Tuesday, August 28, 2007



the National Security Council has instead named Deputy Prime Minister Gurbanguly Berdimukhammedov interim president.

home of the world's fifth-largest natural gas supply. Currently, its existing infrastructure is Soviet-era and creaking and it sends nearly all of its natural gas exports -- about 67 billion cubic meters per year -- north and west to Russia. Without those shipments, Russian state energy firm Gazprom would find it impossible to both satisfy domestic Russian natural gas demand and fulfill its export contracts with Europe and Turkey.

Turkmenistan's natural gas fields -- the ones that are currently being exploited and those that have never been touched -- are often pointed to as sources for potential energy infrastructure projects that could send natural gas to South Asia via Afghanistan, or to Europe via a sub-sea Caspian pipeline.

Russia must have Turkmen natural gas to keep its policy of using energy as a foreign policy hammer going; replacing Turkmen supplies would take a decade and tens of billions of dollars in cash that Gazprom simply does not have. This policy is the foundation of Russia's grand strategy, and there is little Moscow would not do to ensure that it gets its way.

For Iran, Historically, invasions of Persia have come from two directions: west and north. Iranian policy vis-à-vis Iraq to the west has masterminded events to turn Iraq into a quagmire for the United States. To secure its north, the majority of Turkmenistan's 5 million people live within a few miles of the Iranian border. An invasion would be logistically simple, strategically sound and impossible for any power to counter.

The United States has a handful of troops outside of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, about 1,000 miles away, and its forces in Afghanistan cannot even think of being redeployed. It has tried to secure base rights in Turkmenistan to support its Afghan operations only to be rebuffed by Niyazov himself.

For the past two years, the geopolitical strategies of these two countries -- to tie down the Americans -- have been relatively in sync. But now there is a prize that both desperately want, and one that cannot be easily shared.

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov and Uzbek President Islam Karimov -- are all de facto despots who have gutted the opposition and, as of yet, have not fashioned a clear line of succession. The battle to follow Niyazov's death is just the beginning.

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