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Caucasus Report: June 10, 2004


10 June 2004, Volume 7, Number 23

GEORGIAN PREMIER RESHUFFLES 'POWER' MINISTERS. Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania announced on 5 June an impending reshuffle of the government officials responsible for defense, security, and crime. That move is apparently intended to serve at least two key purposes: to galvanize Georgia's efforts to achieve NATO membership and to stamp out petty corruption and inefficiency within the Interior Ministry.

Zhvania's plan is for Giorgi Baramidze, a former parliament Defense and Security Committee chairman who has served since November 2003 as interior minister, to become defense minister, replacing Gela Bezhuashvili, who will take over as National Security Council secretary from Vano Merabishvili. Merabishvili in turn was named state security minister, replacing Zurab Adeishvili, who will succeed Irakli Okruashvili as prosecutor-general. Okruashvili will replace Baramidze as interior minister. Zhvania was quoted by Caucasus Press as predicting that "we are sure that the reshuffling will allow us to make our policy more targeted." But the opposition Labor Party on 7 June dismissed the reshuffle as pointless, and branded all the officials involved as corrupt, Caucasus Press reported.

Baramidze's appointment is clearly linked to Georgia's bid for NATO membership. He has consistently been one of the most outspoken Georgian critics of Russia's imputed encroachment into the South Caucasus, and at the same time one of the country's most pro-Western politicians. In December 2000, he argued that Georgia should do all in its power to expand cooperation with NATO, even though doing so would antagonize Moscow. Named as interior minister in the late fall of 2003 in the wake of the "Rose Revolution," the 36-year-old Baramidze enjoys the sort of adulation normally reserved for pop stars and soccer players, according to the "Financial Times" on 11 May. But his tenure at the Interior Ministry has been marked by a series of embarrassments. In mid-January, Baramidze announced that the inauguration ceremony for President-elect Mikheil Saakashvili was in jeopardy after the discovery of a "sniper's nest" close to the presidential residence. That shelter proved to be the work of an 11-year-old boy.

More recently, both Saakashvili and Tbilisi prosecutor Valerii Grigalashvili have criticized the performance of the Interior Ministry. Grigalashvili said on 19 April the police are making little effort to crack down on drug dealing. Commenting in mid-April on Baramidze's radical proposals for reforming his ministry -- proposals that Baramidze estimated in January would cost $10 million to implement -- Saakashvili said that the collective image of the police as overweight, overbearing, and loutish must be changed, and people should respect them. Six weeks later, Saakshvili again criticized the police, alleging on 31 May that traffic cops have begun soliciting bribes again. Responding to that criticism at a press conference the following day, Baramidze said that 60 cases of extortion by traffic police had been registered alone during the preceding week. He pledged a decisive crackdown against that and other abuses. At the same press conference, Baramidze implied that police efforts to crack down on crime are being undermined by judges who accept bribes to acquit people accused of criminal offenses. Gia Getsadze, secretary of the Council of Justice, responded on 2 June by accusing Baramidze of lacking professionalism.

By contrast, new Interior Minister Okruashvili was deemed by 74 percent of the 499 respondents in a poll conducted by the newspaper "Kviris palitra" last month as the most professional member of the Georgian government, Caucasus Press reported on 17 May. Then-Defense Minister Bezhuashvili was also named in that survey as being among the five most professional government officials, as was then State Security Minister and prosecutor-general-designate Adeishvili, despite the latter's lack of relevant experience. Adeishvili is a trained lawyer with no background in security issues. (Liz Fuller)

NEW GEORGIAN PEACE PLAN FOR ABKHAZIA UNVEILED. On 21 May, the Civil Georgia website posted a summary of a draft peace plan for Abkhazia prepared by Georgian political and legal experts, including former Deputy Justice Minister Kote Kublashvili. That plan has been submitted to Georgia's National Security Council for discussion.

The plan entails the creation of a two-member (Georgia and Abkhazia) federal state within which Abkhazia would be granted the "broadest possible degree of autonomy" in exchange for abandoning its insistence on formal independence. According to Kublashvili, "Abkhazia will have all the rights of a sovereign state except for one -- the right to [internationally recognized] independence."

The peace proposal envisages the signing by the Georgian and Abkhaz sides of agreements on the nonresumption of hostilities and on resolving future disagreements exclusively by peaceful means, through negotiations. After that, the Federal State of Georgia and its co-member, the Abkhaz Republic would sign an agreement on the distribution of powers between them. According to Kublashvili, neither side would be empowered to make subsequent amendments to that agreement without the consent of the other party.

The draft identifies as falling under the jurisdiction of the central authorities defense and foreign policy, border defense, the customs service, and the fight against organized crime. All other issues would lie within the competence of the Abkhaz authorities. Abkhazia would not be entitled to maintain its own armed forces but would have its own police force. Young men from Abkhazia drafted into the Georgian Army would perform their military service in units stationed in Abkhazia, not elsewhere in Georgia.

