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Caucasus Report: April 1, 2005

1 April 2005, Volume 8, Number 11

PACE CONVENES ROUNDTABLE ON CHECHNYA. Some 60 representatives of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration and the Russian authorities, together with Russian human rights activists, European parliamentarians, and independent experts, met in Strasbourg on 21 March under the aegis of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to discuss the situation in Chechnya.

At the insistence of Swiss parliamentarian Andreas Gross, who is the PACE rapporteur for Chechnya, and over the objections of Moscow and the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership, representatives of the administration of assassinated Chechen President and resistance leader Aslan Maskhadov were invited to participate, but declined to do so.

Despite that absence, both the venue for and the agenda of the roundtable proved problematic. Some members of the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership, notably First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, and State Council Chairman Taus Dzhabrailov, had argued in the run-up to the meeting that it should be held in Grozny, rather than Strasbourg. Pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov likewise argued that Grozny was a more suitable venue, Interfax reported on 11 March. But he added that he was prepared to travel to Strasbourg if doing so would expedite economic revival and furnish even minimal benefit to the Chechen people.

According to "Russkii kurer" on 21 March, the agenda of the roundtable comprised two broad questions: what kind of moves could lead to a political process in Chechnya that would include everyone who opposes violence, and what kind of legal methods would help to counter terrorism and violence effectively? But the different groups of participants adopted varying approaches to those questions. "Vremya novostei" on 28 March quoted Tatyana Lokshina of the Moscow Helsinki Group as saying that the human rights activists and European parliamentarians sought to abide by the official agenda and discuss the political situation in Chechnya. In a resolution adopted last fall (http://assembly.coe.itn/Documents/Adopted/text/ta04/ERES1402.htm), the PACE sketched a blueprint for promoting stabilization and democratization in Chechnya and called on the region's pro-Moscow leadership to take measures aimed at enforcing the rule of law; seeking to circumscribe the role and influence of warlords, terrorists, and the security forces; ensuring that the parliamentary elections tentatively planned for 2005 are perceived as legitimate; and fighting pervasive corruption and organized crime. Lokshina, however, proposed suspending the political process in Chechnya entirely, imposing a state of emergency, and enlisting the OSCE and the Council of Europe to mediate between the various Chechen political factions, including the resistance, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 22 March.

The pro-Moscow Chechen authorities argued that the discussion in Strasbourg should exclude political issues and concentrate on "stabilization" and improving social and economic conditions in Chechnya. Alkhanov explained to ITAR-TASS on 21 March that "there is no need to discuss political issues at today's meeting as the people of the Chechen Republic have clearly determined its political, legal and socioeconomic course" by endorsing the region's new constitution two years ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2003). The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" noted on 23 March that both the Chechen and Russian speakers tended simply to read prepared statements, and showed little inclination to engage in discussion. But the paper also noted that all 31 speakers agreed on the need to continue the dialogue, and on neutral ground. They also agreed on the importance of the elections, tentatively scheduled for this fall. According to "Kommersant-Daily," the Chechen delegation assured their European hosts that the ballot will be "as free and fair as possible," and that all resistance supporters who wish to do so may participate providing they were not involved in "major crimes." The German daily also quoted German parliamentarian and Russia expert Rudolf Bindig as noting that with one exception, the Russian speakers refrained from blaming the Chechen situation on "international terrorism," and instead admitted that resolving the conflict depends primarily on the Russians and Chechens.

Such minute shifts in emphasis and approach tend to substantiate Lokshina's argument that "negotiating is the only thing we can do" to help end the ongoing war. In an interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service shortly after his appointment as rapporteur for Chechnya in 2003, Gross stressed his commitment to talking to all parties to the conflict as a preliminary to promoting a broad discussion of ways of resolving it (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 25 July 2003). And, in an interview posted on the Council of Europe website days before the roundtable, (http://www.coe.itn/t/e/com/files/interview/20050317_interv_gross.asp), Gross defined the aim of the roundtable as "creating conditions for negotiations in which political solutions and a peace plan for Chechnya will be sought. The Round Table is the very first step in such a process." He argued that those people who believe that dialogue between the warring parties is no longer possible should be persuaded to reconsider that refusal and begin talking to each other again. But, at the same time, he excluded talks with "people who take children hostage and murder them," a possible allusion to radical field commander Shamil Basaev, who claimed responsibility for the Beslan hostage-taking last September and whom many observers anticipate will play a more prominent role in formulating resistance strategy following Maskhadov's death on 8 March. Asked whether the killing of Maskhadov fuels the arguments of those political figures who steadfastly reject dialogue, Gross agreed, saying that Maskhadov was killed by "forces which wanted to sabotage all alternatives to war," and that such forces exist on both sides. But he added that the Council of Europe remains committed to promoting dialogue, and that European governments should simultaneously impress more forcefully on the Russian leadership the need to improve economic and social conditions in Chechnya, which he described as "hell." (Liz Fuller)

