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Caucasus Report: January 11, 2001

11 January 2001, Volume 4, Number 2

AZERBAIJANI, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS PLEDGE TO BUILD 'STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP.' As widely anticipated, both Russian and Azerbaijani officials heralded the 9-10 January visit to Baku Russian President Vladimir Putin as opening a new era in Russian-Azerbaijani relations.

Comments by both Putin and his Azerbaijani host Heidar Aliev, and the formal agreements the two men signed, suggest that they succeeded in resolving most, if not all, of the issues that have bedevilled bilateral relations in recent years. Aliyev told journalists after his two-hour talks with Putin that "we have reached mutual agreement on all the questions we have discussed, and this gives me great satisfaction," while Putin in turn affirmed that "with the agreement of the President of Azerbaijan, we can open a new chapter" in bilateral relations.

The tensions between Moscow and Baku derived on the one hand from Azerbaijan's pro-western orientation, in particular its cooperation with Georgia within the GUUAM alignment, which many in Moscow perceive as being intended to subvert the CIS, and its lobbying for the planned Baku-Ceyhan pipeline to export Azerbaijan's Caspian oil bypassing the Russian Federation. Baku, for its part, has been suspicious of Russia's ongoing program of military cooperation with Armenia, which Aliyev told Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov in 1999 "is complicating" the search for a solution to the Karabakh conflict (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 36, 9 September 1999).

Since early this year, however, Azerbaijani officials have repeatedly expressed interest in expanding and improving first economic but also political relations with Moscow. Yet economic issues took second place during Putin's meetings in Baku this week. At least judging by published reports of what was discussed, the primary focus was geopolitical, as reflected in the two most important of the nine documents signed.

The first of those is the so-called Baku Declaration on Principles of Security and Cooperation in the Caucasus, in which. the signatories pledge to raise bilateral relations "to a higher level of strategic partnership." That document further notes the signatories' shared readiness to transform the Caucasus into a region of peace and good-neighborly relations. The signatories affirm, according to "Parlamentskaya gazeta" on 11 January, that outside intervention in Caucasus affairs is unacceptable, and that "the states of the region themselves are to play the major role in the process of defining ways and means of ensuring security and the development of cooperation in the Caucasus." (That statement could be construed as a rejection of the CEPS draft proposal for a Caucasus security system.)

The two sides register their commitment to long-term military cooperation as one of the components of promoting security in the Caucasus. But Putin stressed both in his comment to journalists and in his address to the Azerbaijani parliament on 10 January that such cooperation will not be directed at any third party.

The second key document was a joint communique on the principles of cooperation in the Caspian,. That document affirmed that that body of water should be "a zone of peace and friendship" and that the new legal status of the Caspian should be worked out by the Caspian littoral states and validated only with their agreement. It registered the two sides' shared conviction that the seabed of the Caspian should be divided between the five littoral states along the modified median line, while the waters should remain in common use. It noted that each littoral state will have exclusive rights to the mineral resources on its sector of the sea. That phrasing suggests that Russia has abandoned its proposal of last summer, which Azerbaijan had rejected, that in cases where two states dispute ownership of hydrocarbons deposits, as do Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, they should reach an agreement on the joint exploitation of those deposits (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 2000). The two presidents also expressed support for Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's proposal to convene a summit of Caspian littoral states in March to discuss the legal status of the Caspian Sea.

The Russian president told journalists that much attention was paid in the course of his talks with Aliyev to the prospects for a solution to the Karabakh conflict. Putin affirmed that Russia is ready to promote a further dialogue between the two sides and to help implement any agreement reached between Aliyev and his Azerbaijani counterpart Robert Kocharian, both in its capacity as one of the three co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group and acting independently. He said several options for resolving the conflict were discussed, but did not divulge specifics, according to Turan.

