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Caucasus Report: August 2, 2004

2 August 2004, Volume 7, Number 30

SERIOUS CHALLENGER BARRED FROM CHECHEN PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT. The refusal last week by the Chechen Central Election Commission to register Moscow-based businessman Malik Saidullaev as a candidate for the 29 August ballot to elect a successor to slain pro-Moscow leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov removes the last doubts as to the outcome of that ballot -- assuming that the Kremlin's apparent choice, Chechen Interior Minister Major General Alu Alkhanov, is not assassinated in the next four weeks. Kremlin-sponsored opinion polls summarized by Interfax on 19 July suggested that 45.1 percent of respondents would vote for Alkhanov and 25.3 percent for Saidullaev. That outcome would have necessitated a runoff, a possibility that Chechen Central Election Commission Chairman Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov mentioned in an interview with Interfax on 26 May.

Saidullaev's elimination effectively demolishes the hypothetical need for a second round of voting. But while his first-round victory over the remaining six candidates is all but a given, it will not necessarily serve to "stabilize" the situation in Chechnya, as former Russian Nationalities Minister and Federation Council member Ramazan Abdulatipov observed in a 27 July interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta."

Following Kadyrov's death in a terrorist bombing on 9 May, it remained unclear for several weeks whether some way would be found to enable his younger son Ramzan to be elected his successor, despite the fact that at 28 he is technically too young to contest the ballot. The Chechen Constitution "tailored" to suit Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and adopted in a disputed referendum in March 2003 stipulates that presidential candidates must be at least 30 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 14 May 2004). After senior Russian officials made clear that the constitution would not be amended to benefit Ramzan Kadyrov, two candidates emerged as possible Kremlin choices. They were Alkhanov, who initially declined to confirm he would run, arguing that it would be disrespectful to do so until 40 days had elapsed since Kadyrov's death; and Ruslan Yamadaev, who was elected in December to represent Chechnya in the State Duma and whose candidacy was reportedly supported by unnamed pro-Moscow Chechen government officials and the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, of which Yamadaev is a member (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 3 June 2004).

Alkhanov was nominated as a candidate in early June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2004) and finally formally agreed to contest the ballot following a meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin on 15 June. Of a field of almost 20 would-be candidates, only seven succeeded in registering, including former Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Abdulla Bugaev and Colonel Movsur Khamidov of the Chechen division of the Federal Security Service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2004). Bugaev contested October's ballot, finishing second to Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov with just 5.7 percent of the vote, according to "The Moscow Times" on 26 July. "Vremya novostei" on 27 July suggested that Khamidov is the Kremlin's "reserve" candidate in the event that Alkhanov does not survive until election day.

Saidullaev told "Novaya gazeta" (No. 53) that he was threatened with physical violence when he traveled to Grozny to register his candidacy and unambiguously advised to withdraw "voluntarily," which he refused to do. He was subsequently refused registration on the pretext that his passport listed his place of birth as Alkhan-Yurt in the Chechen Republic; at the time of Saidullaev's birth in 1964, Alkhan-Yurt was part of the Checheno-Ingush ASSR. Saidullaev, who was similarly barred from contesting last October's ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 26 September 2003), said that he believes the decision not to register him as a candidate was taken in Moscow. He termed his disqualification "a serious mistake" and proof that only Aslan Maskhadov can be regarded as the legitimately elected Chechen leader.

How Alkhanov's election will affect the situation in Chechnya remains unclear. Some analysts believe the Kremlin intends him to act as a counterweight to Ramzan Kadyrov, and for that reason is creating a special police division that will supersede Kadyrov's infamous "presidential guard" (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 23 July 2004). Other experts cited by ITAR-TASS on 24 June suggested that Alkhanov is only seen as an interim leader, and that he will step down in October 2006 when Ramzan Kadyrov turns 30 to enable the latter to take his place. (Liz Fuller)

WAR-MONGERING OR WARNING IN AZERBAIJAN? Over the past two weeks, one former and two current top Azerbaijani officials have again affirmed their collective rejection of international mediators' insistence that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict can be resolved only on the basis of mutual concessions. Whether those Azerbaijani statements were intended primarily for domestic consumption, or whether and to what extent they should be construed as warnings to the international community not to pressure Azerbaijan too forcefully to agree to concessions that might trigger a major public backlash, is as yet unclear. Meanwhile two senior U.S. diplomats have made clear that Washington continues to hope for a swift resolution of the conflict.

