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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Turkmenistan Accuses Russia of Role in Shooting


Saparmurat Niyazov

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan -- Turkmenistan on Tuesday accused Russia of protecting the plotters of an assassination attempt on Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov but stopped short of blaming Moscow for arranging the failed killing.

"This was ordered from abroad. I can't say that it was done from Russia, but I can say absolutely officially that there are political activists in Russia who protect the organizers and motivators," Niyazov's spokesman Serdar Durdyev told a briefing.

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman declined to comment.

Niyazov's motorcade was raked by machine gun fire on Monday morning, although he later said he knew nothing about the attempt and was already at work when he was told about it. No one was hurt in the attack.

Ties between Russia and Turkmenistan have been strained and rumors first surfaced over a year ago that Moscow was backing a coup against Niyazov, who was offered the presidency for life from his compliant parliament in 1999. Russia is frustrated by what it perceives as Niyazov's obstruction in dividing the mineral wealth of the Caspian Sea. It is also unhappy with what it sees as his discrimination against ethnic Russians and his perceived failure to defend adequately Turkmenistan's border with Afghanistan, raising fears of refugees flooding into Central Asia and beyond.

Niyazov, speaking on state television Monday, said four former senior officials were behind the attack: former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov, former central banker Khudoiberdy Orazov, former Deputy Agriculture Minister Sapar Yklymov and Nurmukhammed Khanamov, a former ambassador to Turkey.

Durdyev said Tuesday that Yklymov had organized the weapons used in the plot while the others had financed him. He also singled out Orazov as enjoying Moscow's backing.

"There are interested politicians in Russia who protect Orazov. There exist recordings of Orazov with one very high official in the Russian government in which Orazov asks him to spirit him out of Turkmenistan. This actually happened when Orazov left the country," he said.

Durdyev said 16 people had already been arrested, of whom four were ethnic Georgians.

Shikhmuradov was one of Niyazov's closest aides when Turkmenistan achieved independence in 1991. He served as foreign minister for eight years and then ambassador to China.

But when Shikhmuradov was recalled in October 2001, he fled instead to Moscow and launched a blistering attack on Niyazov.

Analysts said at the time it was inconceivable he would speak out in Moscow without at least tacit Russian backing, further fueling speculation about a coup.

Ashgabat's response was to issue an arrest warrant for Shikhmuradov on charges that included the theft of military jets worth nearly $30 million. It is still seeking his extradition.