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Caucasus Report: March 4, 2005


4 March 2005, Volume 8, Number 8

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY INCREASES PRESSURE ON AZERBAIJAN. With eight months still to go, international organizations and diplomats are already exerting pressure on the Azerbaijani authorities to take steps to ensure that the parliamentary ballot due in November will be, in the words of the EU's special envoy for the South Caucasus, Ambassador Heikki Talvitie, "as free and fair as is possible in the conditions that prevail in Azerbaijan." On 1 March, U.S. Ambassador to Baku Reno Harnish announced that Washington will provide $7 million toward the cost of the ballot, MPA reported. And last month, both Talvitie and Swiss parliamentarian Andreas Gross, who monitors developments in Azerbaijan on behalf of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), impressed upon Azerbaijani officials the need to ensure the elections conform to international standards. Gross hinted that if the Azerbaijani leadership fails to implement international bodies' recommendations intended to ensure the November elections are not marred by the kinds of egregious violations witnessed by international monitors in 1995, 1998, 2000, and 2003, PACE might consider temporarily stripping Azerbaijan's delegation of its mandate.

Gross singled out as one of the key demands made by international bodies the amendment of the Electoral Code to ensure "a fair balance" between official and opposition representatives on election commissions at all levels. He also argued that NGOs should be permitted to monitor elections, which the Electoral Code currently prohibits. Responsibility for amending the election law lies with the Azerbaijani legislature, which Gross characterized as not only weak but "heavily dependent on the presidential administration."

On 11 February, Turan quoted presidential-administration official Ali Hasanov as arguing that the current Electoral Code was adopted only two years ago, and that it incorporated recommendations made by the Council of Europe. Therefore, Hasanov reasoned, there is no need to amend it. Gross, for his part, told echo-az.com that during a meeting on 12 February with presidential-administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev, the latter said the government is discussing possible amendments to the existing election legislation. But another senior official, Ali Akhmedov, who is executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, told echo-az.com of 21 February that "no law, including the Electoral Code, should be amended simply on someone's whim." Akhmedov dismissed as unacceptable the opposition demand to change the composition of election commissions, equating it with an insistence that those bodies be formed anew for every successive ballot -- an approach that, he argued, will result in neither greater democratization nor the holding of democratic, transparent, and fair elections. Akhmedov accused the opposition of wanting to determine the composition of election commissions in order to ensure it wins the November ballot. On the first day of the spring session of parliament, several deputies called for amending the election law, according to echo-az.com on 2 March, but they failed to schedule a debate on the issue.

Although almost all Azerbaijani opposition parties agree that amending the Electoral Code is an essential precondition for free and fair elections, they have still not managed to close ranks in a single movement to push for such amendments. On the contrary, two separate blocs are currently lobbying for different but similar sets of amendments. In mid-January, three leading opposition parties -- the Musavat Party, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, and the progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party -- aligned in a Forum for Free Elections and unveiled their proposed election-law amendments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2005). Two weeks later, at the initiative of the Great Revival Party headed by Fazil Gazanfaroglu, some 30 less influential parties aligned in a Forum for Democratic Elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2005). The Forum for Free Elections wants election commissions formed on the basis of parity and the composition of the Central Election Commission (CEC) expanded from 15 to 18. The Forum for Democratic Elections also wants the CEC to number 18 members but suggests that the authorities and the opposition should propose seven members each, with the remaining four seats going to legal experts nominated by the two political camps; it further proposes reducing the local election commissions from nine to eight members, four each to be nominated by the authorities and the opposition, according to echo-az.com on 28 January. The Forum for Democratic Elections further advocated setting a deadline of 1 May for revising electoral rolls. (Liz Fuller)

HAS CHECHNYA'S STRONGMAN SIGNED HIS OWN DEATH WARRANT? Over the 10 months since the killing of his father, pro-Moscow administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, Ramzan Kadyrov, 28, has emerged as the most influential and the most feared man in Chechnya.

In what was widely seen as a bid by Moscow to secure his loyalty, Ramzan Kadyrov was named Chechen first deputy prime minister in May 2004 and then appointed in October as an aide to Dmitrii Kozak, President Vladimir Putin's envoy to the South Russia Federal District. Then in late December, Putin bestowed on Ramzan Kadyrov the prestigious Hero of Russia award (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 22 October 2004 and 13 January 2005), thereby tacitly signaling approval of the mass reprisals against Chechen civilians routinely undertaken by the so-called presidential security forces subordinate to Kadyrov.

But according to "Newsweek-Russia" of 14-20 February, many representatives of the Russian federal forces in Chechnya have come to view Kadyrov as a potential threat that needs to be neutralized, given that Moscow is apparently unable or unwilling to rein him in. For the time being, however, no one is prepared to challenge him openly, "Newsweek-Russia" reported, as doing so would inevitably spark a major armed conflict.

Several recent moves by Kadyrov might nonetheless serve as the catalyst for his undoing. According to "Newsweek-Russia," Kadyrov alienated the Federal Security Service (FSB) by sending armed men into Daghestan in January to secure the release of his sister Zulay, who was detained by police in Khasavyurt for traveling without identity papers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12, 14, and 18 January 2005). Then in an interview published in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 23 February, Kadyrov swore to kill radical field commander Shamil Basaev -- the man who claimed responsibility for the bombing that killed Ramzan's father (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2004).

