During the celebration of the 15th anniversary of independence of Turkmenistan, President Saparmurad Niyazov on behalf of the top military leadership of the country was presented with a valuable weapon - a saber of medieval work. With amazing touching and at the same time proudly, Turkmenbashi accepted this gift. And even shocked donated saber to his enemies. But whoever Niyazov himself was referring to remained unknown.
Nonetheless, as the president of Turkmenistan himself declares, and observers note that in recent years Turkmenistan has been conducting a massive but selective modernization of its armed forces. At first glance, this step of the Turkmen authorities may seem irrational to many. Turkmenistan is a state whose neutrality and inviolability of its borders are guaranteed by the UN, has no obvious territorial disputes with neighboring states, and deliberately and consistently refrains from participating in regional and global defense blocs and alliances due to the same status of a neutral country. Moreover, Turkmenistan, like the rest of the former Soviet Union, is experiencing a rather difficult post-Soviet period of transformation associated with economic restructuring, with occasional difficulties with the implementation of the main liquid national product - gas and with a decrease in the standard of living of the population. But this is only at first glance.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, quite a lot of military equipment and ammunition remained on the territory of Turkmenistan, most of which were inherited from military units withdrawn from Afghanistan and from parts of logistics support and reserves stored in the territory of present Turkmenistan. According to the most modest estimates, the modern army of Turkmenistan possesses about 600 T-72 tanks, 1,500 infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers, 300 MiG-23, Mig-29 and Su-25 combat aircraft, which is a serious force and exceeds the equipment of neighboring Uzbekistan. But this was not enough, and Turkmenbashi proclaimed the modernization of the army and large-scale arms procurement.
"The Caspian smells like blood." This phrase of Niyazov during the Caspian summit, held in Ashgabat in 2002, made many people wary. Indeed, Turkmenistan has with Azerbaijan several disputed oil fields in the middle part of the Caspian Sea. However, the Turkmen officials diligently discuss this issue not as controversial, but as “lying in the course of discussion at the international level”. Nevertheless, over the past few years, Turkmenistan has bought from Ukraine about 20 military boats capable of both protecting the coast and conducting military operations in the middle waters of the Caspian Sea. And it became a serious demarche with regard to Azerbaijan, which, regardless of the fact that the division of the Caspian Sea has not yet been legally consolidated, in fact, began to explore and develop the disputed fields in the Caspian Sea (the Kapaz, Azeri and Chirag fields ). This fact and the activity of Azerbaijan have already led to incidents in the past. Like, between Azerbaijan and Iran, when Iranian warships, under the threat of use of force, forced out the Azerbaijani geophysical vessel, which was conducting exploration of oil and gas fields in “disputed” water areas. It is the same between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, when the latter became much more acutely responsive to the unilateral steps of Azerbaijan. The Turkmen Air Force several times overflew the Azerbaijani vessels and hydrocarbon exploration facilities, new patrol boats began to ply around disputed fields. The next step for the authorities of Turkmenistan was a program to re-equip their air forces. Thus, under an agreement with Georgia, Turkmenistan placed an order to re-equip its fleet of military aircraft at Georgian enterprises that remained there after the collapse of the Soviet military-industrial complex. But the most unexpected news for observers was the appearance at the parade in honor of Independence Day of Turkmenistan in 2003 of the newest radar stations “Kolchuga” capable of detecting surface, air and ground targets in a covert mode. It was these stations that the US military was looking for before the invasion of Iraq, and it was because of them that Ukraine almost fell under the sanctions regime because of suspicions of supplying the “Kolchuga” to the Saddam Hussein regime. The apotheosis of the demonstration of force against Azerbaijan was sea and land exercises, which were held by Turkmenistan on the shores of the Caspian Sea in August 2003 with the involvement of all the armed forces, including air defense.
The situation with the eastern neighbor, Uzbekistan, with which Turkmenistan has been in a state of latent conflict several times in recent years, is even more complicated. President Niyazov several times accused the authorities of Uzbekistan of assisting the “terrorists” who staged an “attempt” on his life on November 25, 2002. After this incident, the Ambassador of Uzbekistan was declared persona non grata and expelled from the country. It was with Uzbekistan that Turkmenistan, in the first place, without waiting for delimitation and demarcation of borders, began to build a full-fledged border, including special structures - rows of barbed wire, fortified areas, additional infrastructure to accommodate a large number of soldiers and military equipment. Within a year after the “terrorist attack” with the “attempt” on Niyazov’s life, an exercise was held near the border with Uzbekistan, in which heavy weapons were involved. In this regard, it is interesting to note the fact that Turkmenbashi at that moment actually felt a serious danger emanating from abroad and specifically in relation to himself personally. All previous border disputes with Uzbekistan, even when Uzbekistan demanded the introduction of a limited military contingent to protect water intake facilities that supply water from the Turkmen part of the Amu Darya to Uzbekistan, did not cause such a reaction. And at about the same time, President Niyazov reorganized the armed forces, replacing a number of senior officials, including the chief of the general staff. At the same time, since the end of 2002, Turkmenistan almost doubled (from 50 to 100 thousand people) increased the recruitment to the armed forces.
