Accessibility links

Caucasus Report: October 21, 2005

21 October 2005, Volume 8, Number 37

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT BRINGS ABOUT FOREIGN MINISTER'S DISMISSAL. In a move that the opposition New Rightist parliament faction believes heralds Georgia's "return to the Russian orbit," Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghadeli dismissed Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili on 19 October. In announcing that decision to journalists, Noghaideli repeated -- and implicitly gave credence to -- criticisms of Zourabichvili expressed by parliament in recent days. Zourabichvili, who was born in Paris into an emigre family and made a successful career in the French diplomatic service before joining the Georgian government early last year at Saakashvili's personal request, has announced that she intends to remain in Georgia and enter politics in the hope of defeating what she termed forces that support Russia and neocommunism.

Zourabichvili's dismissal marks the culmination of a week of mounting criticism of her by parliament deputies. During a protracted discussion on 11-12 October, several parliament deputies lambasted Zourabichvili for her ministry's tardiness in submitting to the legislature for ratification the European Convention on National Minorities. Georgia pledged to ratify that convention when it joined the Council of Europe six years ago, and legislators duly did so on 13 October, Caucasus Press reported. The Foreign Ministry rejected the personal criticism of Zourabichvili, who was visiting the United Kingdom and Ireland, as "groundless" and "unsubstantiated," and protested the "insulting" tone adopted during the debate by parliamentarian David Kirkitadze of the majority United National Movement (GEM), Caucasus Press reported on 14 October. On 17 October, deputies representing the GEM took issue with the Foreign Ministry riposte, and demanded that whichever official drafted it be reprimanded; speaker Burdjanadze commented that even former Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze "never dared" to criticize the parliament in such terms.

Then on 18 October, the Georgian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee decided after a two-hour meeting with Zourabichvili to ask Noghaideli to dismiss her, Caucasus Press reported. They said that if Noghaideli refused to do so, they would raise the issue of impeaching Zourabichvili. Judging by comments from parliament deputy speaker Mikhail Machavariani, the catalyst for that demand was a written complaint addressed to parliament by three senior Georgian ambassadors accusing Zourabichvili of protectionism; nepotism; ignoring subordinates' requests to contact them; and ordering ambassadors to report directly to her, rather than to the parliament. Parliament speaker Burdjanadze accused Zourabichvili of "disrespect" for the parliament and characterized her behavior as "unprofessional"; she said the parliament "cannot continue" to work with Zourabichvili, Caucasus Press reported.

The tensions between Zourabichvili and the parliament date back more than a year. In September 2004, Burdjanadze raised at a session of the parliament bureau Zourabichvili's imputed responsibility for the likelihood that Georgia would be stripped of its voting rights at the UN for its failure over a period of many years to pay its membership dues. The bureau on that occasion considered, but then abandoned, the idea of seeking Zourabichvili's impeachment. And in June, the opposition Conservative parliament faction demanded that Zourabichvili should personally appear before parliament and explain to deputies why she continues to draw a monthly salary of 15,000 euros ($17,900) as a French diplomat in addition to the 3,000 laris ($1,700) she receives from the Georgian government, Caucasus Press reported on 11 June.

Elena Tevdoradze, who chairs the parliament's committee on human rights and has been one of Zourabichvili's most outspoken critics, explicitly denied on 17 October that personal animosity played any role in deputies' repeated criticisms of Zourabichvili. In a poll conducted by the weekly "Kviris palitra" and summarized on 9 August by Caucasus Press, 70 percent of the 500 respondents identified Zourabichvili as the most intelligent member of the government. In another poll two months earlier, she was rated by 46 percent of respondents as the most popular among the government ministers, Caucasus Press reported on 6 June.

RFE/RL DISCUSSES CHECHNYA WITH ETHNOGRAPHER EMIL PAIN... Emil Pain, director of the Russian Center for Ethnopolitical Studies in Moscow, was in Washington on 12 October to participate in a conference on stability in the Caucasus. Much of the discussion foreshadowed the 13 October attacks on multiple targets in Nalchik, capital of the North Caucasus Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria. Speaker after speaker predicted another event like the 2004 Beslan school tragedy or the 1995 Budennovsk hospital seizure in the near future.

In his remarks to the conference, Pain recalled how Kabardino-Balkaria just three or four years ago was "one of the safest places in the Russian Federation." "I like this republic," he said, "and I often came to Nalchik -- it was a really safe place, and now the news from the republic resembles war reporting. Special military operations are carried out in its capital, Nalchik on a regular basis and in the course of such an operations tanks are deployed and elite troops to disarm so-called Wahhabis [in] multi-story apartment buildings." Pain spoke with RFE/RL correspondent Julie Corwin about the situation in Chechnya and Russian federal policy.

RFE/RL: From your experience as an adviser to former President Boris Yeltsin on Chechnya, how well informed do you think President Vladimir Putin is about what is really going on in Chechnya?

