Turkmenistan’s authoritarian president has been described in leaked U.S. diplomatic dispatches as a vain, vindictive liar, and authorities reportedly feared his being assassinated so much that a stray cat was once a suspect.
The memos from U.S. Embassy staff in Turkmenistan published on the WikiLeaks website on Thursday portray the reclusive former Soviet Central Asia nation as a hive of corruption led by a dimwitted autocrat.
In a cable dated last December, President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov is referred to by U.S. officials as “vain, suspicious, guarded, strict, very conservative, a practiced liar,” a good actor, and vindictive. The cable says that assessment of the president was made by an individual, but their identity has apparently been censored by WikiLeaks.
Citing a source with close access to the president, the memo further notes he is wary of his intellectual superiors.
“Since he’s not a very bright guy, our source offered, he is suspicious of a lot of people,” the note said.
A separate cable dated in January describes two incidents involving the presidential motorcade that were perceived as possible assassination attempts, noting that there have been persistent rumours of a failed attempt to kill Mr. Berdymukhamedov in August 2009.
In one, a motorist reportedly cut off the president’s motorcade. The hapless driver was “beaten black and blue,” sentenced to 25 years in jail for attempted assassination and the acting head of the capital’s traffic police and two deputies were immediately fired, the memo said.
In the other, a cat darted out in front of the president’s car near his home and the security officer responsible for monitoring that area was promptly fired, the cable said, citing military sources.
Another cable says the Russian natural gas company Itera tried to expedite deals by buying the Turkmenistan government a yacht reportedly worth $60 million.
Turkmenistan’s leaders have wielded tight control over the former Soviet republic.
Mr. Berdymukhamedov’s predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, was a wildly eccentric and mercurial leader that erected countless golden statues of himself, including one that rotated on a tower so it always faces the sun. Niyazov, who died in late 2006, also renamed a month of the year after his own mother, banned circuses and the opera for being insufficiently Turkmen and wrote a rambling spiritual tome that became mandatory reading for all his countrymen.
Mr. Berdymukhamedov initially adopted a far more subdued public image, but has gradually become more assured.
The revelations in the formerly secret diplomatic cables are not likely to do much for Mr. Berdymukhamedov’s opinion of the United States, which the memo says he already dislikes.