The Turkmen army: on the rise or in decline?

President of Turkmenistan Berdimuhamedov showed to the population that shoots a machine gun, can throw knives, and he has to face the flak jacket. Was it stronger Turkmen army?President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov not only famously rides horses, teaches his Ministers, how to keep fit, but also demonstrates how he controls the military equipment, strikes the target of modern firearms, throwing the knife and directs the fire fighting helicopters. And the local TV shows this population, which should ensure that the armed forces (AF) are no longer a “labor army”, as it was at the end of the reign of the first Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov.

President of Turkmenistan shoots

“Judging by the TV, the President pays great attention to the country’s defense. Regularly showing his visits to various military units, where he demonstrates in the first place their own military skills. This gives the impression that if the President, the army will be well armed and prepared enough. But the data that we receive to the contrary”, – says the head of the NGO “Turkmen initiative for human rights” (TIHR) Vienna, Farid Tukhbatullin.

“The total strength of the armed forces, according to various estimates, about forty thousand (for comparison: according to open sources, the number of armed forces of Uzbekistan – 65 thousand, in Kazakhstan – 75 thousand. – Ed.). They are affected by a serious economic crisis of recent years, when energy prices fell. Cut not only social benefits, but also funds for the maintenance of the armed forces,” continues the source DW.

Why Turkmen soldiers catch pigeons…

As a result, he argues, soldiers get more rations reduced. “In the past two years, is especially felt. So basically the soldiers are fed by the parents – either wire the money or, more often, themselves, bring the food into pieces. Allowance of approximately three dollars per month at the current black market rate. And from this money the soldiers still forced to subscribe to various publications, they regularly collect money for all kinds of events,” laments an expert on Turkmenistan.

Recently appeared in the media information about the video, filmed for internal use by Management on educational work of the defense Ministry of Turkmenistan to display conscripts, and caught up in a media Agency ANT. Commenting on the cases where soldiers are injured in catching pigeons, journalists linked this activity with the malnutrition of the personnel.

“The President in one of his speeches said that the soldiers themselves have to grow their own vegetables and fruit. Years back, when Niyazov soldiers grew cotton, and wheat. That is, the army again today in some parts needs to feed itself”, – says the head of TIHR.

Army Turkmenistan: Uzbekistan and Tajikistan

Meanwhile, in the ranking of the armies in the world Military Strength Ranking 2018, compiled by Global Firepower, Turkmen army by the standards of Central Asia looks average. Taking the 80-th line, it lags behind Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan (39th and 50th respectively), but ahead of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (91st and 96th). And compared with 2017 Turkmenistan’s rating has risen on six positions.

However, Russian military expert Lev Korolkov sure that the rating takes into account the formal parameters, including the military budget, which in Turkmenistan is absolutely not transparent and usually overpriced, especially now, when the fat years of high revenues from gas exports passed.

This army, continues the expert, has a serious disadvantage compared to the armies of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, find themselves ranked below her. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in Turkmenistan, in contrast to all other countries in the region, where he immediately attempted military reforms, all the command positions were former Soviet officers, he recalls.

“It was the professional staff, many went to Afghanistan. And for some time the army of inertia was based on the Soviet field regulations, a relatively good level of training of privates and sergeants. And when after the “turkmenization” many military personnel, the border guards left Turkmenistan, financed by gas exports were allowed to maintain forces training at an acceptable level”, – said the expert.

What are the flaws of the armed forces of Turkmenistan

But, points out Leo Korolkov, a feature of this army is the absolute lack of combat and mobilisation experience, unlike the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, whose level of preparation is now is also not the highest. “In the reign of the Taliban in Afghanistan Mullah Omar Saparmurat Niyazov cajoled the supply of oil and even counted on their assistance in case of any problems at home or with other neighbors. And then came to Afghanistan, the Western coalition, and for some time seemed that her presence was a guarantee of security against regional threats. Meanwhile, Soviet weaponry obsolete, was produced only sporadic and insignificant purchases of foreign equipment, such as the edge of the boat, too, not the latest”, says the source DW.

“The level of the Turkmen armed forces is very low. According to our data, over the past three years on the border with Afghanistan, there were enough skirmishes with Afghan militants, where the army had not alert. Was quite a lot of casualties among conscripts and officers,” adds Farid Tukhbatullin.

Although, in his words, the border was moved a significant part of the tanks and APC, it is not particularly helped until, until they started to solve the problem differently: “Trying to interest the Afghan side gifts, and, most likely, money. And, as it was under Niyazov, fuel. After that the situation calmed down”.

In Herat, all is quiet

Thus, according to Lev Korolkov, on hand to Ashgabat is the fact that important border with Afghanistan, where Turkmenistan is bordered by the province of Herat, which is located in close proximity to a number of important objects of the Turkmen armed forces, the situation is relatively calm. In this Afghan province of activity of the armed anti-government groups is lower than, for example, in some provinces, bordering Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Another long-standing problem in almost all the Turkmen military units is hazing, which feeds the still existing tribal hatred. Not by chance in the already mentioned video for internal use, telling about the situation in the armed forces, lists a variety of tragic cases resulting from hazing.

As for officers, the Turkmen officers trained abroad – in Russia and in Turkey. “But it’s a small percentage. Perhaps the money for such programs is not enough, and special services for this are suspicious,” says Farid Tukhbatullin and reminds us that, for example, cadets and officers trained in Turkey, now found himself under the scrutiny of the security services – they are suspected of having ties with the Gulen movement.

The officers of the army under suspicion of special services

Thus, according to the head of TIHR, a serious problem for authorities is that in the Turkmen army, and in the power structures, according to our data, in General, now multiplied the number of officers who adhere to the so-called non-traditional Islam.

“A number of criminal cases related to this. So, Tejen was arrested a lot of military in one of the parts. And near Ashgabat officers were arrested not only for the unconventional practice of Islam, but for the imposition of his subordinates. That is, the armed forces become a threat to the authorities themselves”, – says human rights activist.

This may indirectly explain the information obtained from a source in military circles of the Russian Federation, which DW because of the closeness of Turkmenistan cannot confirm or deny: the source alleges that the Turkmen authorities are attracted to its sun foreign instructors and have on this account a number of agreements, particularly with Afghan tribal armed groups.

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