Where do you go when you’re a dictatorial regime with few trading partners and fewer friends? The answer for Turkmenistan of late is either “Iran” or “China.”
Ashgabat has been playing ugly belle left standing at the ball lately, signing energy and political cooperation agreements with Beijing and Tehran. Dual press conferences, cooperation documents signed and sent to a largely uncaring external media, and shows of affection by unelected tyrants for other unelected tyrants have been the norm over the last two weeks.
Western media are treating these as slow news days events, missing the larger picture: Vladimir Putin’s reconstituted Russian empire will not be a Soviet Union, but an amalgam of states that owe loyalty (and close physical proximity to Russia will ensure that), including support in international fora and close economic ties. Yet these same states will be perfectly free to expand cooperation and ties with other states broadly aligned with Russia, as Iran and China are.
This strongly suggests that a largely informal geopolitical alliance is again slowly cohering around a series of shared principles — that sovereign states must be free of foreign intervention, that trade trumps freedom, and that the old, Western model of development must be left behind for a model more inclined to support “national aspirations.”
If you’re familiar with the rhetoric of the non-aligned movement — and the folks running the show in these autocracies took it with their mother’s milk — then you’re hear more than an echo as these tyrannies find old excuses for old misbehaviors.
But as I said, the story here isn’t the resurrection of 1970s rhetoric. It’s the story of a group of regional hegemons increasing their influence in a volatile region, excluding the West and its values, and making their own, common, dark future. Turkmenistan is the latest battlefield for this quiet war.
It will hardly be the last.
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