Armed Forces Overview: When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Turkmenistan inherited the largest armed force in Central Asia. However, since that time neutrality and isolationism have dominated Turkmenistan’s defense doctrine, and the armed forces have been neglected. After a gradual withdrawal of Russian commanders from Turkmenistani units in the 1990s, no Russian or other foreign troops remain in Turkmenistan. The armed forces depend on a high percentage of increasingly outmoded, Soviet-era equipment, however; in the 1990s, Russia provided re-supply of some military matériel. In 2005 the army had about 21,000 active personnel, the air force had 4,300, and the navy had 700. A naval coast guard has been in the planning stage since the mid-1990s. The military is believed to be a very corrupt organization.
Foreign Military Relations: A 1992 bilateral treaty named Russia as guarantor of Turkmenistan’s security and provided for command of the armed forces to gradually shift from Russian to Turkmenistani officers. That process concluded with the withdrawal of the last Russian border forces in 1999. In a move to balance Russian influence, Turkmenistan established an agreement for limited military cooperation with China in 1999. To maintain its neutrality, Turkmenistan consistently has refused to join multilateral military groupings of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), although it participates in the Caspian Sea Flotilla with Russian and Kazakhstani naval forces. In late 2001, Turkmenistan allowed the passage of humanitarian but not military supplies for the U.S. campaign in neighboring Afghanistan. In the early 2000s, the United States provided equipment and training to Turkmenistani border guard personnel.
External Threat: Although relations with neighboring Uzbekistan are strained, in 2005 Turkmenistan was under no credible military threat.
Defense Budget: In the early 2000s, Turkmenistan made slight increases in annual defense expenditures. Between 2001 and 2003, the defense budget increased from US$144 million to US$173 million.
Major Military Units: In 2005 Turkmenistan’s army, posted in five military districts, had four motorized rifle divisions, one artillery brigade, one multiple rocket launcher regiment, one antitank regiment, one engineer regiment, two surface-to-air missile brigades, and one independent air assault battalion. The air force had two aviation squadrons. A small naval base operated from Turkmenbashi.
Major Military Equipment: In 2005 much of Turkmenistan’s military equipment was Soviet-era matériel that was in storage. The army had 702 main battle tanks, 170 reconnaissance vehicles, 930 armored infantry fighting vehicles, 829 armored personnel carriers, 269 pieces of towed artillery, 40 pieces of self-propelled artillery, 17 mortars, 65 multiple rocket launchers, 100 antitank guided weapons, 72 antitank guns, and 48 antiaircraft guns. The air force had 24 fighter planes active, 200 fighter planes in storage, and 50 surface-to-air missiles. The naval force on the Caspian Sea had five boats.
Military Service: Men are eligible for conscription at age 18. The period of active service is 24 months. Although Turkmenistan has announced plans to end conscription in 2005, compulsory military service has proved an efficient way of limiting youth unemployment. Bribery of draft officials is common.
Paramilitary Forces: Turkmenistan has three types of paramilitary forces: the border guard, the national guard, and the internal troops of the Ministry of Security. The number of personnel in each is not known. Three new border guard units were formed in 2001.
Foreign Military Forces: No foreign military forces were stationed in Turkmenistan in 2005.
Military Forces Abroad: No Turkmenistani military personnel were stationed abroad in 2005.
Police: The criminal justice system of Turkmenistan essentially retains the structure of the Soviet system. The Ministry of National Security retains most of the same functions as the Soviet-era Committee for State Security (KGB). The chief responsibility of security forces is to ensure that the government remains in power, using whatever social controls and repressive measures are necessary. The Ministry of Internal Affairs directs the operations of police departments, which cooperate closely with the forces of the Ministry of National Security on matters determined to affect national security. Personnel numbers for the police and security forces are not known.
Internal Threat: In the early 2000s, the volume of narcotics trafficking, mainly in heroin, from Afghanistan through Turkmenistan increased significantly, in part because Turkmenistan’s long borders are poorly controlled. Opposition groups in exile have accused the Niyazov government and its Ministry of Security of involvement in arms and drug trafficking operations, which are known to rely on the corruption of local officials and police. The presence of narcotics also has increased the incidence of related crimes and drug addiction. Turkmenistan has a low rate of violent crime, but in the early 2000s common street crime increased.
Terrorism: Although the government has used the threat of terrorism to justify repressive policies, there is no record of a terrorist presence or of terrorist acts committed in Turkmenistan.
Human Rights: Turkmenistan’s prisons are badly overcrowded, and disease, particularly tuberculosis, is rampant. Detainees and prisoners frequently are tortured. The only political party allowed to register with the government is the ruling Democratic Party, and authorities do not grant permits for public assemblies. In 2003 a new law required that all associations register with the Ministry of Justice. That law also prohibits the operation of unregistered public associations and requires that all foreign assistance be registered with the Ministry of Justice. In 2003 a new law on religion added restrictions on religious practice and criminalized unregistered religious activity. Even before the new law, only Islam and Russian Orthodoxy had status as registered religions. All Muslim religious ceremonies must recognize Niyazov and quote from his spiritual code, Ruhnama, which has equal status with the Koran. Raids have shut down worship services of Protestant groups, Shia Muslims, the Armenian Apostolic Church, Bah’ai Muslims, Jews, and other groups.
Due process, nominally guaranteed by the constitution, rarely is observed, and few defense lawyers are available. No warrant is required for an arrest. In 2002 a wave of political repression, including further negligence of fair-trial standards, followed an alleged assassination attempt against Niyazov. In 2003 a new treason law interpreted a wide variety of activities as punishable by life in prison. The state controls publishing and broadcasting licenses, and the Niyazov administration is the sole source of information about government activity. In 2004 two new monitoring agencies further extended government media control, and journalists were arrested or beaten.