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Caucasus Report: October 29, 2001

29 October 2001, Volume 4, Number 36

HOW DOES ABKHAZIA ENVISAGE ITS FUTURE RELATIONSHIP WITH RUSSIA? On 14 October, Abkhazia's Prime Minister Anri Djergenia raised the stakes in the ongoing standoff with Georgia by stating on the Russian TV channel TV-6 that his unrecognized republic seeks "associate status" with the Russian Federation. Four days later, Vice President Valerii Arshba said the Abkhaz government is already drafting the relevant documents to submit to Moscow.

Djergenia first raised the possibility of "associate status" with Russia two years ago, shortly after the October 1999 referendum in which the Abkhaz electorate voted to endorse the constitution adopted in November 1994 that defines Abkhazia as an independent sovereign state. One week after that referendum, the Abkhaz parliament adopted a formal statute of independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4, 5, and 13 October 1999). Djergenia said in November 1999 that he had proposed the "associate status" arrangement to the Russian State Duma's Committee for Geopolitical Issues, which had recognized the validity of the 3 October presidential election in which Vladislav Ardzinba was re-elected for a second term.

Over the past two weeks, Djergenia and Ardzinba have both explained what they mean by "associate status." In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 October, Ardzinba reaffirmed that "Abkhazia is de jure and de facto an independent state." He described the relations he envisages with Moscow as follows: "Abkhazia is a subject of international law (a member of the UN and other international organizations), but at the same time it implements [a common] foreign and defense policy together with Russia, has a shared currency and customs union with Russia, and jointly with Russia guards its state border." "Kommersant-Daily" on 19 October quoted Djergenia as adding to that definition that the two states would have a joint economic policy. That definition amounts to far closer cooperation than is envisaged between the two components of the Russia-Belarus Union State, which presumably explains why Abkhazia did not apply to join that union instead.

Djergenia described the envisaged arrangement with Russia as a variant on a confederation. The Abkhaz have maintained since 1994 that they will negotiate with Georgia only on creating a confederation in which Abkhazia and Georgia would be equal partners. Tbilisi, however, has consistently rejected that option, saying that it is prepared to offer Abkhazia only "the broadest conceivable autonomy" within a unitary Georgian state. Moreover, as German scholar Uwe Leonardi argued in a collection of essays published in 1999 and entitled "The Practice of Federalism. The Search for Alternatives for Georgia and Abkhazia," the confederation model is not suitable in the case of Abkhazia and Georgia because it almost always proves to be a temporary formation that evolves either in the direction of closer federal ties within a single state, or splits into two separate and sovereign states.

As for Djergenia's proposed "associate status" with Russia, the Russian Constitution does not provide at present for any such status. In late June, however, at around the same time that Djergenia was appointed prime minister, the Russian State Duma did approve in the second and third reading a bill outlining the procedure for admitting new subjects to the federation (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," Vol. 1, No. 15, 25 June 2001 and No. 16, 2 July 2001). Moreover, that the Russian leadership cannot very well agree to the Abkhaz request without laying itself open to charges that it is undermining Georgia's territorial integrity, and without setting a precedent that the Chechens may seize on to ask for a similar agreement.

The most plausible rationale for Abkhazia's request for "associate status" with the Russian Federation is that it would provide some degree of protection should Georgia decide to quit the CIS. To date, neither Djergenia (who is a trained lawyer) nor any other Abkhaz politician has addressed the question of whether Abkhazia might apply to join the CIS in its own right if Georgia were to leave that body. (Liz Fuller)

ARMENIA ASSESSES IMPLICATIONS OF WAIVER OF SECTION 907. Armenian officials are downplaying the likely impact of the expected suspension of the U.S. sanctions against Azerbaijan contained in Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, saying that the move paves the way only for "very limited" American assistance to Baku and will not disrupt the existing balance of forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. President Robert Kocharian had appealed earlier this month to U.S. President George W. Bush not to repeal the sanctions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2001), while Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian had warned on 19 October that a total repeal of Section 907 would negatively affect the chances of resolving the Karabakh conflict.

"We believe that the changes in Section 907 [of the 1992 Freedom Support Act] are balanced because they allow the United States to carry out the antiterror campaign in a more effective way without jeopardizing regional stability and Armenia's and Nagorno-Karabakh's security," Oskanian told journalists in Yerevan on 26 October. "I can say for certain that Azerbaijan didn't get what it wanted to get for many years," he added. "The aid will be soft and very limited."

