Away from the hysterical 24/7 news cycle, Turkmenistan quietly went to the polls. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, in power for 10 years now, amassed a positively North Korean 97.69% of the vote among 3.22 million registered citizens.
Chances are Gurbanguly's name will never be correctly pronounced in the Beltway, as Melissa 'Spicey" McCarthy hinted in a by now legendary TV sketch. No worries for someone who had a gold statue of himself erected in Ashgabat and doubles as a superstar folk singer.
Gurbanguly is guaranteed seven more years in power thanks to a constitutional reform approved last September. He's the former dentist of the previous leader, the larger-than-life paramount eccentric Saparmurat Niyazov, who died of a heart attack in December 2006.
The Central Asian "stans" configure the proverbial crossroad of empires: China to the east, Turkey to the west, Russia to the north, Afghanistan and India to the south.
Those were the days in the late 19th century when London and St Petersburg fought The Great Game over their vast territory. Those were also the days when after 9/11 Washington advanced The New Great Game via its expanding Empire of Bases and Dick "Dark Side" Cheney sent mission after mission to probe eye-popping Caspian oil and gas deals.
Now the name of the game is the slowly but surely interpenetration and integration of the China-led One Belt, One Road (OBOR) and the Russia-led Eurasia Economic Union (EEU) into a Great Eurasian Emporium.
And what's striking is that idiosyncratic, self-isolated Turkmenistan, the quintessential gas republic (world's fourth largest reserves) is not part of the game.
Worse; because of indecipherable geoeconomic mismanagement, Ashgabat not only jeopardized relations with its two top buyers of natural gas -- Iran and Russia -- but also failed to strike a lucrative deal to sell gas to the willing and able European Union. Hence the uber-surrealist scenario of a gas republic unable to fully monetize its natural wealth -- apart from the Turkmenistan-China pipeline, the first to bring Central Asian natural gas to China.
Pipelineistan though is an ever-evolving box of surprises. The possibility of Turkmen gas hitting the West via Iran still stands, considering a trans-Caspian pipeline to Azerbaijan remains a certified geopolitical, logistical and financial nightmare.
The best options would be either a Turkmenistan-Iran pipeline to a LNG export terminal in Oman, or another one connecting to Turkey via Iran and then linked with the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline and the EU's Southern Gas Corridor.
Brussels, obsessed with European dependence on Gazprom, is all for it, as that would also imply lower gas prices. Moscow, competing with Ashgabat, is not exactly thrilled.
A possible spanner in the works would be -- what else -- Daesh. The ultimate Central Asian security nightmare revolves around Daesh setting up an alternative Caliphate in the agricultural/water oasis along the Murghab river, the Karakum canal, and the Amu Darya river shared by Turkmenistan with Uzbekistan.
Picture the possibility of a Central Asian Caliphate with close access to unlimited supplies of natural gas. No wonder the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) -- snubbed, so far, by Ashgabat -- is already on red alert.
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