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Caucasus Report: January 3, 2003

3 January 2003, Volume 6, Number 1

GEORGIAN DRAFT BUDGET FALLS PREY TO PARLIAMENTARY STANDOFF. Tensions within the Georgian parliament between the pro-government minority and the opposition have delayed adoption of the state budget for 2003. Those tensions are, moreover, compounded by antagonism between parliamentary speaker Nino Burdjanadze and Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze. Burdjanadze is sympathetic to the opposition United Democrats faction headed by her predecessor as speaker, Zurab Zhvania, while Djorbenadze is simultaneously chairman of the Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK), President Eduard Shevardnadze's power base.

The catalyst for the recent crisis was a walkout staged on 19 December by the five pro-government factions: the SMK, the Socialists, Abkhazeti (comprising Georgian deputies to the Abkhaz parliament elected in 1991), Tanadgoma (Support), and the Alliance for a New Georgia. The latter two factions were created in September 2001 by deputies who quit the SMK (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 8 October 2001). The five factions were protesting the opposition's refusal to debate a draft bill aimed at streamlining the government structure by abolishing the Ministry of Construction and Urban Planning and the Ministry of State Property Management. (The responsibilities of the former are to be split between the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources and the Ministry of Economy, Industry, and Trade, while the latter will be downgraded to the status of an agency and subordinated to the Ministry of Economy, Industry, and Trade.) Burdjanadze had rejected that proposed restructuring during a preliminary discussion of the bill by the parliament bureau on 16 December, arguing that the proposed abolition of the two ministries should be addressed only in the context of a broader restructuring of the entire executive.

Two attempts to reconvene parliament on 20 December --the final day of the fall session -- failed for lack of a quorum. At that juncture, the opposition openly accused Djorbenadze of issuing instructions to the pro-government minority to thwart further debate in a bid to discredit the legislature and furnish the rationale for accusing it of inactivity (which Shevardnadze did on 26 December, noting that it had failed to discuss more than 80 bills that he had submitted). That opposition accusation lacks conviction, however, insofar as the five pro-government factions together number only 70 of the total 235 deputies, and only 93 of the 165 opposition deputies were present on 20 December. The pro-government factions, for their part, issued a statement on 25 December explaining that their demarche was a response to procedural violations by Burdjanadze.

The independent newspaper "Akhali taoba" on 20 December suggested that the real motive for the pro-government factions' walkout was a covert campaign to force Burdjanadze to resign as speaker and replace her with Vakhtang Rcheulishvili, head of the Socialist faction that aligned with the SMK one month earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 November 2002). Burdjanadze herself, however, implicitly rejected that hypothesis. According to a public-opinion poll of 2,000 readers conducted by the journal "Epokha" and reported by Caucasus Press on 31 December, Burdjanadze ranks fourth on a list of the 10 most trusted political figures in Georgia, and Rcheulishvili seventh; Djorbenadze does not figure among the top 10. "Akhali taoba" reported on 18 November that Djorbenadze is at daggers drawn with Petre Mamradze, head of the presidential apparatus, and that Shevardnadze has already decided to fire Djorbenadze in March and name Economy, Industry, and Trade Minister Giorgi Gachechiladze to succeed him.

Burdjanadze and Djorbenadze reportedly discussed the parliamentary standoff on 21 December on the sidelines of a session of the Georgian National Security Council but apparently failed to agree on the "cease fire" that the SMK publicly called for the same day. On 24 December, Burdjanadze expressed her "surprise" that Djorbenadze had not publicly commented on the allegations that he was behind the parliamentary walkout. "The minister of state is responsible for the actions of the pro-government factions. He should provide justification for their boycott or condemn their action, or at least clarify the situation," Caucasus Press quoted her as saying. In a similar, parallel bid to ease tensions between the legislature and the executive, Shevardnadze met with Zhvania on 23 December for what Shevardnadze subsequently termed "a constructive discussion."