Pain: I wasn't an adviser specifically on Chechnya but on a broader set of issues. I suppose that the present president is less well informed than the previous one. Why? Because the free press is closed. I know from my personal experience that it was necessary to correct a lot of materials that I received from the secret services. And when I received information from newspapers, I would ask journalists, foreign journalists [about it]. I would sometimes make a big correction in this information war against Chechnya and against [the] Russian audience. This information war has such results that government does not have adequate information.

RFE/RL: Why does Putin seem to have so much faith in [Chechen administration First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan] Kadyrov?

Pain: Putin trusts him personally. Putin was impressed by the fact that the same person who declared a jihad against the Russian government now wants to serve the Russian government. It made a big impression on him. Of course, it was necessary to calculate a lot of personal factors that brought Kadyrov to this decision. Putin has no other choice, by the way. There are not a lot of other people who could be the Kremlin's henchman in Chechnya.

RFE/RL: You were one of first experts in 2002 -- and this was even before the Moscow theater hostage crisis -- to make the point that Russian military reprisals were counterproductive and simply impel ever more young Chechen men to join the resistance? Do you see a similar situation in Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria?

Pain: This was my fundamental position during the first Chechen war [in 1994-96] and I haven't changed it. I see growing numbers of illegal, informal radical organizations in all the republics of the North Caucasus, and it is a result of this [policy]. It is not only the result of the suppression, but the result of different types of government decisions. It's a response of the [almost total] alienation of the people from the government.

RFE/RL: Do you still think that it is possible to negotiate and put an end to the fighting in Chechnya? Is there someone who could persuade Putin do this?

Pain: No. I'm against those people who describe the Chechen situation as very simple and all you have to do is to begin negotiations, and the problem will be solved. It couldn't be solved now. Now it's a big problem -- with whom is it possible to begin negotiations?

RFE/RL: [Chechen resistance leader Abdul-Khalim] Sadulayev is too unpredictable?

Pain: No, but he is not influential enough. And what is most important -- the majority of the people in Chechnya hate the terrorists maybe more than the Russian soldiers.

RFE/RL: You said in your presentation that you think Chechnya sets the style for the rest of Kremlin policy toward the regions -- i.e., suppression rather than persuasion. Do you predict that other Russian regions outside of the North Caucasus area will become more radicalized?

Pain: We can see even some radicalization in Tatarstan. It's an indicator that in [the U.S. detention center at] Guantanamo [Bay, Cuba,] there are no Chechens, but there was a Tatar and there were Bashkirs. That's an indicator.

RFE/RL: Have you seen the new draft concept paper about nationality policy? "Kommersant-Daily" published an article about it and quoted it, saying that one of the primary functions of Russian policy is the "formation of the Russian people [rossiiskii narod] into a single nationality [natsiya]"?

Pain: On the one hand, I strongly support this idea. I don�t know any alternative to the creation of a Russian civil-political nation. But it is a declaration now. And I understand that the real policy is quite against this idea. So it is not enough to produce a slogan, but it is necessary to do something. The basis of a civil nation is common goals, common values, trust in the government, and the understanding that the government serves us. The main task of the people [now] is to avoid military service, taxes, and the authorities in general. Under such conditions, it is impossible to form a civil political nation.

...AND WITH PACE RAPPORTEUR ANDREAS GROSS. Andreas Gross, a Swiss parliamentarian who has served since June 2003 as rapporteur on Chechnya for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), expressed concern in a 19 October interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service that the fighting in Chechnya has already spilled over beyond the borders of that republic to affect several neighboring regions of the North Caucasus.

At the same time, Gross expressed cautious optimism that Russian authorities have permitted a faction "that does not share their viewpoint" and which aspires to "build a bridge" between the warring sides in Chechnya to participate in the 27 November elections to a new Chechen Parliament. Asked to assess the current situation in the North Caucasus in the wake of last week's attacks by Chechen-led militants in Kabardino-Balkariya, Gross said "the whole region is in danger." He continued: "What we faced in the last 10 years in Chechnya, we could face in the next 10 years" in all the other neighboring republics. Gross said that he intends to raise during his next meeting with Dmitrii Kozak, Russian President Vladimir Putin's envoy to the Southern Federal District, the issue of what can be done to avert an increase in violence and ensure that the people of the North Caucasus can live in peace without the constant fear of violent attack by "Basaev's people," meaning the young men from Chechnya and other republics who flock to fight under radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev.

Gross was dismissive of official Russian claims that the situation in Chechnya is reverting to "normal." "I think the situation is not normal and is far away from normalization," he said, pointing out that "we don't have a free, democratic society" in Chechnya, but one that is "broken," and that the population is "fed up with all kinds of violence."