The U.S. Senate voted on 24 October to allow President George W. Bush to waive Section 907 for the duration of the ongoing antiterrorist campaign. That move followed a letter from Secretary of State Colin Powell urging the lawmakers to lift the decade-long sanctions as a reward for Baku's support of Washington's ongoing antiterror campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2001). Section 907 imposes severe restrictions on American assistance to Azerbaijan until it lifts its blockade of Armenia and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.

The Azerbaijani government argued ever since the adoption of Section 907 in 1992 that it is unfair and counter-productive. President Heidar Aliyev has reportedly objected to some of the conditions pegged to the impending waiver. Still, Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev described the Senate's decision as a major foreign policy success. The Baku daily "Zerkalo" on 26 October quoted an official from the Azerbaijani Embassy in Washington as saying that Azerbaijan can now get "unlimited assistance in any sphere."

However, Oskanian insisted that Washington will only help Azerbaijan train its security services and protect its borders against "infiltration" by radical Islamist groups seen as part of Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network. This, Oskanian said, will not allow Baku to gain the upper hand in the Karabakh conflict. In addition, Azerbaijan is forbidden to use any of the aid it will receive from Washington for any "offensive purposes against Armenia."

Oskanian also welcomed the Senate's decision to allocate $4.6 million in military assistance to Armenia, which constitutes a major concession to the influential Armenian-American community. He said the U.S. and Armenian governments will decide how the funds are to be used "through bilateral negotiations." He ruled out any supplies of U.S.-made military hardware and other weapons.

Armenian-American lobbying groups and diplomatic sources in Yerevan predict that the volume of planned military funding for Azerbaijan is unlikely to be substantially higher than the sum set aside for Armenia. (Emil Danielyan)

CHECHEN ADMINISTRATION HEAD MOVES TO CONSOLIDATE POWER. Over the past few weeks, Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov has streamlined the entire system of administration in Chechnya. Kadyrov has strengthened his own control over economic issues at the expense of the Chechen government and finally achieved his objective of establishing a republican interior ministry that will replace the federal Interior Ministry department for Chechnya. Observers have construed those changes as compounding tensions between Kadyrov and Chechen Premier Stanislav Ilyasov, although both men have denied the existence of any differences between them.

Following a meeting in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kadyrov returned to Grozny and convened a government session on 18 October at which he announced the abolition of the combined government and administration apparatus on the grounds that the government staff had done little, if anything, to assist the administration. (Kadyrov's staff were even more brutal in their criticism, alleging that Ilyasov's team engaged in "open sabotage" of Kadyrov's initiatives, "Izvestiya" reported on 19 October.)

In its place, Kadyrov announced the creation of a new administration subordinate to himself, and appointed to head it Lieutenant General Yan Sergunin. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 October, Sergunin, who is 47, has worked in Chechnya for the past two years, and has married a Chechen woman and converted to Islam. Kadyrov named the former head of the combined government and administration apparatus, Viktor Aleksentsev, as Sergunin's deputy. Aleksentsev had worked with Chechen Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov as chief of staff when the latter was head of the government of Stavropol Krai and presumably served as one of his closest advisors in Chechnya.

Ilyasov, who according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" did not attend the 18 October government session, was quoted by ITAR-TASS the same day as explaining that the combined apparatus was abolished because the administration and the government have separate tasks, the former being responsible for political issues and the latter for economic matters. According to "Izvestiya" on 24 October, the new body will control not only all funds sent from Moscow, but also all revenues from the revived Chechen oil sector.

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 October predicted that it is only a matter of time before Ilyasov himself is replaced; but "Izvestiya" four days later quoted him as saying that he refuses to resign. "Izvestiya" also reported that Kadyrov intends to remove not only Ilyasov, but all other non-Chechen members of the present Chechen government. Kadyrov criticized the premier for failing to bring his family with him to Chechnya, a sign, Kadyrov implied, that Ilyasov hopes his secondment is only temporary and that he does not care deeply about Chechnya's future.

In an interview with "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 19 October, Kadyrov stated that "as head of the Chechen administration I have the power, abilities, and time to do something for my people before the [presidential] elections [for which no date has yet been set].... If I manage to restore completely peaceful life in the republic, the people will elect me." But Kadyrov denied that his present moves are the opening tactics of a long-term presidential campaign.

Kadyrov may nonetheless benefit from the recent appointment as commander of the combined Russian forces in Chechnya of Lieutenant General Vladimir Moltenskoi. Kadyrov has characterized the new commander in chief as "a man of principle who strictly follows the letter and spirit of the law.... He is always trying to understand people, to resolve their problems, and to be responsive to human pain," according to Interfax on 23 October. For example, on 10 October, Moltenskoi met with residents of the village of Prigorodnoe who had blocked traffic on the main Grozny-Shali highway for four days to demand an official investigation into the deaths of 42 villagers at the hands of Russian troops over the previous two years. Moltenskoi agreed to that request. And on 22 October, Interfax reported that Moltenskoi has cut short the tours of duty of several officers who had condoned the extortion by Russian military personnel of money from Chechen civilians to allow them through checkpoints.