On 26 December, the parliament convened for a three-day special session called for by Shevardnadze on 23 December, but it again failed to pass the draft budget for 2003. Caucasus Press quoted Procedure Committee Chairman Rustam Dolidze as saying that 114 deputies voted for the bill, four short of the minimum 118 needed.

Deputies likewise failed to debate a draft bill proposed by the United Democrats to raise the minimum wage, which is currently 20 laris ($9.2) to the minimum subsistence level of 115 laris. Economy, Industry, and Trade Minister Gachechiladze and Deputy Minister of State Akaki Zoidze both went on record on 23 December as saying that the macroeconomic situation precludes any such increase. Moreover, Zhvania's statement after his 23 December meeting with Shevardnadze that his faction would support the draft budget provided the government agreed to raise the minimum wage triggered a serious disagreement between the United Democrats and the New National Movement headed by former Justice Minster Mikhail Saakashvili, which condemned Zhvania's offer as "dishonest." Nonetheless, Zhvania subsequently hinted on 28 December that the opposition might modify its demand and settle for a compromise increase of the minimum wage to a "sensible" minimum.

In his traditional Monday radio address, Shevardnadze on 30 December deplored the legislature's failure to adopt the 2003 budget, claiming that failure will create unspecified "additional problems" for the country's population. One week earlier, Shevardnadze had characterized the proposed revenue and spending targets for 2003 as "realistic," noting that for the first time since 1998, the International Monetary Fund had advocated an increase, rather than a reduction, in the proposed figures. Accordingly, Shevardnadze said, planned revenues have been upped by 200 million laris to 1.46 billion laris. The volume of the budget exceeds that for 2002 by 16 percent; spending on defense, national security, border protection, energy, agriculture, health care, and education has been increased; and a 30 percent salary increase for school teachers and university faculty members is envisaged, Shevardnadze continued.

Djorbenadze, however, disagreed with Shevardnadze's statement that the proposed revenue and spending targets are realistic, referring to them on 26 December as "too ambitious." Opposition factions, on the other hand, argue that the draft budget does not allocate enough for social needs or in funding for Georgia's mountain regions and for the development of the agriculture sector.

Burdjanadze said on 30 December that parliament will resume debating the draft budget no earlier than mid-January, and then only if the government agrees to the amendments demanded by the opposition. (Liz Fuller)

WILL RUSSIA COMPROMISE OVER TIME FRAME FOR CLOSURE OF ITS MILITARY BASES IN GEORGIA? Of the numerous bones of contention between the Georgian and Russian governments, one of the most serious is the timetable for the closure of the two remaining Russian military bases on Georgian territory. In accordance with an agreement signed at the OSCE summit in Istanbul in November 1999, Moscow pledged to close its bases at Vaziani, near Tbilisi, and Gudauta, in Abkhazia, by 1 July 2001, and to embark on talks with Tbilisi in 2000 on the time frame for the closure of the two remaining bases, in Batumi, capital of the Adjar Autonomous Republic, and the predominantly Armenian-populated south Georgian district of Akhalkalaki (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 1999).

The Istanbul agreement constituted a major breakthrough insofar as two earlier rounds of talks, in June and early November 1999, had failed to yield any agreement either on the withdrawal from Georgia of Russian military hardware in excess of that to which Russia was entitled under the amended Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe or on a schedule for the closure of the Vaziani and Gudauta bases (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July and 4 November 1999). In an article published in "Sovetskaya Rossiya" in August 2002, Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, who in 1999 headed the Russian Defense Ministry's department for international cooperation, claimed that then-U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wholeheartedly backed the Georgian leadership in the Istanbul talks. Ivashov implied that it was thanks to Washington's intervention that Moscow was constrained to back down.