Abkhazia would be a parliamentary republic, and the majority of parliament deputies would be ethnic Abkhaz, even though if all, or even a majority, of the Georgian displaced persons who fled the region in 1992-93 return to their homes, the Abkhaz will again become a minority. (As of early 1992, before the armed conflict erupted, the Abkhaz numbered some 95,000 or approximately 18 percent of the republic's population; the 240,000 Georgians were the largest ethnic group, accounting for some 45 percent of the total population.) Elections would take place only after the displaced persons' return. It is, moreover, not clear whether the displaced persons themselves would agree to a division of parliament mandates on ethnic lines that leaves them at a disadvantage. In addition, an unspecified number of mandates in the Georgian federal parliament would be reserved for ethnic Abkhaz. Those Abkhaz deputies would have the right to veto legislation directly concerning Abkhazia.

The population of Abkhazia would have the right to determine whether the republic should have a president. While the Abkhaz would in all likelihood endorse that idea, the returned Georgians might very well reject it. That provision thus constitutes one of the plan's "weak links," and could ultimately lead to its rejection by the Abkhaz unless the draft is amended to provide for the post of president. The draft stipulates that the president must not necessarily be Abkhaz, but should speak both Abkhaz and Georgian, a requirement that would rule out most former Georgian residents of Abkhazia. By contrast, the Abkhaz law on the election of the president passed last month stipulates that the president must be an ethnic Abkhaz, speak the Abkhaz language, and have lived in Abkhazia for five years prior to the ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 June 2004).

Central to the draft agreement is the right of those displaced persons who wish to do so to return to Abkhazia. But Kublashvili stressed that the repatriation process will be "gradual and voluntary." He also said it will be preceded by a census, conducted jointly by Abkhaz and Georgian officials, of the present population of Abkhazia and the displaced persons currently living elsewhere in Georgia. (The reregistration of displaced persons in Georgia has in fact already begun.) Kublashvili said the document "considers" monetary compensation for those displaced persons whose homes and property were destroyed. This too could prove a major obstacle, as the Abkhaz whose homes were destroyed by Georgians are likely to argue that their claims to compensation are as valid as are those of Georgians whose homes were destroyed, or taken over, by Abkhaz. In addition, as Kublashvili points out, the draft peace plan clearly envisages that a part of the funds required will be provided by the international community.

Following the repatriation, all residents of Abkhazia will be entitled to citizenship of both Abkhazia and the federal Georgian state; but only the latter citizenship will be internationally recognized.

As for the economy, the draft plan envisages the lifting of the economic sanctions currently in force against Abkhazia and the unrestricted resumption of rail and air transport between Tbilisi and Sukhum. Abkhazia will have the right to impose and collect dues and taxes, but will be required to transfer an unspecified percentage of those taxes to the federal budget. The Georgian lari will become the legal Abkhaz currency, but Abkhazia would have the right to issue, for circulation on its territory, lari-denominated notes and coins bearing Abkhaz symbols and with lettering in both Abkhaz and Georgian.

Insofar as the new draft peace plan defines Abkhazia as a sovereign entity within Georgia, it appears to be similar to the draft "Basic Principles for the Division of Competencies between Tbilisi and Sukhumi," authored by former UN special representative for Abkhazia Dieter Boden. Details of the so-called Boden Document have never been made public. The Abkhaz authorities, however, have consistently refused even to accept a copy of the "Basic Principles" from either Boden or his successor, Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini. They argue that the region's population has already voted, in a referendum in late 1999, to approve a constitution that defines the Republic of Abkhazia as an independent sovereign state.

The Abkhaz strategy is presumably predicated on the assumption that Moscow will continue to uphold the status quo. Up to 70 percent of the Abkhaz have availed themselves of the offer of Russian passports, and the Russian State Duma repeatedly stresses Russia's obligation to protect Russian citizens in other CIS states. But the Russian government may prove less altruistic. Georgian commentators have raised the possibility that Moscow and Tbilisi may have cut a deal under which Moscow would support a formal settlement of the conflict and the repatriation of Georgian displaced persons in exchange for privileges for Russian businessmen wishing to invest in Abkhazia and the construction of an oil-export pipeline from Novorossiisk (on Russia's Black Sea coast) that would link up with the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline currently under construction, according to the daily "Rezonansi" on 27 May. Such a pipeline would provide an alternative export route for Russian oil that avoids the Turkish straits bottleneck. (Speaking in St. Petersburg on 4 June, Turkish Grand National Assembly speaker Bulent Arinc stressed that Ankara has no intention of lifting the strict limitations on the number of tankers that may pass through the straits, as those limitations are dictated by security and ecological concerns, Interfax reported.) Abkhaz hopes that Russia may at some point recognize Abkhazia as an independent state seem utopian insofar as such recognition would strengthen the Chechens' legal claim to independence.