YOUTH MOVEMENT COMPOUNDS PRESSURE ON INGUSHETIA'S PRESIDENT In the three months since its foundation in late December, the Youth Movement of Ingushetia (MDI) claims to have recruited some 20,000 members in a region whose total population numbers only 314,900. Unlike comparable organizations elsewhere in Russia and the CIS that have taken to the streets to demonstrate their desire for regime change, it has maintained a low profile, eschewing public rallies. Instead, it has made extensive use of the Internet, in particular the opposition website, to publicize its aims.

Initially, the MDI said it would focus on nonpolitical activities, primarily sport. But on 12 January, it announced its intention of convening a congress within the next couple of months in order to elect its leading officials, "young leaders...who will subsequently be able to contribute to the flourishing of our republic and help to rid it of the present generation of dirty, cowardly bureaucrats who are mired in corruption and who have reduced the republic to a state of economic collapse."

By 1 February, the MDI had already formed a number of regional organizations. In late March, unnamed members of the movement met in Moscow with Musa Ozdoev, a deputy to the Republic of Ingushetia's Parliament and an unofficial leader of the Ingushetian opposition whose repeated complaints about violations during the elections in December 2003 to the Ingushetian parliament and the Russian State Duma failed to elicit any response from the republic's leadership. Participants in those talks reached agreement on the need to preserve stability in Ingushetia in the anticipation that President Murat Zyazikov's administration will "collapse," after which they intend to "take control" of developments in the republic.

Also in late March, the movement posted on an appeal to Zyazikov to resign of his own volition rather than risk the "shame" of being deposed in a violent uprising. Zyazikov has not yet publicly responded to that ultimatum. ( launched an online petition last fall similarly calling on Zyazikov to resign; as of 30 March, 973 people have signed it.)

The MDI convened its most recent meeting in Nazran on 29 March to assess the impact of the previous day's standoff between police and security forces and opposition demonstrators. The authorities deployed police and armored vehicles early on 28 March to block access to a monument on the Nazran-Magas highway to victims of Stalinist repression where oppositionists planned to hold a meeting to demand Zyazikov's resignation and the return to Ingushetia of Prigorodnyi Raion. That district was incorporated into the North Ossetian ASSR following the abolition of the then Checheno-Ingush ASSR in the wake of the mass deportation of Chechens and Ingush to Central Asia in February 1944. When those two peoples were allowed to return to the North Caucasus in the late 1950s and the Checheno-Ingush ASSR was reconstituted, Prigorodnyi Raion remained under the jurisdiction of North Ossetia.

Survivors of the 1944 deportation formed an unofficial group named Akhki-Yurt to lobby for the return of Prigorodnyi Raion to Ingushetia, and in recent months have stepped up their campaign prior to the adoption by the parliament of the Republic of Ingushetia of legislation formally listing the administrative districts it comprises. Police detained the chairman of Akhki-Yurt, 70-year-old Boris Arsamakov, on 28 March in a bid to thwart the planned protest demonstration. Ozdoev and members of the MDI succeeded in dissuading angry would-be participants, including "representatives of radical youth," from storming the police headquarters in Nazran where Arsamakov was being held; he was released later on 28 March.

Whether or not the 28 March standoff would have escalated into a popular uprising but for the intervention of the MDI, as one anonymous commentary has argued, is impossible to assess, as is the degree of authority the MDI commands. It is, after all, only one of several opposition movements in Ingushetia, and one of at least three factions vying for the sympathies of the younger generation. The others are the "radical elements" who advocated violence on 28 March, and those young Ingush who, alienated by official corruption and even more by the systematic reprisals and abductions conducted with impunity in recent years by Russian police and security forces, are flocking to fight under the banner of radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev.

