There are many nations in the world that one might consider to be “strange”. North Korea stands out as the most obvious example of this because its ruling family, the Kims, are very strange, violent, and erratic. The tiny nation, virtually sealed off from the world since 1950, is a nation trapped in time as well as a seeming state of suspended animation, where the Kim family is practically worshipped as living gods, the people are championed yet starving and living in poverty, their millions-man strong army is but a way for people to have the guarantee of a single meal per day, and the streets are not littered with cars, but children and wandering animals since there are so few cars, and the army is known to have to stop and push vehicles down the street because they break down so frequently.
Some might say there is no other nation in the world like North Korea, but there is one that people don’t know about that comes close to it. Laying on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea and locked between Uzbekistan to the north and east, Afghanistan to the southeast and Iran to the south is the Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan. It name, which means “land of the Turks,” is said to be one of the ancient homelands of the Turkic peoples, for in spite of them inhabiting all of Central Asia save Tajikistan and a few Persianized areas, the Turcoman language is the closest of all the Turkic languages to modern Turkish, and given her proximity to Iran, gives ample reason tht centuries ago, many of the Turkic hordes who swept out of Central Asia- what used to be called thousands of years ago, these hordes called “umman manda” by the Assyrians and Chaldeans, meaning ‘the horde from who-knows-where’ invaded and colonized the Middle Eastern lands many times. Even today, Turcoman peoples- not Ottomans -survive in small ethnic communities throughout Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Israel.
But in spite of the rich history of Turkmenistan, going from ancient times to her location as a crucial point on the Silk Road, is that her nation cannot be separated from the history of Russian expansionism and later, Soviet influence as well as the struggles between the Russian Empire/USSR and the British Empire, which later passed her inheritance to the Americans. A heavily desertified nation that is cooked by the sun, she like her Afghan neighbor would have been relegated to serve as a place where people pass through on their way to and from parts of Asia, dumping their trash along the way amid the wandering scorpions in the rocks and Bactrian camels that roam from oasis to oasis if it were not for one major commodity found in her western regions- oil.
Turkmenistan is located across the Caspian Sea in the areas of the Turanian Depression from Azerbaijan, the place where in 1849, the first oil supplies were extracted by industrial means. This changed world history as Germans and Russians began fighting for control over these oil resources.
Shoebat.com wrote an entire piece about Azeri oil politics and the importance of this region for the Middle East and world geopolitics. During the Second World War, in reports that have since been declassified but still remain largely blacked out, American research into the Caspian Sea region seems to suggest that there are tremendous oil supplies that have yet to be tapped in just the Volga basin part of the Turanian depression. Arguably, there is more oil in that single region stretching from Stalingrad to Georgia than in all of Saudi Arabia that is more easily able to be exploited and could supply the world for centuries. Even today, of the five major oil fields that Russia operates, the most significant one for her nation are the Baku lines going from Azerbaijan and points south on the Caspian up to Moscow, for while all of her other lines come from the Urals or Siberia, not only can those lines be easily sabotaged, but the Caspian lines are the most well-established, reliable, and on which Moscow depends for her own economic sustenance. In a major war in Europe, since Russia would likely shut off all oil access to Europe west of Belarus, assuming it is Germany who rises up, she will make an immediate attempt to capture those lines in the Volga, as it would mean the success or failure of her war efforts just as it did in the First and Second World Wars, and why Germany was willing to sacrifice almost a million soldiers at Stalingrad- because the success or failure of the Reich depended on her victory at that city to secure access.
But Germany and America are smart and clever nations, and as Shoebat.com has been reporting, they have been working at building transportation lines by railroads as well as pipeline to Central Asia. These lines are inevitably going to be used to help build a network of pipelines and alternative means to insure a continual flow of oil when the next major conflict happens. They are obviously looking at Russia, but they are also looking at other nations in the area who can supply oil, and since Turkmenistan is a part of Central Asia with a lot of oil near Azerbaijan and the oil-laden Iran, it is only natural that she would be a part of such a consideration.
