receive a labor force free, supplying only housing and food to them. Combat training of the “labor army” lasts for one week per month. Judging from official reports, such an obligation was implemented for restoring social justice, “children of officials and well-to-do people must not be left out”. Niyazov ordered to increase the quota for the labor army last October. This resembles two-year of slavery because defending the fatherland and working on plantations are two different things.

However, this solution has its advantages. For instance, the maintenance of the Army has become cheaper. Turkmenistan has created experimental farms in military units. On the one hand, everyone is doing his specific tasks. Soldiers called up to military units focus on military sciences. Logistic units provide food and services to soldiers. It should be noted that the republic ventures to use such a system openly, unlike the Russian Army where soldiers attend shooting practice in the morning and pasture pigs in the evening.

Turkmenistan had good prerequisites for creating efficient defense because it had substantial arsenals after the break-up of the USSR: around 300 warplanes, around 600 T-72 tanks, 1,500 infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers. At present Ashkhabad purchases new military hardware and modernizes obsolete weapons. For instance, Georgia has repaired 43 warplanes and eight helicopters of the Turkmen Air Force as repayment of the gas debt. In addition, Turkmenistan was the first to receive the Su-25KM Scorpio assault plane modernized by Georgia in co-operation with Israeli specialists. Ukraine supplies the Kalkan-M and Grif-T patrol boats to Turkmenistan as repayment of its gas debt.

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