The death or capture of Basaev would demolish the main official rationale for the continuation of the "antiterrorism" operation in Chechnya given that, according to official logic, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov allegedly does not wield any influence over the resistance forces. But as journalist Anna Politkovskaya pointed out in the most recent issue of "Novaya gazeta," there are numerous figures, including some within the Russian military and security forces, who have a vested interest in seeing the war continue indefinitely insofar as they either stand to profit from it either financially or in terms of promotion, or, in the case of the pro-Moscow Chechen forces, because they have no skills that would provide them with a livelihood in peacetime.

"Izvestiya" published a five-part series in December detailing the reasons why, after five years of war, the Russian military has still not succeeded in hunting down and apprehending Basaev: the Chechen civilian population admires and respects Basaev and will never betray him to the Russians; and Basaev has unlimited funds at his disposal that have enabled him to establish an extensive network of well-equipped hiding places (see also "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 5 November 2004). But those factors might be only secondary: some Russian analysts have suggested that the primary reason Basaev remains at liberty is that he has links with the GRU (Russian military intelligence), which would intervene to warn him of any impending danger.

According to Politkovskaya's most recent analysis, Kadyrov has challenged the GRU by dismissing all police officials appointed in Chechnya's southern Vedeno district by GRU protege Sulim Yamadaev, commander of the so-called Eastern battalion. Politkovskaya construed those dismissals as just one more episode in the power struggle between the GRU and the FSB. But if the FSB were indeed angered by Kadyrov's intervention in Khasavyurt, it could conceivably make common cause with the GRU to get rid of Kadyrov, which would also serve to remove a threat to Basaev -- and to ensure that the war continues indefinitely.

In addition, Kadyrov has, according to Politkovskaya, forcibly closed schools in Vedeno and recruited all male students as members of his security force to preclude their joining the resistance. Pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov called two weeks ago for more effective measures to deter adolescent boys from joining the resistance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2005). (Liz Fuller)

GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER PUSHES FOR GREATER EU INVOLVEMENT IN SOUTH CAUCASUS. Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili met recently in Brussels with EU ambassadors, to whom she submitted Georgia's vision of a three-year "action plan" similar to that obtained last month by Ukraine, and which would pave the way to upgrading Georgia's relations with the EU.

Those relations are currently dictated by the EU's European Neighborhood Policy, which Zourabichvili said Tbilisi takes "very seriously," in part because it provides possibilities for the kind of reforms that are preconditions for EU membership. Zourabichvili said she is aware "that the Neighborhood Policy is not designed as a step towards [EU] membership, but we also [have a goal] and the European Union has to know we maintain our perspective." She said the Georgian leadership hopes that a decision will be taken on the action plan at an EU foreign ministers' meeting scheduled for late March, "and then we expect the action plan itself to be endorsed by the end of the year."

Zourabichvili said the Georgian leadership would like to see EU officials treating Georgia with the same degree of attention they currently give to Ukraine. She noted that Georgia's Rose Revolution predated the Orange Revolution in Ukraine by one year but put Georgia on the same path toward the West. She said Georgia sees its fate linked to that of Ukraine as Kyiv attempts to push beyond the EU's Neighborhood Policy toward full EU membership.

She explained that recent developments in Ukraine help the democratic consolidation of Georgia, in that Georgia is no longer the only country on Russia's borders that aspires to integration with the EU. She said that it is better for Georgia to be considered in the same framework as Ukraine in terms of eventual EU membership, rather than Turkey, given that Ukraine is making swifter progress.

Zourabichvili praised EU assistance to Georgia in transforming the judiciary, police, and court system, comparing that aid to the U.S. role in reforming the Georgian military.

Zourabichvili also expressed hopes that the EU will agree to set up a mission to monitor Georgia's borders with Ingushetia, Chechnya, and Daghestan following Russia's decision to veto the extension of the OSCE mission that performed that role since February 2000. She said the EU is the perfect organization to take over that task, as Russia has no right of veto over the EU, and the EU will not be perceived by Moscow as "confrontational." She said there is no reason for Russia to be apprehensive of such plans, and that she gained the impression during her talks in Brussels that Russia is marginally "less negative" to EU involvement in monitoring the borders than to a revamped OSCE mission to train Georgian border guards.

But EU officials in Brussels have told RFE/RL that Russia remains very critical of the EU plans, which some EU member states, including France and Germany, could block.

Zourabichvili further said she sees "more room" for the EU to become involved in efforts to resolve the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. She foresees EU participation in monitoring an eventual settlement of those conflicts, assisting in customs control and boosting economic rehabilitation.

Zourabichvili said relations with Russia remain a crucial factor for Georgia. She termed "a test" for Russia the agreement achieved during Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's visit to Tbilisi last month to establish working groups that will seek to expedite progress in solving six major problems in bilateral relations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2005). She added that "the tone of these exchanges and the agreement on the way to proceed, maybe, I hope, presents a way forward.... We are ready, certainly, to look at each of these issues [to determine] whether there can be a compromise." (Ahto Lobjakas)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "Georgia may reach the level of development of Western European countries in 75 years if we make no serious mistakes." -- State Minister for Economic Reform Kakha Bendukidze, in answer to a question from a Romanian journalist. Quoted by Caucasus Press on 1 March.

"There are cases of human rights violations in Chechnya, but the Defense Ministry has nothing to do with them, because servicemen do not hold any operations in villages and towns." -- Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, speaking to foreign journalists in Moscow on 1 March (quoted by ITAR-TASS).

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