But even if the Kremlin withdraws its support for the Abkhaz and advises them to accept the offer of a federation with Georgia, two further factors could sabotage the proposed federal agreement. The first is the Georgian displaced persons who, as indicated above, may reject the proposed plan for a legislature in which they constitute a minority. Professor Bruno Coppieters, a Belgian expert on constitutional law who has written extensively on Abkhazia, noted in comments sent to "RFE/RL Caucasus Report" that the Georgian community in Abkhazia was not happy with a similar allocation of seats in 1991. (At that time, the Abkhaz had 28 seats, the Georgians 26, and representatives of other ethnic groups 11). "Over-representation is possible and legitimate, but should not be pushed too far," Coppieters wrote. "Other power-sharing techniques are available that are more effective in overcoming ethnic conflicts and give guarantees to the various communities that they will not be continuously excluded from power."

The second factor is South Ossetia. The Georgian government apparently believes the predominantly Ossetian population of that unrecognized republic can be persuaded by a combination of threats and economic blandishments to denounce its present pro-Moscow leadership and acknowledge that South Ossetia is Georgian territory. Ossetians might, however, argue that any renunciation of the region's self-proclaimed independence should be contingent on the region's inclusion, together with Abkhazia, in a future Georgian federation. Finally, it should be noted that the draft agreement on the Georgian-Abkhaz federation does not mention the future status of Adjara, let alone make provision for providing a degree of autonomy to any other region that might in future demand it, such as the largely Armenian-populated region of Djavakheti in southern Georgia. (Liz Fuller)

AIDE SAYS NEXT ARMENIAN PRESIDENT SHOULD BE 'KARABAKHTSI.' Garnik Isagulian, President Robert Kocharian's recently appointed national security adviser, said on 5 June that Armenia's next president should also be originally from Nagorno-Karabakh, arguing that it is a "vital territory" for all Armenians. "Without Karabakh, Armenia cannot breathe, no matter how many borders you reopen," Isagulian told a roundtable discussion in Yerevan.

Isagulian did not specify whom he would like to see replace Kocharian and when. Still, the remarks could be interpreted by some local commentators as another indication that Kocharian's preferred successor is Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, the second-most powerful government official in Armenia and also a native of Karabakh. The two men led the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic during its successful war with Azerbaijan before moving to higher positions in Yerevan, with Sarkisian appointed defense minister in 1993 and Kocharian prime minister in 1997. Some leaders of the Armenian opposition frequently describe them as the leaders of the "Karabakh clan" allegedly governing the country.

Armenia's next presidential elections are to take place in 2008, and its existing constitution bars Kocharian from contesting them for a third term in office. Neither the president nor his top lieutenant have shed light on their long-term political plans so far.

Isagulian joined the presidential administration in early April to take up a position that has been vacant for the past decade. A retired officer of the Soviet-era KGB, he entered the political arena in the early 1990s, winning election to Armenia's first postcommunist parliament and joining the then opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun (HHD). He was expelled from the party about two years after it was controversially banned in 1994 by former President Levon Ter-Petrossian and emerged from political oblivion in 1998 to set up his own nationalist group called the National Security Party.

Isagulian has since been an outspoken supporter of Kocharian and detractor of his political opponents. On 5 June, he strongly defended the recent government crackdown on the opposition, alleging that the latter has attempted to stage a coup and branded Kocharian as a "murderer."

Ironically, Isagulian had himself faced terrorism and coup charges in July 1995 along with 31 members of the HHD, including Vahan Hovannisian, who is currently the deputy speaker of the Armenian parliament. But unlike them, Isagulian went into hiding and escaped arrest and trial. He remained on the run until Ter-Petrossian's resignation in February 1998. (Hrach Melkumian and Emil Danielyan)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "[Radical Chechen field commander Shamil] Basayev is a great warrior and strategist. He has proved it. And he has protection in high places." -- Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, in an interview with "Kommersant-Vlast" on 7 June.

"Ordinary Chechens...have no reason to fear me." -- Kadyrov, ibid.

"As we sink ever deeper into this Chechen-Russian hell of our own making, the slogans that launched the conflict -- independence, territorial integrity -- have lost all meaning. Russian leaders and Chechen politicians must now set themselves two basic goals: To end the suffering of the Chechen people, and to drive out the international Islamist terrorists who are using the republic as a base for attacks on Russia." -- Independent political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky, writing in "The Moscow Times" of 8 June.

"We must realize that the classic enemy we have been fighting with -- Chechen separatists such as Aslan Maskhadov, Akhmed Zakaev, other leaders close to them, and the portion of the Chechen people that sympathize with their cause -- have now become our allies, because the radical Islamist terrorists are destroying Chechnya first of all." ibid.

"We will never reach an agreement with international terrorism, but we can reach an acceptable agreement with Chechen separatism. To do so will require an abundance of political will and two simple things: an end to the excesses of federal troops in Chechnya, and a readiness to sit down at the negotiating table with anyone who shares our goals -- including those who have taken up arms against us." ibid.

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