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Saparmurat Niyazov

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"Saparmurat Niyazov"

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The former Soviet world’s most wild and crazy strongman is dead. Good obituary fodder: “Niyazov, 66, who crushed all dissent in his reclusive state and basked in a unique and bizarre personality cult while ruling a country with huge natural gas reserves, died overnight of cardiac arrest, state television said.” Next up, political instability:

“I expect there will be a massive fight for power now in Turkmenistan and it’s likely to take place between pro-U.S. and pro-Russian forces,” said a Russian gas industry source, who declined to be named. “Gas will become the main coin of exchange and the key asset to get hold of.” . . .

“Our first task is to return to Turkmenistan within hours … In Turkmenistan there is no opposition, they all sit in prisons or under home arrest. But outside the country opposition exists and it is coming back,”one activist, Parakhad Yklymov, told Reuters by telephone from Sweden.

Russia said it hoped Turkmenistan would stick to Niyazov’s course. “We count on the new Turkmenistan leaders continuing their course and further developing bilateral ties,” top Kremlin aide Sergei Prikhodko told Itar-Tass news agency.

I think trying to compete with Russia for influence in Russia’s “near abroad” is something of a mistake. The situation in Turkmenistan is always going to be more important to politicians sitting in Moscow than it will be to politicians sitting in Washington, and we’re just going to end up losing any struggles for influence that we engage in.

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