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Caucasus Report: May 14, 2001


14 May 2001, Volume 4, Number 18

IS A KARABAKH ACCORD LIKELY TO BE SIGNED IN GENEVA? The 15 June meeting in Geneva between the Minsk Group co-chairmen and the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to continue the April Key West talks on resolving the Karabakh conflict is still one month away. But reactions in Baku and Yerevan to official statements over the past week concerning the terms of a possible settlement highlight the degree of public opposition to the "serious compromises" which U.S. co-chairman Carey Cavanaugh told journalists in London on 4 May are required for resolving the conflict.

Speaking in London, Cavanaugh noted "a dramatic acceleration of both the speed and intensity" of the talks aimed at resolving the Karabakh conflict, according to Reuters. He said that by virtue of eliminating variants which are unacceptable to one side or the other, "both leaderships can see the outlines of how a solution might work," and as a result "most" of the draft solution is now on paper. He declined to divulge details, but Reuters reported without giving a source that Nagorno-Karabakh would have "a high degree of self-government" while remaining nominally part of Azerbaijan, and that Armenian forces would withdraw from occupied territory adjacent to the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic but retain control of the Lachin corridor linking the enclave with Armenia. Armenia would also guarantee unimpeded communication across its territory between Azerbaijan and its exclave of Nakhichevan.

Cavanaugh added that "we have seen a lot of signs" that both presidents are preparing public opinion for a settlement based on "serious compromise." Both in London and in comments made one week later in New York at an international conference on investment in Armenia, he expressed the hope that the two presidents might sign a final accord in Geneva. But Armenian President Robert Kocharian said in Yerevan before his departure for the New York forum and in an 11 May interview with AP that he doubts a final peace settlement will be signed in Geneva. Repeating his earlier insistence that the leadership of the NKR must be a party to discussions on a settlement, Kocharian pointed out that "even if all the three parties agreed to a definite solution...six months or a year will be needed for its implementation," given that the accord must be approved by the Armenian parliament.

Kocharian confirmed that "we do have the outline of a future proposal clear," but at the same time he said the final accord must encompass the three basic principles which have been central to the Armenian position in recent years: no vertical subordination of the NKR to the central Azerbaijani government; the need for a common border between the NKR and Armenia, which presupposes continued Armenian control of Lachin; and security guarantees for the NKR.

At least the first two of those demands would require a retreat from the shared insistence of the Azerbaijani leadership and opposition that the most Baku could agree to is a "high degree of autonomy" for Karabakh within Azerbaijan and that Armenian forces should cede all remaining Azerbaijani territories to facilitate the return of displaced persons to their homes. The proposed status for Karabakh that is apparently under discussion thus may be something far closer to de facto independence than to autonomy: Turan on 5 May quoted an unnamed Western diplomat as comparing the impact of the peace settlement on Azerbaijan to the amputation of a hand -- a comparison that impelled opposition Musavat Party leader Isa Gambar to warn that "Azerbaijan will not condone the loss of a single finger." Gambar also believes that any decision on the future status of Karabakh should be postponed until after the liberation of the occupied territories and the return to their homes of the internally displaced persons. (In other words, Gambar advocates a "phased" settlement rather than the "package" approach that the Armenians prefer.)

Opposition parties in Armenia too have reacted negatively to official statements that they construe as a retreat from, or even a betrayal of, the Armenian position. Specifically, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian's remark during a 9 May interview with the independent Armenian TV station A1-Plus that Yerevan would be prepared to return six of the seven "occupied" raions in Azerbaijan triggered a storm of protest from those who insist that the areas in questions were historically Armenian and were in fact "liberated" from Azerbaijani control.

Oskanian himself subsequently sought, with little success, to downplay those protests, which eclipsed his upbeat prognosis that Armenia and Azerbaijan have never been so close to peace, and that "if nothing extraordinary happens," a final settlement could be signed by the end of this year.

The primary obstacle to such a settlement would seem to be the domestic political opposition in both countries. One of the factors that served as a catalyst for the April Key West talks was the simultaneous publication in February in both Armenia and Azerbaijan of the three draft peace proposals presented by the OSCE Minsk Group between mid-1997 and late 1998. Whether or not it was intended as such, that leakage of hitherto confidential information was interpreted by the opposition in both countries as an invitation to help determine the terms of an alternative settlement plan, and as a sign that the search for such a settlement would no longer be the exclusive preserve of the top leadership. By reverting to maintaining the confidentiality of the peace talks, the two leaderships have not only dashed opposition parties' hopes of increasing their influence and input in the search for an acceptable peace, but compounded fears of a "sellout."