Oil and gas resources in Turkmenistan have been known for decades. In 1971, Soviet oil and gas prospectors found an area in Turkmenistan with a lot of natural gas emitting from it, and during an attempt to drill the location, it exploded and created a massive firey crater that has burned continuously ever since and has become a tourist attraction as well as place of interest for scientists known as the Darvaza Gas Crater, sometimes called the “Doorway to hell” because of the continual flames that emerge from the earth in its spot.
The US government import-export website Export.gov notes that Turkmenistan is especially abundant in oil and gas resources, and this is quite the understatement, as the nation boasts the second largest proven natural gas field in the world at Galnykish and the fourth largest holder of natural gas in the world, surpassed only by Iran, Russia, and Qatar
Turkmenistan’s economy hinges upon her ability to market her natural oil reserves because she has nothing else. The Central Asian nation, which is largely in the natural embrace of the Karakum desert, receives almost no rainfall at just under a half-inch for the whole country on average per year. In 2015, TheDiplomat.com observed that Turkmenistan, which is ruled by the eccentric President Gurbanguly Berhimuhamedov, set out to build large public fountains and plant trees that require lots of water as part of a public relations campaign to advertise the capitol of Ashgabat as a sort of ‘desert oasis’ and diverted considerable public resources to achieve this. Shortly after doing this, the trees began to die and the fountains ran dry because there was not enough water to properly care for them. Turkmenistan can get very hot, and the nation in spite of the image she wants to cultivate has had trouble simply keeping water in the pipes for her citizens to drink, many who have been forced to go with very limited supplies of the precious and life-sustaining commodity.
However, this has not stopped Turkmen officials, who have placed image over reality, where Turkmenistan has wanted to pursue Soviet-given ides of growing cotton, but since cotton is a water-intensive crop to grow, have continued to divert precious water supplies, leaving a nation of unhappy people, poor cotton crops, and given that the cotton trade in Turkmenistan is many times connected to slavery operations just like those used during the 19th century in the American south, a deadly and dangerous trade that offers little for those who work in it.
The Turkmen government as noted above is known for its tyrannical approach to those who would complain. Her first President after the fall of the USSR until his death in 2006, Saparmurat Niyazov, was known for his eccentric behaviors as well as authoritarian decisions. These include but are not limited to renaming cities, areas, and even the months of the year after his family members and friends, abolishing the Turkmen word for “bread” and naming it after his mother, Gurbansoltan, writing a book (“The Ruhnama”) extolling the ‘majestic glories’ of the Turkmen race and making all school children study it, erecting a golden rotating statue of himself in the capitol, abolishing the Hippocratic Oath for doctors and making doctors swear loyalty to their president, making all public personalities declare their loyalty to the President and nation lest they be tortured to death in horrible ways, closing all rural hospitals and forcing poor people to come to the capitol for treatment, and giving odd and erratic advice such as how people need to chew on bones to strengthen their teeth.
Thankfully some of these proclivities were abolished by Berhimuhamedov, but many still remain and Berhimuhamedov is known for showing off driving on television as well as making music to sing about his horse. The nation is tightly controlled, with no Internet access save that which is highly filtered through the government, and only a few television stations are allowed. She is tied with North Korea for having the least free press in the world, and people are constantly monitored by the government, many times with help from the Israeli government and Israeli security corporations, and as well with German companies.
Oilprice.com, a Russian-owned site on oil and gas, notes that Turkmenistan’s only saving grace are two things. First, it is her abundant oil fields. Second, it is her location, for being where she is, she can easily sell to both Russia and China at the same time as well as play a major role in Middle Eastern affairs on oil politics.