On one key issue, however, the future of the Gabala radar station, no progress was made. Interfax quoted an unidentified Azerbaijani government source as saying that Baku is prepared either to sell that facility to Russia outright for the highest possible price, or to conclude an agreement whereby Russia will lease it for three years at a cost of $5 million annually, with the option to extend that agreement on expiry. Russia, for its part, is demanding a 20-year lease at no more than $1.5 million per year. (By contrast, Moscow pays Kazakhstan $115 million annually for the rent of the Baikonur cosmodrome.)

Interfax further referred to the 26 December "Zaman" report that Baku had signaled that it might revise its demands vis-a-vis Gabala in return for Russian assistance in resolving the Karabakh conflict on Azerbaijan's terms (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 50, 29 December 2000). Those terms include the liberation of Azerbaijani territories bordering Karabakh that are currently occupied by Armenian forces, the demilitarization of the enclave and the return to their homes of Azerbaijani displaced persons and refugees.

To date, there has been relatively little press speculation as to what prompted Baku to seek a rapprochement with Moscow, and why Moscow has responded by modifying its earlier threats against Azerbaijan, while continuing to exert increasing pressure on Georgia.

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 11 January compared Aliev's strategy to the policy of "active neutrality" pursued by Urho Kekkonen during his tenure as President of Finland from 1965-1981, noting that "Aliyev is trying to establish smooth relations with both the West and Moscow. To achieve this, he uses contacts with one side as a stimulus for facilitating contacts with the other."

Azerbaijani commentary has tended to be more cynical, imputing to Aliyev personal, rather than geopolitical motives. The opposition daily "Yeni Musavat" and the independent daily "Azadlyq" both suggested that Aliev's overriding concern is to enlist support for his plans to ensure that his son Ilham succeeds him as president. ("Yeni Musavat" and "Hurriyet" suggested earlier this month that the current chief of the presidential staff, Ramiz Mekhtiev, will shortly be appointed parliament speaker, and will then serve as acting president during an interregnum before Ilham is popularly elected to succeed his father.)

"Yeni Musavat" quotes Musavat Party secretary Sulhaddin Akper as suggesting that Aliyev has turned to Moscow for support only after failing to win the West's approval for a hereditary presidency. Several Russian press articles last year also assessed that hypothesis (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 32, 11 August 2000). In that context, the 10-year time frame of the "Baku Declaration" may be significant. Heidar Aliyev is now 77. (Liz Fuller)

HOW, AND BY WHOM, SHOULD CHECHNYA BE GOVERNED? The appointment seven months ago of Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov to the post of interim Chechen administration head may have given some semblance of legitimacy to the Russian occupation forces, but it has contributed little to efforts to restore the republic's infrastructure and economy. In recognition of that failing, and in an attempt to overcome it, in late November Russian President Vladimir Putin named Vladimir Yelagin as federal minister with responsibility for reconstruction in Chechnya. According to Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii, that appointment was intended to give fresh impetus to the process of economic reconstruction in Chechnya and thus to complement the ongoing "anti-terrorist" operation by winning support from the civilian population.

Not only are Kadyrov's powers limited and vaguely defined; he has twice had to contend with open insubordination on the part of his deputy, Beslan Gantemirov. And crucially, there seems to be no formal mechanism that would regulate relations between Kadyrov's civilian administration and the Russian military forces in Chechnya.

Two diametrically opposed approaches have so far been proposed to resolving that problem. The first entails strict centralization and the concentration of control in the hands of one individual, a "governor-general." That model originated with Russian presidential representative to the South Russia federal district Viktor Kazantsev, who told "Rossiiskaya gazeta" in October that in his opinion, the optimum solution is "the total centralization of administration of the [Chechen] republic. A coordinator is needed who will assume responsibility for the economy, for the control of financial flows, for the activity of the force structures-- for everything" (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 41, 20 October 2000). The "governor-general" model was likewise one of the five key tenets of the Chechen peace plan unveiled last month by former Russian Prime Minister and Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 50, 29 December 2000).

The second, the "diversification" model, entails the formation of a Chechen government, and thus the division of responsibilities for various spheres of activity. This appears to be the approach favored by Russian President Vladimir Putin who, Yelagin told businessmen in Moscow on 6 January, is likely to sign a decree on the structure of the new Chechen government on 15 January. Yelagin had said earlier that the work of the government will focus primarily on social and economic issues, while responsibility for "power structures" will devolve on the Russian military commandant, Lieutenant General Ivan Babichev.