In an attempt to assuage domestic grievances and sensitivity, the Azerbaijani leadership over the past few days has accused Yerevan of seeking to destabilize the political situation in Azerbaijan by implying that the draft peace accord under discussion encompasses concessions unacceptable to Azerbaijani public opinion. Rustam Mamedov, head of the political department of the presidential office, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service by telephone on 11 May that Oskanian's 9 May statement on Lachin (which was apparently mistranslated by the Azerbaijani media, which quoted the minister as saying that Yerevan wants "to reserve Lachin for itself") was deliberately intended to provoke a negative reaction in Azerbaijan.

There remains a possibility that, while formally continuing its mediating role as one of the three Minsk Group co-chairs, Moscow may simultaneously try to sabotage a settlement: "Yeni Azerbaijan," the daily newspaper of the eponymous Azerbaijani ruling party, predicted last week that in a bid to do just that, Russia has already started planning a repeat of the October 1999 parliament shootings in Armenia. (Liz Fuller)

IS MOSCOW DELIBERATELY UNDERMINING THE NEW CHECHEN GOVERNMENT? Observers of Moscow's actions in Chechnya since the beginning in September 1999 of the current war have long been puzzled by the huge discrepancy between Russia's stated objectives and its actual policies on the ground. Russian officials have repeatedly claimed, for example, that the primary objective of first the Russian army troops and now the Federal Security Service (FSB) operatives who have taken over from the military responsibility for the ongoing "counterterrorist" operation has been to locate and then neutralize Chechen field commanders and their followers.

Yet while the Russian media report the capture or killing of countless low-level Chechen fighters, the few operations aimed at neutralizing the most influential field commanders, including Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov, have been failures. That failure calls into question Moscow's commitment or at least its ability to make good on its stated aim of destroying those figures who symbolize and spearhead the Chechen resistance. ("Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 8 May quoted Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov as saying that close associates of radical field commander Shamil Basaev are traveling around Chechnya with documentation issued by the FSB.) What is more, the Russian military has targeted civilians, both men and women, regardless of their age, possibly even more systematically than it has entered into combat with armed Chechen fighters.

Many Chechen political figures, including Kadyrov, Duma deputy for Chechnya Aslanbek Aslakhanov, and former Russian Supreme Soviet speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov have repeatedly warned that Moscow's tactics risk alienating the entire Chechen civilian population and thus producing a new generation of "irreconcilable" freedom fighters.

The "RFE/RL Caucasus Report" suggested earlier this year (see Vol. 4, No. 1, 5 January 2001 and No. 4, 26 January 2001) that one reason for the apparent military stalemate in Chechnya was that some senior Russian military officers have a vested economic interest in prolonging military operations. Khasbulatov, however, has gone on record as saying that he believes that the Russian leadership has not wittingly opted for a policy of systematic extermination of the Chechen civilian population, but has simply given the Russian top brass the green light to take whatever actions they consider necessary and appropriate.

But developments since the beginning of this month are less easy to explain away in terms of the Russian left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. Indeed, they tend to substantiate the hypothesis that at least some in Moscow consider the Chechen population dispensible and the government it has installed in Chechnya irrelevant. For example, the Russian leadership failed to inform Kadyrov and Chechen Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov in advance of a 4 May meeting at the Russian military base near Grozny of top Russian police, security, and military officials to discuss the "stabilization" process in Chechnya.

At that 4 May meeting, FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev announced, again without prior consultation with the Chechen administration, that the Chechen government was to return from Grozny to Gudermes as its security in Grozny could not be guaranteed. Ilyasov's cabinet had moved back to the capital from its temporary quarters in Gudermes on 23 April, a move that Kadyrov said was "permanent" and "a step towards stabilization and consolidation." Both Kadyrov and Ilyasov told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that it was not clear whether Patrushev's statement was a deliberate attempt to discredit them in the eyes of the top Russian leadership. Ilyasov also expressed concern at what he termed a deliberate campaign by the Russian military to destroy the Chechen population's trust in his cabinet.