Officials in Ashgabat can proudly boast of Galkynysh being the second largest gas field in the world, however, as things stand currently, China is the only viable export route for all the gas produced. Turkmenistan has traditionally been reliant on one export conduit – in the Soviet years up to the late 2000s it was Russia; this decade has witnessed a pivot towards China. Theoretically, Ashgabat could export gas to both Russia and China simultaneously, yet it could not play its cards right. (source)
Most of the oil from Turkmenistan comes by pipeline due to her location. There are numerous export pipelines in Turkmenistan- One more is being built and two are under consideration. While she has a lot of oil to offer, the actual amount that is sent is lower because of the unique political climate in her.
The first is the the Korpezhe-Kurt Kui (KKKP) pipeline to Iran that began in 1997, and which was historic in that Turkmenistan became the first energy-producing former Soviet republic to build an export pipeline, which has the double effect of circumventing passage through Russia. The Dauletabad-Khangiran Pipeline (DTP), which began construction in 2009 and was finished in 2010 following an agreement between the former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and President Berhimudrov also is a source of Turkmen gas exports into Iran.
Second is the Soviet-built Central Asia Center Pipeline (CAC). This is Turkmenistan’s oldest, most expanded system of pipelines, with outlets connected to almost all key deposits. However, it’s usage only stands at about 10% because it is tied to Russian gas purchases, something that is political for the nation, as well as has not been well maintained over the years. A similar case can be stated about the Soviet-era Bukhara-Urals Pipeline (BUP), which also uses less that 10% of capacity due to political reasons as well as bad maintenance.
Third is the Central-Asia China Pipeline system (CACP). This is a major, four-lined pipeline that begins in Turkmenistan an is meant to supply China with gas by way of a northern route through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The first two lines became operational in 2009 and 2010, the third one in 2014, and the final line in 2108 by way of diversion through Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan before entering into China through Xinjiang Province, where China has kept the native Uighur people in a veritable death camp in their own region.
These are the three main systems operating right now. There are two more being considered.
One is the Trans-Caspian Gas Pipeline (TCGP), that would start on the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea and connect to existing and future export gas pipelines in Azerbaijan heading to Europe by way of Turkey. This began in 2012, and while Kazakhstan has shown interest, actual work has been slowed by political conflict.
The second and more interesting line is the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India Pipeline (TAPI) as this line would provide access to gas that would circumvent Russia and could bring petroleum around the world via tanker once ships reach Pakistan. While there are talk of delays on the Pipeline, the US has announced her support of the line and is going to meet with President Berhimuhamedov in February 2020 to discuss construction plans.
The expansion of Turkmen gas lines means major potential influence from China but also neighboring India and Pakistan, who are requiring more gas than ever before to feed their population and needs. However, the biggest demand would come from Europe, as she is the heaviest consumer and due to Russian geography would put her in direct competition with Russia, thus breaking the Russian lock on oil and gas exports to Europe that not only lower costs, but in the event of a political crisis, prevent Russia from “turning off” gas lines to force a solution favorable to her interests. Either TAPI or TGCP could do this. Indeed, it was Russian opposition to isolate Turkmenistan and prevent her from participation in or access to the European markets the has spurned the interest in the construction of both lines.
Russian opposition to Turkmen pipelines has come about in the same means that American organizations have attempted in similar contexts, citing environmental agreements and boundary disputes over Caspian Sea territorial lines. However, the effect of these protests has been minimal, and with Russia’s insistence on doing the same things in the Baltic Sea as well as ignoring the same complaints she has made against Turkmenistan, and given the erosion of the political relationship between the rest of Europe and Russia, Turkmenistan becomes an increasing attractive option to the dominant reliance on Russian gas supplies.
There are many things that have yet to be seen as to what the future holds. The tempermental nature of the government in Turkmenistan, the position that Russia takes and her influence, US influence, India’s growing power, China’s influence, and EU demands will all shape what happens. In any case, she is a nation to be watched because her location places her close to the heart of any type of a ‘integrated Eurasian’ gas system in which she would play a critical role and likely would be courted by major powers as they prepare for another conflict.