During seven rounds of talks between April 2000 and June 2001, an agreement was reached, and implemented, on the removal from Georgia of surplus Russian military hardware. And Russia complied on time with its commitment to close the Vaziani base. Withdrawal of its troops and equipment from Gudauta was delayed, however, by Abkhaz who physically prevented the Russian pullout, fearing that it would leave them defenseless against an anticipated new Georgian offensive. Russian officials took advantage of that delay to lobby for the transformation of the Gudauta base into a support facility for the Russian peacekeeping forces deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone under the CIS aegis.

But in contrast to its compliance with the first stage of the November 1999 agreement, Russia took a far harder line in talks on the time frame for closure of the bases in Akhalkalaki and Gudauta. Russian military officials consistently argued that Moscow could not raise the funds required to provide alternative accommodation for military personnel who would be transferred from those bases to Russia (estimated in May 2001 by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov at 4 billion rubles, or $125.3 million), though many of the military personnel at both locations are in fact Georgian citizens, and despite generous offers by the United States and the United Kingdom. to subsidize the withdrawal. (Moscow rejected the U.S. offer of $10 million.)

Initially, Russia argued that under an agreement signed in February 1995 by then-Georgian parliamentary head Eduard Shevardnadze and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, but never subsequently ratified by either country's parliament, Russia had the right to maintain military bases in Georgia for 25 years. Then, in late 2000, Russia proposed a phased withdrawal over 15 years, which Georgia rejected (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2000). That figure was revised downward in late 2001 to 14 years. Georgia, however, continued to hold out for a maximum of three to four years, even after Russian military officials hinted in April 2002 that it could be further cut to 10 years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 22 April 2002). Commenting on Tbilisi's intransigence, the Russian newspaper "Kommersant-Daily" quoted unnamed Georgian experts in April 2002 as suspecting that Moscow is determined to postpone a final decision on the time frame for the withdrawal until after Shevardnadze's second presidential term ends in 2005.

Both the NATO summit in Prague in November 2002 and the OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Portugal two weeks later adopted statements calling on Moscow to resume negotiations with Georgia with the aim of expediting the closure of the Akhalkalaki and Batumi bases but failed to recommend a time frame for reaching such an agreement. Then, in mid-December 2002, after Tbilisi renewed its threats (first made in February 2001) to impose taxes on the remaining Russian bases, Colonel Andrei Nikolaev, the former Russian Federal Border Service director who now heads the State Duma's Defense and Security Committee, suggested that six or seven years is a realistic time frame for the Russian withdrawal. Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili responded that Tbilisi is willing to discuss that proposal if it has Moscow's official backing. Menagharishvili and Shevardnadze have generally adopted a more flexible position on the time frame for the Russian withdrawal than has Georgian Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze. (Liz Fuller)

COULD GENERAL TROSHEV BECOME CHECHNYA'S NEXT PRESIDENT? On 18 December, Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed Colonel General Gennadii Troshev from his post as commander of the North Caucasus Military District, one day after Troshev publicly affirmed that he would not voluntarily agree to his announced appointment as head of the Trans-Baikal Military District (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 December 2002). Troshev said that for him to leave Chechnya at this juncture would be a betrayal of the troops he commanded and of the Chechen people, who, according to Troshev, believe that the "antiterrorism" operation in Chechnya is nearing its end. Troshev added that he could not comprehend the rationale for his proposed transfer, given that there had been no complaints about his track record as troop commander in the North Caucasus.

Troshev, who is 55 and a native of Grozny, was named acting commander of the combined federal forces in Chechnya in April 2000, succeeding Lieutenant General Vladimir Shamanov, and commander of the North Caucasus Military District on 31 May of that year. He has consistently taken a hard line on a negotiated end to the fighting, ruling out any talks with either Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov or field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab. And in the summer of 2001 he incurred criticism for advocating that captured Chechen field commanders should be publicly executed.