The first statement came on 15 July at a reception hosted by the U.S. ambassador to Baku, Reno Harnish, in honor of the visiting OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen. Addressing the gathering, the three co-chairs each stressed that no outsider is in a position to resolve the conflict, and that the parties must themselves reach an agreement. In that context, they welcomed the resumption of talks between senior Armenian and Azerbaijani officials (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 9 July 2004). Vafa Guluzade, who resigned in October 1999 after serving for years as President Heidar Aliyev's foreign policy adviser (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 14 October 1999), publicly rejected that advice as "absolutely unacceptable and impermissible," and as intended to force Azerbaijan to come to terms with the loss of part of its territory.

In an interview with published one week earlier, Guluzade had said that any country whose territory is occupied but which fails to prepare for a war of reconquest should be regarded as "criminal." He also suggested that both the U.S. and the "West Europeans" have failed completely to grasp the essence of the Karabakh conflict, otherwise they would realize the futility of trying to get Azerbaijan to reconcile itself to the loss of its territories. In addition, Guluzade disclosed that during his tenure as President Aliyev's adviser, "we discussed all variants" for resolving the conflict, and they were all "still-born:" Baku immediately rejected them as every single peace proposal unveiled to date entailed the loss of Nagorno-Karabakh, Guluzade said.

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, by contrast, opined in a 28 July interview with that a new war "is not the optimum way" to resolve the conflict. But at the same time he implied that any compromise should come from Yerevan. A sensible compromise with the Armenian side can be reached only if Armenia publicly renounces the idea of independence for Nagorno-Karabakh, Mammadyarov said. In that interview, Mammadyarov said he believes that each of the co-chairs (France, Russia, and the U.S.) seeks to promote its own interests in the South Caucasus. Several days earlier, however, he sought to imply that Washington does understand that many Azerbaijanis categorically reject the prospect of the loss of sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh. Mammadyarov was quoted by on 22 July as saying that during his talks the previous week in Washington with U.S. officials, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell noted that it is imperative to take public opinion into account when drafting a settlement proposal. The online daily further quoted Mammadyarov as saying that it is not "realistic" to speak of "resolving the conflict" until the displaced persons who fled during the fighting (in 1992-1993) have returned to their homes. It is not clear, however, whether by this Mammadyarov is advocating a "phased" approach to a settlement, or whether Baku would accept a "package" solution in which repatriation preceded the announcement of Nagorno-Karabakh's future status.

Finally, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev told members of his country's diplomatic service on 27 July that "if the path of negotiations leads us nowhere, Azerbaijan will use all other means available, including the military option," Turan reported. Referring to the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs' calls for "compromise," Aliyev said no compromises can be made over Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. Aliyev has made similar statements on numerous occasions in recent months, most recently on a tour last week of northern districts of Azerbaijan. Both Mammadyarov and Aliyev stressed that international law favors Azerbaijan, which is the victim of "Armenian aggression," and the territory of which is partially occupied.

The Armenian Foreign Ministry reacted sharply to Aliyev's 27 July statement, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 28 July. Spokesman Hamlet Gasparian said Aliyev's comments show that "Azerbaijan has no desire to settle the Karabakh conflict by peaceful means and is laying its hopes on a solution by force." He warned that the latter course of action would have "disastrous consequences" for Azerbaijan.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Minsk Group co-chairman, Ambassador Steven Mann, told Russia's Regnum news agency that he understands that the leaders of both Armenia and Azerbaijan are in "a difficult position" because passions are running high on both sides. But at the same time, he argued that the two presidents should eschew emotion and try to reach a compromise. On 28 July, quoted John Ordway, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Yerevan, as urging that the conflict be resolved as soon as possible. The paper quoted him as saying that "the status quo is acceptable to the U.S. only as the sole alternative to the beginning of hostilities," and as expressing the hope that a settlement could be reached next year. That proposed timeframe prompted Azerbaijani commentator Rauf Mirkadyrov to conclude that Washington is trying to strong-arm Baku into a settlement lest the commissioning of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, now tentatively scheduled for the summer of 2005, be jeopardized by a resumption of hostilities. (Liz Fuller)

QUOTATION OF THE WEEK. "In a normal country, you don't need a ministry of the economy. And in three years we can form the backbone of a normal country." -- Georgian Economy Minister Kakha Bendukidze (quoted in "The Economist," 30 July 2004).