He said the danger of repeat violence will persist as long as there is no effort to reach a compromise between the interests of the various factions in the conflict. In that context, Gross noted that an opposition party that does not share the views of the Russian authorities and which aspires to "build a bridge" between the warring sides (by which he probably meant the Chechen chapter of the Union of Rightist Forces) has been permitted to register candidates in the parliamentary elections scheduled for 27 November. Gross admitted that "they are very weak and it's a very fragile attempt," but "it is still an attempt," and for that reason "I have not lost all hope," even though the situation is "extremely difficult." At the same time, he said he is particularly concerned that "the Russian authorities...are relying too heavily on forces who are closer to [being] criminals than democrats." Gross made it clear later in the interview that he meant the so-called presidential guard headed by Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov.

Gross said that he expressed these concerns during a meeting three weeks ago in Moscow with Kozak, and that even though "many in Russia are aware of the problem.... I have to say I sometimes have the impression that the Russian authorities are not aware that they have to do more, they have to be more engaged in a civil way...and that they themselves have to do things which today they delegate" to groups that have forfeited the support and trust of the population -- a clear allusion to the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership.

Asked what he thinks motivates the young men and women who are flocking to join underground militant groups, and whether unemployment and economic stagnation are primary factors, Gross admitted that this is "a very difficult question." He suggested that many young people do indeed opt for violence because they "do not see any future in a normal life, because the political and economic situation is so bad, they feel they have nothing left to lose." He also suggested that continued efforts to resolve the conflict militarily contribute to its geographical spread, because the fighters are pushed back into the mountains and from there infiltrate other regions of the Caucasus in an attempt to demonstrate that they are still a force to be reckoned with. "That shows that we need to look for political solutions that could integrate those elements of the resistance that do not choose...terrorist methods," Gross reasoned. He acknowledged that this makes the search for a solution "more complex, but that is not a reason to capitulate and not to do what we should have done earlier -- become more engaged in getting a real political solution" and trying to persuade the moderate elements in the resistance to dissasociate themselves from what Gross termed "criminal tendencies in their own camp."

RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service acknowledged that Gross has worked extremely hard to promote dialogue, noting especially the roundtable discussion convened under PACE auspices earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 1 April 2005), but went on to pose the question whether of the roundtable format should be modified to reflect "new realities," meaning the fact that "it's no longer a Chechen conflict but a North Caucasus conflict."

Gross's response to that suggestion was equivocal: "yes and no." He conceded that it is now "a transnational problem, a transrepublic problem, a North Caucasus problem," but went on to point out that "all these republics are part of the Russian Federation and in this respect the mandate is still valid, because you have to speak to the point that we have to respect the integrity of the Russian Federation and we have to respect [the fact] that the politicians don't want" to enter into negotiations with "terrorists, it's not possible to reach agreement with people who are so brutal and who lost...their credibility." For those reasons, Gross continued, he does not consider it necessary to change the PACE mandate, although "we have to be aware that the focus is now broader, that it's not only Chechnya, the Chechen conflict now touches four, five, six republics." But the interlocutor on the other side remains the same: it is the responsibility of the Russian Federation, the Russian authorities, to find a way "to overcome this daily violence."

Gross said that in preparation for the second roundtable, PACE will send a delegation to Chechnya to gain a firsthand impression of, but not to monitor in the formal sense, the 27 November elections. Then, at a meeting in Paris in December, "we will think about how we can build up the momentum [and induce] people who are not used to speaking to each other, to meeting with each other, to come together to build this bridge I mentioned." He again refered to the participation of Russian opposition parties in the Chechen election as "a hopeful sign" and an indication that the roundtable format "still has a future."

Asked whether perhaps PACE should espouse "a more drastic approach" -- possibly even embarking on direct talks as the British government did in Northern Ireland -- Gross pointed out that the conflict in Ulster had been going on for 30 to 40 years, and that the British authorities did not embark on talks with the IRA as long as the IRA was still engaged in violence: "it was a long, long process during which the so-called terrorists also developed a political wing, and that political wing persuaded those who were armed" to lay down their weapons. In that respect, Gross said, the war in Chechnya is "at a totally different stage than in Northern Ireland when a political settlement was reached" there. He said he hopes "we don't have to wait as long as the British and the people of Northern Ireland had to," and said he is "ready to consider what we can learn" from the efforts to resolve that conflict.

Gross said he does not think it is as easy as his interviewer does to reach a solution to the conflict, and he continued: "Mr. Basaev discredited himself in a way that is unbelievable when you recall what he did in Beslan and how he talked about it," how he was indifferent to the fate of 300 children. Gross said it is "very difficult" to understand why Basaev was recently again named deputy prime minister in the government originally headed by Chechen President and resistance leader Aslan Maskhadov. "Such contradictions do not facilitate the task of [those of] us who want to bring people to the negotiating table," Gross added. He went on to say that "I am also very sad that Mr. Ramzan Kadyrov" was named to a comparable post in the pro-Moscow Chechen government, saying that both appointments are more likely to fuel further violence than to facilitate "political exchange." But, Gross concluded, despite such misgivings "we always have to keep the Russians on board, because you can't find a solution" to the conflict without them.