But at the same time, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 20 December, Troshev "showed respect for the Chechens," opposed the use of gratuitous brutality during so-called "sweep" operations, and sought repeatedly to persuade village elders to deny support to the resistance, rather than launch reprisals against villages suspected of harboring Maskhadov's supporters. That approach, the paper continued, earned him the dislike of senior officers, including Russian Army Chief of General Staff General Anatolii Kvashnin, who advocates "extremely harsh" measures in Chechnya. ("Vremya novostei" on 19 December claimed that Troshev fell victim to a behind-the-scenes power struggle between Kvashnin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov; according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 16 December, Kvashnin is scheming to succeed Ivanov in that post.)

Reports differ as to the nature of Troshev's relations with the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and Interfax both quoted Chechen Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudaev as saying that the Chechen leadership had no objections to Troshev, and that Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and Troshev saw eye to eye on the need to "restore order" in Chechnya. But "Vremya novostei" on 19 December claimed that Kadyrov's administration had repeatedly appealed to Putin to dismiss Troshev and to appoint a new commander in the run-up to the planned March 2003 referendum on a new Chechen constitution. Troshev enjoys the respect of several Moscow political figures, including Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov, who in late 2000 proposed to Putin that Troshev be appointed "governor-general" in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 29 December 2000).

Russian commentators have suggested that two avenues are now open to Troshev. First, he could enter Russian politics, as Shamanov did. "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 18 December claimed Troshev is a prime candidate to succeed Gennadii Zyuganov as head of the People's Patriotic Union of Russia. Or, Troshev could run for the Chechen presidency. Kadyrov, who earlier made no secret of his aspiration to that post, told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that if Troshev decided to make a bid for the presidency, he would wish him luck and that he would be ready to work with him if he were elected. Akhmar Zavgaev, who represents Chechnya on the Federation Council, characterized Troshev as "a decent, courageous individual." Presidential envoy for human rights in Chechnya Abdul-Khakim Sultygov argued that Russian candidates should contest the Chechen presidential ballot. Former Russian federal Minister for Chechen Reconstruction Vladimir Yelagin told "Izvestiya" that: "I've met a lot of authoritative Chechens, and they say that a neutral person is needed right now, who does not belong to any of the families or clans.... It would be best if that person had been raised in Chechnya and was familiar with its traditions and customs."

Chechnya's deputy to the Russian State Duma, Aslanbek Aslakhanov, speaks positively of Troshev. He said Troshev enjoys support in Chechnya and that the Russian military stationed there permanently would certainly vote for him. But whether Troshev could win a presidential election, Aslakhanov continued, would depend on the Kremlin's switching its support from Kadyrov, whom it currently supports. That possibility is perhaps not now as remote as it appeared prior to the 27 December car-bomb attack on the Chechen government building in Grozny. "Novye izvestiya" on 28 December editorialized that the bombing, in which more than 80 people died, "again clearly demonstrates that Kadyrov's team has no control over the situation in the republic or in the center of Grozny." (Liz Fuller)

U.S. SEEKS EXTENSION OF OSCE CHECHNYA MISSION'S MANDATE. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Mission in Chechnya closed on 31 December after its mandate expired. But diplomats say the United States is trying to persuade Russia to accept a new mandate before the OSCE mission finally leaves Chechnya in March.

The OSCE had no option but to close its mission in Chechnya because its mandate expired at midnight on 31 December and negotiations on a new mandate had reached a deadlock. Officials said the OSCE had been negotiating for months to reach an agreement with Russia that would allow the continuation of the mission, which first went to Chechnya in 1995. The United States has been particularly active. Shortly before Christmas, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell discussed Russia's criticism of the mission's operations with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in Washington. According to U.S. diplomats, Powell and Ivanov spoke several times since then but were unable to reach an agreement on a new mandate by the 31 December deadline. OSCE spokesman Richard Murphy said there was no formal decision to end the mission. Its mandate simply expired because the agreement of all 55 OSCE members was needed to renew it, and there was no such consensus.

According to OSCE officials, the mission in the northern Chechen town of Znamenskoe has now stopped work. Its chief, Finnish diplomat Jorma Inki, and his five international staff and local assistants have begun packing files and are preparing to ship out their equipment, including the mission's armored cars. The OSCE has agreed with Russia that the closure should be completed no later than 21 March.