A possible further indication of the ultimate objective of the Russian "power" ministries was provided by Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantemirov, who, according to Glasnost-North Caucasus, told Ekho Moskvy that he has acquired a copy of a secret directive issued by former Russian Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, who is now an adviser to the Russian Security Council. Rushailo allegedly called for creating untenable living and working conditions for Chechens in the Russian Federation; restricting the movement of Chechens to their place of permanent residence; limiting the issue of visas and travel passports to Chechens; and detaining and remanding Chechens to determine their identity and business. True, in the light of some of his earlier sensational statements that later proved to be untrue, Gantemirov cannot be regarded as a wholly reliable source. But the orders he imputes to Rushailo fit into the broader pattern of systematic oppression, victimization, and murder of Chechens both in Chechnya and elsewhere in the Russian Federation. (Liz Fuller)

MKHEDRIONI TO APPEAL DENIAL OF REGISTRATION. Djaba Ioseliani, the bank robber-turned-philosopher and playwright who headed the paramilitary organization Mkhedrioni, which in 1991 was instrumental in ousting then President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, told journalists in Tbilisi on 9 May he plans to appeal to the Supreme Court the Georgian Justice Ministry's refusal to reregister Mkhedrioni as a political organization. Ioseliani said he believes that refusal constitutes a violation of the Georgian Constitution. Justice Minister Mikhail Saakashvili had said five days earlier that as long as he remains in his post, Mkhedrioni will not be formally registered. "In a law-abiding state, it is inadmissible to legalize an organization that intends to pursue its political goals with arms," Interfax quoted Saakashvili as saying.

It was the second time that Saakashvili has rejected Mkhedrioni's application to register with the Justice Ministry. The first time was late last year, shortly after the founding congress in November of the political organization Mkhedrioni that superseded the eponymous paramilitary organization (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 46, 1 December 2000 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2000). That paramilitary formation was outlawed in 1995, shortly after Ioseliani's arrest on charges of involvement in the August car bomb attack on then Parliament Chairman Eduard Shevardnadze. Ioseliani was sentenced in the fall of 1998 to 11 years imprisonment on those and related charges of banditry, illegal possession of arms, and drug trafficking, but released under an amnesty proclaimed by Shevardnadze in April 2000.

In a further move that is likely to exacerbate his relations with the Justice Ministry, the 74-year-old Ioseliani has made good on his pledge shortly after his release last year to file suit with the European Court in Strasbourg on the grounds that his November 1995 arrest was illegal. At that time, Ioseliani theoretically enjoyed immunity from prosecution as a Georgian parliament deputy. He is demanding $2 million in compensation and moral damages from the Georgian government. (Liz Fuller)

ARE PRIMAKOV, MIGRANIAN BEING CONSIDERED AS AMBASSADORS TO THE TRANSCAUCASUS? In connection with the 10 May appointment of former Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin as ambassador to Ukraine, Interfax quoted an unnamed Russian official as saying that the Kremlin is now considering the candidacies for unspecified positions of high-ranking state and public figures who previously occupied senior positions "but have not lost their political weight and personal connections." The Kremlin is also reviewing earlier offers by persons who volunteered their services as advisers on the Transcaucasus states or in drafting "concepts and specific documents concerned with the development of Russia's long-term relations, in particular with the countries of the CIS."

In the former category, the first name that springs to mind is that of former Russian Foreign Minister and Premier Yevgenii Primakov, who grew up in Tbilisi. Primakov played a significant role in mediating between the Georgian and Abkhaz governments in 1998, and has more recently performed a similar role in Moldova. Embattled oligarch Boris Berezovskii, who served in 1998-1999 as CIS Executive Secretary (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 1998), also has Georgian expertise -- he too took a hand in mediating in Abkhazia and has espoused the proposal to route an oil pipeline from Novorossiissk along the Black Sea coast to Poti as an inducement to resolving the Abkhaz conflict. But his recent strained relations with President Vladimir Putin would seem to preclude such a comeback.

As for "former advisers," they include analyst Andranik Migranian and former Russian Deputy Premier and Minister for Nationalities Policy Ramazan Abdulatipov. (Liz Fuller)

QUOTATION OF THE WEEK. "[Being] prime minister is like [being] a gladiator: either you win or get killed." -- Armenian Premier Andranik Markarian in an extensive interview with "Hayastani Hanrapetutyun" on 12 May that was devoted to his first anniversary in office.

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