Freedom in the World
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President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov appeared more interested in diversifying his country’s natural gas exports in 2009 than in political and economic reforms at home. Progress away from the repressive legacy of former president Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in 2006, remained slow, producing token improvements rather than systemic change.
Berdymukhammedov changed Niyazov’s isolationist foreign policy, parlaying Turkmenistan’s natural gas reserves into broader foreign ties. In 2009, gas exports to Russia halted—and relations cooled—after an April pipeline explosion that Turkmenistan blamed on Russia. Meanwhile, a $7 billion pipeline to China opened in December, ending Russia's near-monopoly on gas exports from Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan also held talks with the United States on possible logistical support for NATO operations in Afghanistan, and relations with the Europe Union warmed amid ongoing discussions of potential energy exports.
Turkmenistan is not an electoral democracy. The late president Saparmurat Niyazov wielded near-absolute power until his death. None of the country’s elections—including the February 2007 vote that gave Niyazov’s successor, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, a five-year term in office—have been free or fair.