Kazantsev's deputy, Lieutenant General Vladimir Bokovikov, said on 5 January that ministers for that cabinet are already being selected, and that Kadyrov will reconfirm them. He added that Kadyrov knows, and has worked with, many of the probable appointees in the past.

It is still not clear, however, who, in the absence of a "governor-general," will head the new Chechen government. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 December reported that the draft amendments to Putin's June decree on the temporary Chechen administration stipulate that Kadyrov's first deputy (i.e. Abdulla Bugaev) should head the new cabinet. But a division of responsibility between Kadyrov and his first deputy is difficult to reconcile with Putin's 25 December statement that "there will be only one center of power in Chechnya--Akhmed Kadyrov."

Kadyrov, for his part has made no secret of his ambition to head a government that will be responsible for social and economic, but not for military issues. He told Interfax on 29 December that he will be the actual head, while one of his deputies will function as the "acting head" of government. But he categorically denied that Moscow-based businessman Malik Saidullaev will be named to that latter post (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 December 2000).

Bokovikov, however, has questioned whether it is appropriate for Kadyrov to hold both posts. And Yelagin told Interfax on 9 January that Kadyrov will not head the new Chechen government. He said some 10 possible candidates are being considered for that post, some from Chechnya and some from Moscow, but did not name them.

Intriguingly, Yelagin also argued that "military-political issues are the most important ones in Chechnya at the moment, and they are very time-consuming for Kadyrov. Therefore, the executive power must be reinforced." That line of argument not only contradicts his earlier statement that social and economic issues should be the primary focus of the new cabinet. It also suggests that the new prime minister may have a military or police background, and liaise with the Russian military, while Kadyrov and Yelagin devote their attention to reconstruction and political issues. Such a division of responsibilities may be intended as a compromise between the two models outlined above. "Izvestiya" on 11 January identified Babichev himself and the commander of the North Caucasus Military District, Colonel General Gennadii Troshev, as the most likely candidates, although Troshev last fall denied any interest in the proposed "governor-general" post.

Either the "governor-general" or the "compromise" model would appear to offer the best chances for restoring order in Chechnya in the long-term, assuming that the new premier is empowered and willing to take a stand against the Russian military's brutal victimization of the Chechen civilian population. Only a Russian, however, is likely to be entrusted with that specific brief anytime soon. And in the short term, the appointment of a Russian premier could increase Chechens' growing resentment: Kadyrov's objections notwithstanding, many of them reportedly favor Saidullaev for that post. (Liz Fuller)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "Russia's attitude towards Georgia is a kind of litmus paper by which the West assesses Russia's policy and defines ways of cooperating with Russia." -- Former German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe, visiting Georgia earlier this week (quoted by Caucasus Press on 9 January).

"Spheres of influence have become a thing of the past. Zones of interest are something different. Of course, Russia has its legal interests in the South Caucasus region, and we hope that those interests will be pursued with due regard for the interests of the states of the Caucasus." -- Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, in an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" (published on 22 December).

"We have always come out against the concept of 'zones of geopolitical interest' regardless of who was meant by that--Russia, NATO, or someone else [...] But at the same time one must admit that both Russia and a group of countries representing NATO have significant state interests in the Caucasus and in Georgia. I see nothing unacceptable in that, provided that the promotion of those interests takes place not only within the process of interaction between the two giants, but taking into account the vital interests of the countries of the Caucasus. All the more so as politics is not only the art of the possible but the art of coordinating interests." -- Shevardnadze, ibid.

"There is more to the Caucasus than just the mountains between the Caspian and the Black Seas. The Caucasus is a complicated system of relations between peoples and states." -- Colonel-General Andrei Nikolaev, Duma Defense Committee chairman and former commander of the Russian Border Guards in Georgia (quoted in "Krasnaya zvezda," 5 January).