Diplomats in Vienna are reluctant to comment on the situation because they hope negotiations between the United States and Russia will continue and will resolve the dispute before the OSCE office finally closes. In Moscow this week, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko told reporters that Russia does want continued cooperation with OSCE but insists on what he termed a "correction" in its operations in Chechnya. Foreign Minister Ivanov, a frequent critic of the OSCE's concern about Chechnya, said on 31 December that the OSCE failed to understand the new reality in Chechnya. He said the situation there is returning to normal and that Russia is working to restore peace and stability.

But German diplomats say Moscow wants to weaken the OSCE's human rights activities in Chechnya and leave it to focus mostly on coordinating humanitarian assistance to the victims of the war. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a German diplomat said, "In Russia's view, a new mandate should limit the OSCE to providing relief aid." German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is among European Union leaders who insist that the OSCE mission be accepted again in Chechnya as soon as possible.

The original 1995 mandate listed the first priority of the OSCE mission as "promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms." It said the mission should also seek to establish the facts when these rights and freedoms were violated. Other tasks included fostering the development of democratic institutions and processes, including the restoration of the local organs of authority.

Later paragraphs covered the tasks that Russia now insists should be the focus of OSCE activities in Chechnya. They include facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid to victims by international and nongovernmental organizations. The mission was also asked to assist the Russian Federation and international organizations in ensuring the speediest-possible return of displaced persons to their homes. The OSCE oversees dozens of relief and economic projects in Chechnya. But it has angered Moscow by criticizing Russia's armed forces for abuses against Chechen civilians.

Russia's dissatisfaction with the mission came into the open in November 2000 at a meeting in Vienna of the 55 OSCE foreign ministers. Foreign Minister Ivanov vetoed the final statement because it called for an independent investigation of alleged atrocities against civilians in Chechnya. The draft statement deplored the continued loss of life and the material damage in Chechnya and called for the prosecution of all those responsible for atrocities against civilians and other violations of human rights. In an address to the other foreign ministers, Ivanov criticized what he perceived as an "exaggerated" OSCE focus on problems in the former Soviet Union and particularly the conflict in Chechnya.

Despite Russia's veto, the criticisms became public knowledge. The then-chairwoman of the OSCE, Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrerro-Waldner, repeated them in a personal statement that was not subject to a veto.

Diplomats in Vienna said the OSCE mission has always been at the center of efforts to end the conflict in Chechnya, which has cost thousands of lives. When it first went to Chechnya in 1995, it scored several successes. In 1995 and 1996, it was credited with helping broker cease-fire agreements But these achievements were soon swept away with the outbreak of new fighting. In December 1998, the mission was compelled to withdraw to Moscow because of the deteriorating security situation. Only after a hard struggle was it permitted to return to Chechnya in June 2001.

Officials at OSCE headquarters in Vienna have not commented on statements by the Chechen resistance criticizing the OSCE for not being active enough in condemning atrocities and saying its presence was a sham. The French news agency AFP this week quoted an unidentified spokesman for Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov as saying that OSCE turned a deaf ear to protests against abuse and violence by Russian forces. (Roland Eggleston)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK: "A [parliamentary] deputy is quite an important official. It is very embarrassing when he cannot afford to buy a decent suit." -- Armenian parliamentary chairman Armen Khachatrian, defending parliament's approval in the first reading of a government-proposed bill that would double deputies' monthly salary (quoted by RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 11 December).

"A country where the Bible is burned and religious minorities are persecuted will not be admitted to NATO." -- U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Richard Miles (quoted by Caucasus Press on 11 December).

"I cannot remain in the same party with people who drink toasts to [former Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic and [Cuban leader Fidel] Castro." -- Georgian parliamentary deputy Sandro Bregadze explaining his decision to leave Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze's Revival Union if it aligns with the pro-Russian Datvi party (quoted by "Akhali taoba" on 23 December).