Turkmenistan is a country touching the north border of Iran and Afghanistan, that was once part of the Soviet Union, with a population of 5.2 million and capital city of Ashgabat. Although rich in natural gas reserves, the industry has not been developed much because of a lack of pipeline outlets from the country due in part to disputes with neighboring countries about Caspian Sea rights and boundaries and instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Oil and gas revenue does come in but because of a corrupt and authoritarian government, it benefits just a few rich people. 
- The Turkmen government has an absolute monopoly of the media. The authorities monitor media outlets, operate printing presses and lay down editorial policies. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe has described the lack of press freedom in the country as "unprecedented" in the body's history.
- Paris-based Reporters Without Frontiers said former President Niyazov's only use for the media was to "promote his own glory". Turkmenistan has "one of the worst media climates in the world," according to the Canada-based International Freedom of Expression exchange forum.
U.S. military bases
Although neutral Turkmenistan has only granted military overflights permission to the U.S., the U.S. has been setting up military bases over a vast area of central Asia. Ramtanu Maitra of the Asia Times wrote on March 30, 2005, "The United States is beefing up its military presence in Afghanistan, at the same time encircling Iran. Washington will set up nine new bases in Afghanistan in the provinces of Helmand, Herat, Nimrouz, Balkh, Khost and Paktia.
"Reports also make it clear that the decision to set up new US military bases was made during Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's visit to Kabul last December. Subsequently, Afghan President Hamid Karzai accepted the Pentagon diktat. Not that Karzai had a choice: US intelligence is of the view that he will not be able to hold on to his throne beyond June unless the US Army can speed up training of a large number of Afghan army recruits and protect Kabul. Even today, the inner core of Karzai's security is run by the US State Department with personnel provided by private US contractors.
"Other recent developments cohere with a US Air Force strategy to expand its operational scope across Afghanistan and the Caspian Sea region - with its vital oil reserves and natural resources: Central Asia, all of Iran, the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the northern Arabian Sea up to Yemen's Socotra Islands. This may also provide the US a commanding position in relation to Pakistan, India and the western fringes ofChina.
"The base set up at Manas outside Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan - where, according to Central Asian reports, about 3,000 US troops are based - looks to be part of the same military pattern. It embodies a major commitment to maintain not just air operations over Afghanistan for the foreseeable future, but also a robust military presence in the region well after the war.
"Prior to setting up the Manas Air Base, the US paid off the Uzbek government handsomely to set up an air base in Qarshi Hanabad. Qarshi Hanabad holds about 1,500 US soldiers, and agreements have been made for the use of Tajik and Kazakh airfields for military operations. Even neutral Turkmenistan has granted permission for military overflights. Ostensibly, the leaders of these Central Asian nations are providing military facilities to the US to help them eradicate the Islamic and other sorts of terrorists that threaten their nations. 
The U.S. says that is has no plans to open up a military base in Turkmenistan. In 2005, articles were being written saying that the U.S. would do so, to replace the base in Uzbekistan after it was told to leave. Bruce Pannier of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty wrote on September 7, 2005, "The rumors of a U.S. base seemed more plausible after a top U.S. military official visited Turkmenistan at the end of August. However, the U.S. ambassador in Turkmenistan has finally spoken out and said there are no plans for the United States to use a base there.
"For weeks now there has been speculation that the U.S. military was seeking to move its base in Uzbekistan to Turkmenistan. At the end of July, the Uzbek government requested the United States to leave the Khanabad base, used for operations in Afghanistan since 2001, by the end of this year. Despite statements from Washington that the Khanabad base was no longer important for efforts in Afghanistan, stories spread that the United States was looking to move its force to Mary-2, in eastern Turkmenistan.
"The visit of General John Abizaid, the head of the U.S. Central Command, to Turkmenistan on 23-24 August to meet with President Saprmurat Niyazov sparked reports that the United States was seeking to use a military base to compensate for the loss of Khanabad." 
The country will explore closer ties to the Western security alliance when Turkmenistan President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov attends a NATO meeting April 2-4, 2008 in Bucharest, Romania. Traditionally the country has had close ties to Russia. 
- Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, President since winning election in 2007 with 89% of votes. All candidates were from the same party and rights groups condemned the election as rigged.
Related SourceWatch articles
- Turkmenistan, National Geographic, accessed March 2008.
- Country profile: Turkmenistan, BBC, accessed March 2008.
- Ramtanu Maitra, "US scatters bases to control Eurasia", Asia Times, March 30, 2005.
- Bruce Pannier, "U.S. Embassy Says No Plans To Open Military Base In Turkmenistan", Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, September 7, 2005.
- "Turkmenistan president to attend NATO summit", 'Reuters, March 21, 2008.
- Lucy Ash, "Grim legacy of grandiose leader", BBC, December 21, 2006.
- "Q&A: Turkmen leader's death", BBC, December 21, 2006.
- "Russian gas deal dashes EU hopes", BBC, December 20, 2007.