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Caucasus Report: April 14, 2000

14 April 2000, Volume 3, Number 15

Moscow Narrows Options For Controlling Chechnya... On 7 April Russian government representative in Chechnya Nikolai Koshman ended weeks of speculation and debate, telling journalists after talks with Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin that the latter had decided that presidential rule should not be imposed in Chechnya. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" one month earlier, Putin had suggested that presidential rule could be introduced in Chechnya after the Russian presidential elections "for a few years" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2000). Koshman added that the Russian government will draft and submit to the State Duma shortly a bill outlining the proposed new Chechen power structure. He said that model would comprise a strict three-tier vertical administrative system, meaning that administrative bodies will be formed on the republic, district and community level.

Later on 7 April, Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii disclosed further details of that bill, which, he said, bears the provisional title "Law on Executing State Authority on the Territory of the Chechen Republic in the Transitional Period." The bill proposes creating a unified territorial administration by merging the existing Russian government representation and temporary Chechen administration. Koshman had said two months ago that such a merger was in the offing (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 7, 17 February 2000). The head of the new administration will be appointed by the Russian president, according to Yastrzhembskii. No potential candidates for that post have been named, nor is it clear how extensive his powers will be.

Neither Yastrzhembskii nor Koshman explained the rationale for the new administrative model, or for Putin's apparent volte-face over the question of presidential rule. But "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 6 April had pointed out that the temporary administration and the Russian government representation in Chechnya largely duplicate each other's functions, although funding for the latter is considerably more generous than for the former, many of whose employees have still not received their salaries. The same duplication exists at local level between the civilian administrations and the military commandants, the paper added. In addition, there are two separate police forces: the local police, which are subordinate to the district administrations, and temporary detachments brought in from elsewhere in the Russian Federation and which are subordinate to the Russian government representation.

While the streamlining of administrative structures in Chechnya is clearly a logical step, and, to judge by Koshman's February prediction, one that has been under discussion for some time, the question remains: why did Putin choose not to complement that restructuring by imposing presidential rule? Did he wish to avoid further criticism from the international community? Or were the objections purely practical, focusing perhaps on the need for amendments to the Russian Constitution and the relevant existing Soviet-era legislation that would clarify the circumstances in which presidential rule may be declared? Whatever the reason, Putin's decision is likely to have disappointed many Chechens who had hoped that presidential rule would create a clear legal framework for more decisive and effective actions from Moscow to combat subversion by the fighters still at liberty and to address the myriad problems of restoring the republic's shattered economy and infrastructure.

Nor did either Yastrzhembskii or Koshman clarify just how long the "transitional period" referred to will last. Advocates of direct presidential rule for Chechnya had suggested that form of administration should last between two and four years, after which elections to new republican and local administrative bodies, and for a republican leader, should be held. Koshman, who had earlier come out in favor of presidential rule, had reasoned that a "cooling-off period" is needed before such elections are held. But such a moratorium might scupper the chances of the man who appeared two months ago to be Moscow's preferred candidate for the post of new Chechen leader, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" estimated that up to a dozen rival candidates might contend that post, including former State Duma speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov. (Liz Fuller)

...But Grozny's Future Still Unclear. A further question that remains open is where the new Chechen administration will have headquarters--will it remain in its present location in Gudermes, or will it move to Grozny? The answer will depend on the outcome of the ongoing debate over the economic feasibility and political advisability of rebuilding the devastated Chechen capital.

That debate began in February, shortly after the last Chechen fighters retreated from Grozny. At that time, the Russian government imposed a temporary prohibition on civilians returning to Grozny in order to enable the military to carry out mine-clearing operations. Since then, at least three schools and one bakery with a daily production capacity of five tons have begun functioning for the estimated 20,000 remaining inhabitants.

In mid-March, then acting Russian President Vladimir Putin said while visiting Chechnya that Grozny will be restored "gradually," once the military has completed mine-clearing operations. Days later, Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said that no one doubts the need to rebuild Grozny as Chechnya's capital, but that doing so "is a problem of time and financing." Russia's Minister for Emergency Situations, Sergei Shoigu, similarly argued against permanently relocating the Chechen capital from Grozny to Gudermes.

But Russian government representative Koshman has repeatedly pointed out that the costs of rendering Grozny habitable again will be astronomical. In February, he noted that the Russian budget for this year does not earmark any funds for rebuilding the capital, and that such monies must be raised by the sale of Chechen oil. One week earlier Koshman had told journalists that Moscow's top priority in Chechnya should be to restore gas and electricity supplies to all Russian-controlled districts and to ensure that communications, schools and hospitals are functioning normally. He added that "it would not be dreadful" if Gudermes were temporarily designated the Chechen capital. Two months later, on 7 April, Koshman estimated the cost of rebuilding Grozny at 5-6 times that required for the restoration of the whole of Chechnya. He argued that it would be more realistic to rebuild Grozny "on a new site."