An interesting fact is that with all the demonstration of power near the borders of Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, the long border with troubled Afghanistan remains practically unprotected, on the contrary, from tank borders with Afghanistan, from local places of deployment, in March-April 2004 several armored units were transferred to the borders with Uzbekistan However, by now all the reasons for the surges of military activity have been exhausted. The presidents agreed to give each other "terrorists", the desire to quietly extract gas and oil in the Caspian Sea outweighed the ambitions of the late 90s, the presence of international troops in Afghanistan and the strict neutrality of Turkmenistan in the dialogue between the US and Iran should have set Niyazov on a pacifist way. But he repeatedly declares his intention to create the most equipped and efficient army in the region. True, always stipulating its purely defensive purpose.
And yet, despite the huge number of old and new military "iron", many observers are skeptical about the fighting capacity of the Turkmen army. First of all, it is connected with the strongest shortage of qualified national personnel. Practically all the military specialists of the Soviet Army left Turkmenistan after the collapse of the USSR. In the early to mid-90s, the authorities were forced to call out from the resignation of military retirees for staging military affairs from scratch. Several dozen military experts trained abroad were able to properly put the skills of soldiers and officers to the proper level, which was enough ... for the march at parades and the festive flight of the aircraft over the stands during demonstrations. It is a stretch to talk about real combat training of the Turkmen army. And all the regular exercises, widely reported by local media, produce the impression of well-directed performances. And in this case, Turkmenbashi turned out to be true to himself: external entourage and window dressing, characteristic of other industries, carry, in the first place, an ideological and propaganda burden. In fact, more than half of the army is an army, not military, but labor. After an increase in conscription in 2002, the second year, according to official data, up to 65 thousand people serve directly in combat units. The rest are employed in the Turkmen version of alternative service - the soldiers are officially seconded to hospitals, agricultural enterprises, industry, transport. But out of 65 "battle" thousands, two thirds are serving ... in fields and farms owned by the Ministry of Defense. Yes, the Ministry of Defense in Turkmenistan is fully transferred to autonomous support. And this means that the called-up soldiers must fully provide the army with all foodstuffs; they grow wheat, vegetables, bake bread, and graze cattle. In addition, the ministry, as well as other departments in Turkmenistan, is obliged to grow and harvest a certain amount of grain and cotton by a special state order.
But a special headache for the commanders of the units is the Turkmen version of the “non-statutory relations”, which is based on local communities and belonging to different Turkmen tribes. The hostility provoked by these factors often results in mass brawls, all sorts of manifestations of hazing, soldiers escaping from units, and cases of suicide. At the moment, this problem has no solution, and the authorities understand that dropping people from one region and belonging to one tribe to separate military units is fraught with even greater problems - this is the forerunner of separatism. But to go to a radical restructuring of the army, creating compact professional troops, freed from all sorts of labor duties and problems with food self-sufficiency, the current authorities also can not go. From 50 to 70 thousand young men graduate from school annually, and the authorities are not able to provide them with work, especially in rural areas. In order to avoid the marginalization of all this mass of youth and the social explosion, it was decided to let all young people through the army in the hopes of instilling at least some spirit of discipline, obedience and initial professional skills. The acuteness of this problem of unemployment was so obvious that it was decided to call up for military service from the age of 17, after graduating from a 9-year secondary education. Moreover, this was done in violation of the UN Convention on the Protection of Children's Rights. But these attempts are turning one more side. According to eyewitnesses, the last few years in the Turkmen army have been actively working on Hizbut-Tahrir and other currents of “non-traditional” Islam, which led several experts to talk about the phenomenon of “Talibanization” of Turkmen youth. This, coupled with an extremely low level of education, a low standard of living, total unemployment, especially in rural areas, the lack of prospects for higher education (in Turkmenistan enrollment in universities) is severely limited, already leads to the formation of the near future may become a serious threat not only to the current government, but also to the state system of Turkmenistan in principle.
Do Turkmen authorities understand this? And who was threatened with a Turkmenbashi saber?
REFERENCE: From the archive of military-technical cooperation
Among the most significant contracts is the overhaul of the MiG-29 fighters of the Turkmen Air Force. According to expert estimates, the cost of work on one aircraft was at least $ 3 million. Another important area of military-technical cooperation between the two countries is the supply of a batch of patrol boats to Ashgabat, produced by JSC Feodosia shipbuilding company More. To date, four Kalkan-M boats have already been delivered, negotiations are underway to build seven more. The first of the Kalkans arrived in the Caspian Sea in May 2002, with President Saparmurat Niyazov present at the ceremony. As expected, Ashgabat will also purchase a modernized version of the Grif-T boat being built at FGC “Sea” (export name “Condor”). The roots of naval cooperation stretched to May 2001, when during Niyazov’s visit to Ukraine and his stay in Odessa, it was decided to build combat patrol boats for the border forces of Turkmenistan. The preliminary order of the Feodosia shipbuilding company should be ten 40-tonne “Grifs” (or its version “Condor”) and ten 8-tonne “Kalkans”. In addition, Ashgabat received batches of Ukrainian small arms.
In connection with the policy of upgrading military equipment, the government of Turkmenistan signed an agreement providing for the repair of all Su-25 attack aircraft in Georgia at Tbilaviastroy JSC. In 2002, repairs were completed on 22 vehicles. The cost of repairing each attack aircraft is approximately $ 1 million. Tbilaviastroy works to repay part of Georgia’s debt (over $ 340 million) for Turkmen gas supplied to this country. In addition to the repair of Su-25 attack aircraft, the government of Turkmenistan expressed a desire to purchase 2 new two-seater aircraft from Tbilaviastroya. The amount of this transaction will be $ 20 million.