Turning Full Circle. Turkmenistan’s New Deputy PM for Oil & Gas Makes His First Appointments

The new deputy prime minister overseeing Turkmenistan’s oil and gas sector, Ashirguly Begliyev, has carried out a major personnel reshuffle as one of his first acts in post. Begliyev’s own promotion was one of a number of changes announced by President Serdar Berdimuhamedov at a government meeting on February 10.

From left to right: Maksat Babayev, Ashirguly Begliyev, Murat Archayev and Maksat Piriyev

According to turkmen.news sources, Begliev made his personnel changes on February 16, less than one week after his appointment. The changes are not being publicized and no wonder: sources observe that the president is using Begliyev to return to senior positions people whom his father Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov had kicked downstairs at some point.

Maksat Babayev (pictured) has been appointed deputy chairman of the Turkmengaz state concern with responsibility for gas production and processing. We mentioned Babayev in an earlier report on Begliyev and predicted his rapid promotion. He was head of Turkmengaz for several months in 2017. He then became deputy prime minister responsible for the oil and gas sector for a short time, and in 2018 was demoted to head the department for the capital construction of the polymer plant at Kiyanly.

Sources say that Babayev is a trusted associate of Begliyev. It is thanks to him that he came back from “exile” in Kiyanly.

When Begliyev was appointed presidential adviser, Babayev went to work for him in the administration. And now, in the early days of his deputy premiership, Babayev has made good use of the opportunity to boost his career.

Babayev has taken over from Atamurat Charyev as deputy head of Turkmengaz with responsibility for gas production and processing. Charyev has been moved to the post of specialist in one of the departments of the Cabinet of Ministers.

The prediction about another of Begliyev’s protégés, Murat Archayev (pictured), has also come true. He has been appointed deputy chairman of Turkmengaz with responsibility for exports and foreign economic ties. Archayev took over from Babayev as chairman of Turkmengaz in 2017 and remained in the post until 2020. Archayev shares the blame for the purchase of shoddy sensors for the Galkynysh field that recently failed to withstand sub-zero temperatures, leading to a halt in gas supplies to Uzbekistan.

And, finally, Ayhan Ayhanov, whose promotion was also predicted by turkmen.news sources in the government, has become Begliyev’s assistant in the Cabinet of Ministers.

Ayhanov was head of the department for foreign economic cooperation in Turkmennebit (Turkmen oil). From there he moved to the administration, to the then head of the Department for Hydrocarbons at the Cabinet of Ministers, Yagshigeldi Kakayev. When Kakayev died in 2020 as a result of coronavirus, Ayhanov took charge of the department for foreign economic relations at Turkmengaz. The deputy head of the concern was at that time his old acquaintance Guvanch Agajanov, thanks to whom Ayhanov was free to run his corrupt schemes.

Ayhanov started to have problems though: Agajanov was replaced by the president’s relative Ahmet Geldimyradov, and Ayhanov did not get on so well with him. Like Maksat Babayev, Ayhanov moved to the administration, to presidential adviser Begliyev. But then Geldimyradov was himself dismissed over a drunken brawl, news of which reached the ears of the head of state. And now Begliyev has taken charge of the oil and gas sector and taken Ayhanov with him.

Sources say that Geldimyradov is not at all happy at the promotion of his “enemies” Ayhanov and, most of all, Archayev, but cannot do anything about it. Even though Serdar Berdimuhamedov is his cousin, Geldimyradov has fallen out of favor with him. The former officials were promoted on Begliyev’s say-so, and the head of state still trusts him. The fact that his father, who was president before him, did not rate the officials’ work, and removed them from top positions did not stop Serdar Berdimuhamedov.

It cannot be said that Berdimuhamedov Senior dislikes the new deputy prime minister though. He recently travelled with Begliyev and Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov to the United Arab Emirates. The official media reported on them cycling and having tea together. On the other hand, one of the key issues discussed in the UAE was cooperation in the oil and gas sector. Who if not the newly appointed deputy prime minister for the sector should accompany the officially proclaimed “leader of the nation”?

According to sources, Begliyev has been well-known for his submissiveness and lack of initiative throughout his political career, which began under the first president Saparmurat Niyazov. Indeed, it may be his skill at not drawing attention to himself that is valued most highly.

Begliyev can be dubbed a veteran of Turkmen politics. He began his career in geology in the 1980s, but during the early years of independence he moved to official bodies. He worked in the Ministry for Oil and Gas, which was later renamed the Ministry for the Oil and Gas Industry and Mineral Resources.

In 1999 he became head of the Committee for the Use of Hydrocarbon Resources under the Turkmen president. In 2006, he returned to the ministry where he was head of a number of departments and sections, but almost immediately, in 2007, was transferred to the Department for Hydrocarbons at the Cabinet of Ministers. At the department he worked under the leadership of the then head Yagshigeldi Kakayev.

Under Kakayev’s protection, Begliyev was appointed chairman of the Turkmengaz state concern in 2015. Eighteen months later, in 2017, he was dismissed – officially “in connection with his transfer to other work.” Unofficially, sources say, it was because of Begliyev’s lack of initiative and his inability to manage his subordinates.

In 2017, Begliyev was for a short time head of the government department for the oversight of construction of major facilities of special importance in the oil and gas sector. He then worked as a senior scientific executive at the Galkynysh site. In 2020 Begliyev was appointed head of the contracts department in the production section at the Türkmen Milli nebitgaz kompaniýasy (Turkmen national oil and gas company), and in 2022 retained this position while also becoming adviser on oil and gas to the president of Turkmenistan.

According to sources, Begliyev is an intelligent guy with a reasonable temperament, but as a leader is utterly helpless before the corrupt “friends” around him. And it’s clear that practically as soon as Begliyev was appointed deputy prime minister, his “friends” got what they wanted.

Observers comment that there are plenty of talented young employees in the Turkmen oil and gas sector who have studied in Russia and China and are now ready to apply their knowledge for the good of the country. But instead of seeking out and promoting such young prospects, the leaders of the sector move people around who have long since shown beyond any doubt that their only talent is stealing.

All these people are members of the “oil and gas mafia,” a kind of secret society that only a limited number of people can join. The main selection criterion is clearly the ability to massage figures and use tenders to take kickbacks and steal. And this is happening in the oil and gas sector, which is key to Turkmenistan.

There is no logic at all in Serdar Berdimuhamedov’s personnel decisions. He has started to bring back to top posts people whom his father removed at one time or another. It’s difficult to say if Serdar is doing this to annoy his father, thereby showing his independence, or if the “influential people,” who include all the aforementioned figures, have found a way to handle the young leader. But one thing is clear – these people form a cast of characters who have made a fortune in their previous posts and earned authority amongst their own kind too.