The acting commander of the federal forces in Chechnya, Colonel General Gennadii Troshev, argued in mid-March for designating either Gudermes or Argun as the new capital of Chechnya. Troshev said that Grozny is "beyond restoration." He further pointed to the ecological damage caused by unsupervised extraction of oil in Grozny, which he claimed had left huge sub-terranean airpockets. "The whole city could fall into this huge pit," he warned. Troshev, too, adduced the economic factor, although his estimate of the cost of rebuilding was more modest than Koshman's: Troshev calculated that the sums required to rebuild Grozny and to restore the rest of Chechnya would be roughly equal. Finally, Troshev expounded a further, grim argument against restoring Grozny. "The city must be left the way it is. It will teach future generations that before making a decision, they must think and look at the possible consequences," Interfax quoted him as saying.

To date, no leading Russian official, either civilian or military, has publicly assessed the relative security risks of Gudermes vs. Grozny. Both towns are in fact probably equally vulnerable: Chechen fighters sporadically infiltrate Grozny by night and open fire on Russian positions, while a bomb exploded 100 meters from Koshman's Gudermes residence during the night of 10 April. (Liz Fuller)

Arrests Of Former Azerbaijani Ministers Seen As Unjustified. The arrests late last month of Khafiz Babaev and Rauf Garaev, who successively occupied the post of Minister for Foreign Economic Relations in 1992-1993, have been widely interpreted in Baku as part of a broader campaign to denigrate and compromise former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev. Members of the Azerbaijani intelligentsia have already formed a committee to defend the rights of Rauf Garaev, a leading member of the Azerbaijan Popular Front who left public service following the June 1993 ouster of President Abulfaz Elchibey, who is that party's chairman.

Babaev and Garaev have been charged with fraud and embezzlement of state funds. Those charges relate to the alleged theft in 1992, when Guliev headed Azerbaijan's largest oil refinery, of oil products worth $30 million. Several other oil sector officials have been arrested and charged in connection with that case.

A lawyer for Mamed Veliev, one of those arrested officials, told journalists in Baku on 14 April that the alleged theft of oil products never took place, and that he can prove the innocence of all those detained, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported. He also denied any connection between those arrested and Rasul Guliev. The lawyer added that the preliminary investigation of the case was conducted with numerous procedural violations, and that the families of those detained are being subjected to pressure by the investigators. (Liz Fuller)

Dzasokhov Rejects Armenian President's Caucasus Security Blueprint. In an article published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 7 April, North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov rejected Armenian President Robert Kocharian's proposed three-tier security system for the Caucasus, arguing that it does not allocate to Russia a role commensurate with the latter's status as "the largest Caucasus state."

Addressing the Georgian parliament late last month, Kocharian had argued that the proposed security pact for the Caucasus can be effective only if all regional states are involved. Kocharian suggested the formula 3 + 3 + 2, meaning the pact would constitute an agreement between Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia with Russia, Iran and Turkey as guarantors, and the U.S. and the EU as sponsors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2000). But Dzasokhov rejected that formula, arguing that Russia must not be relegated to the "second echelon," but should instead, together with the three South Caucasus states, constitute the lynchpin of any regional security system. Therefore, he reasoned, the formula "4 + 2" (meaning Russia, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, together with Turkey and Iran) would be more appropriate. That alignment excludes Kocharian's proposed Western "sponsors," the U.S. and the EU. Dzasokhov implied that their proposed inclusion was part of the ongoing campaign "to weaken Russia's influence in the Caucasus, and then to exclude her completely from the sphere of Caucasian interests."

Dzasokhov added that any regional security system must take account of the fact that the South and North Caucasus constitute a single organic whole. For that reason, he continues, the North Caucasus cannot be excluded from any regional security system. Measures to strengthen stability in the North Caucasus would, he suggests, have a positive effect on efforts to resolve conflicts in the South Caucasus. That, in turn, would enhance the chances for foreign investment in, and broad economic cooperation between, all the republics and states of the Caucasus. The incipient "thaw" in relations between the U.S. and Iran can only contribute to that process, Dzasokhov concludes. (Liz Fuller)

Quotations Of The Week. "Georgia will have a difficult transition period [...] Some seriously opportunistic people or armed groups could come on to the scene." -- Georgian political scientist Giorgi Khutsishvili, looking ahead to the end of President Eduard Shevardnadze's second presidential term. Quoted by Reuters, 10 April.

"Chechnya must not be a monoethnic republic." -- Vasilii Svetlichnyi, an official of the Provisional Administration of the Chechen Republic, commenting on plans to repatriate to lowland Chechnya the area's previous Terek Cossack, Nogai Tatar, and Kumyk communities. Quoted by ITAR-TASS, 11 April.