Zyazikov, however, is apparently so unnerved by the emergence of the MDI and the role it has played in calling for his resignation that he has ordered the creation of a counterweight youth organization, the leader of which pledged its support for Zyazikov in a television broadcast on 30 March, reported. (Liz Fuller)

TWO NEW ELECTION ALLIANCES TAKE SHAPE IN AZERBAIJAN. With seven months still to go before the November parliamentary elections, two new election blocs have already emerged in Azerbaijan and a third is expected to be formally unveiled this week. The two most recent alignments both highlight the role that individual personalities, rather than ideologies, continue to play in Azerbaijani politics.

On 18 March, the leaders of the opposition Musavat and Democratic parties and the progressive wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party announced their alignment in an as yet unnamed bloc that will campaign under a joint manifesto and field a single list of candidates in the November ballot. They told journalists that the bloc is open to any other opposition party that seeks to join. Musavat head Isa Qambar, who served in 1992-1993 as parliament speaker, is possibly Azerbaijan's most respected opposition leader and was the only serious presidential challenger to acting President Ilham Aliyev in the October 2003 presidential election. Qambar continues to insist that the results of that ballot were falsified to deprive him of his rightful victory. AHCP progressive wing Chairman Ali Kerimli is a decade younger than Qambar and one of the country's most charismatic political figures. In addition -- unlike some other prominent opposition activists -- he has worked tirelessly and self-effacingly in recent years to promote unity among opposition groups and, to that end, declined in 2003 to run for president in the hope that the opposition would agree on a single candidate to challenge the incumbent. Both men, and also the Democratic Party, are unequivocally pro-Western in their political orientation.

Rival politicians, however, were swift to disparage the Musavat-AHCP-Democratic Party alignment. Sabir Rustamkhanli of the Civic Solidarity Party (VHP) complained that his party was not invited to join the new bloc, and would not do so even if it now receives such an invitation, reported on 25 March. Liberal-Democratic Party of Azerbaijan Chairman Fuad Aliev, for his part, said on 23 March that the new bloc does not represent the entire opposition spectrum, and he predicted that it will split the opposition and "cast a shadow on the transparency of the elections," reported. He called for the creation of a counter bloc that would represent "healthy opposition forces."

Azerbaijani media announced on 26 March the imminent unveiling of another opposition bloc, one formed by individuals rather than political parties. Turan reported on 31 March that talks on finalizing that alliance are still ongoing, but it is anticipated that it will unite several intellectual heavyweights and two former members of deceased President Heidar Aliyev's administration: Lala-Shovket Gadjieva and Eldar Namazov, who both served as state advisers to Aliyev. Other founding members of the group are former Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mamedov (Aliyev's main challenger in the 1998 presidential ballot that Qambar boycotted), former Deputy Prime Minister Ali Masimov, and Eldaniz Guliev, who heads the Movement of the Intelligentsia.

In a commentary published on 26 March, the online daily noted that the existence of two pro-Western blocs in opposition to the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party poses a problem for the West, which claims will have to choose which opposition alignment to back. By contrast, the first opposition bloc to emerge -- Solidarity and Trust, which was established in January (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 January 2005) -- is perceived as pro-Russian. Its leader, Ilgar Gasymov, is a former department head at the Russian Justice Ministry and one of the authors of the Russia-Belarus Union treaty. But he was quoted in a 5 February interview with as stressing that while he advocates closer ties and mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries, it would be wrong to assume that he is out to defend Russia's interests in Azerbaijan. The same online daily noted on 26 March that Gasymov has been careful to maintain "constructive" relations with prominent pro-Western oppositionists who belong to other election blocs. (Liz Fuller)

QUOTATION OF THE WEEK. "Armenia is our only classic military-political ally.... Armenia will not survive without Russia and, without Armenia, Russia will lose all its important positions in the Caucasus.... Even though Armenia is a small country, it is our forepost in the South Caucasus. I would say that Armenia is more important to us than Israel is to the Americans." -- Aleksei Arbatov, head of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute for the World Economy and International Relations, quoted by "Trud," No. 52, 26 March 2005.