There is, moreover, a further important aspect to the apparently harmonious rapport between Kadyrov and Moltenskoi. In a study published in "Perspective," Volume XII, No. 1, the Chechen journalist Roustam KAliyev gives a detailed account of how the traditional rivalry between Russian military intelligence (GRU) and the Federal Security Service (FSB) has negatively impacted on the war in Chechnya, and may even constitute the primary obstacle to ending hostilities. Putin, as the senior representative of the FSB within the power hierarchy, clearly backs Kadyrov; but at least for the moment, the Russian general in command of day-to-day operations is not out to undermine the head of the Chechen administration. That does not, of course, exclude the possibility that other senior FSB representatives may be prepared to sacrifice the opportunity to stabilize the situation in Chechnya and win over at least part of the civilian population in order to win another battle in their ongoing turf war with the GRU. In that respect, it will be interesting to see how long Moltenskoi remains in his present post. (Liz Fuller)

MEMBERS OF SEPARATIST GROUP IN NORTHERN AZERBAIJAN ARRESTED. Police and security officials in Azerbaijan have arrested over 20 members of the armed group said to be responsible for blowing up the memorial to Imam Shamil in the northern region of Zakatala on 17 August and ambushing a local police station two days later, wounding five police officers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 22 August 2001). The men involved are said to have been campaigning for the transfer of the two north Azerbaijani raions of Zakalata and Belokany to the Russian Federation. But it remains unclear whether they were operating on their own initiative, or whether they were coopted by Armenian intelligence as some Azerbaijani observers have claimed.

The independent Azerbaijani newspaper "Zerkalo" published on 26 September the outcome of its own researches, conducted in Zakatala, into the identity of the group members. That article identifies as the group leader a 35-year-old resident of the village of Katekh in Belokany Raion, Gadzhi Magomedov who, the paper claims, together with several companions underwent guerrilla training in Armenia at an unspecified date and in 1993 supported Colonel Suret Huseinov, the insurgent leader who was instrumental in ousting then-President Abulfaz Elchibey.

Magomedov is said to have committed a series of unspecified crimes in 1993 after which he fled to Daghestan and took an active role in meetings organized by various nationalist formations there. Specifically, he is said to have participated in a meeting in Daghestan at which he called for Russia to annex Zakatala and Belokany. He is also said to have published articles in Daghestan arguing that the two raions in question are part of the historic homeland of the Avars, and became part of the then Azerbaijan Democratic Republic only in 1918.

According to "Zerkalo," Magomedov's band consists primarily of Avars from Zakatala and Belokany, many of them convicted criminals. Their attacks in those districts this summer were said to have been financed by an unofficial group named Alazani formed in Makhachkala in July 2001 to provide economic aid to Avars from Zakatala and Belokany who had emigrated to Daghestan.

"Zerkalo" did not unearth any evidence to suggest that the August attacks in northern Azerbaijan were planned or commissioned by Armenian intelligence. But the independent Azerbaijani TV station ANS noted on 18 and 19 October without specifying its sources that two members of Magomedov's band, named as Ilham Bakkaev and Fikret Davydov, arrested in separate police raids earlier in October, have both confessed to contacts with Armenian officials. Bakkaev reportedly said he met in Georgia with the Armenian ambassador to Tbilisi for secret talks, while Davydov said he had traveled four times this year to Armenia for training and instruction by Armenian special service operatives.

At a joint press conference in Baku on 23 October with his Russian counterpart Boris Gryzlov, Azerbaijan's Interior Minister Ramil Usubov declined to confirm speculation about an Armenian connection with Magomedov's group, saying only that the investigation into the group's activities is continuing. But Gryzlov told journalists on his arrival at Baku's Bina airport that the situation in Zakatala and Belokany would figure prominently on the agenda of his talks with Usubov, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 October. Gryzlov advocated a joint special operation by Azerbaijani and Russian police to preserve stability in the districts on both sides of the Azerbaijani-Russian border, (Liz Fuller)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "The Caucasus should not be treated as the backyard of any neighboring state." -- Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem, speaking in Brussels on 25 October (quoted by Reuters).

"One political prisoner is one too many." -- Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer, commenting on 24 October on a report prepared by a Council of Europe team of experts that concluded that there are some 700 political prisoners in Azerbaijan (quoted by Turan).