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Caucasus Report: September 15, 2000

15 September 2000, Volume 3, Number 37

NOTE TO READERS: "RFE/RL Caucasus Report" will not appear next week but will return on 28 September 2000.

At Daggers Drawn. In late July, Russian officials in Chechnya intervened to defuse a standoff between interim Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and the latter's unofficial first deputy, Beslan Gantemirov (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 29, 21 July 2000). But the uneasy truce between the two men that had obtained after that has, on the admission of both of them, now collapsed "completely and irrevocably."

At the root of the animosity between the two Chechens is the traditional system of teyp [clan] loyalties that informed their approach to personnel appointments. The disagreement in July resulted from Kadyrov's decision to dismiss several district administration heads in Grozny who were allies of Gantemirov. Kadyrov himself said at that time that "the real reason for the conflict between Gantemirov and myself is a feud between clans."

What sparked the almost simultaneous announcements by both men late last week that they can no longer work together, and their accompanying mutual accusations, is less clear. Interfax quoted Gantemirov as telling NTV television on 8 September that he is no longer Kadyrov's deputy and that he and Kadyrov "parted long ago, and neither I nor my friends bear responsibility for the policy being pushed through by Kadyrov today."

The following day, Gantemirov told Interfax that Kadyrov's economic policies since his appointment in June have proved a total failure, and that the former mufti "has done nothing that could ease even slightly the sufferings of the Chechen people," specifically by arranging for regular supplies of food and embarking on reconstruction of war-damaged homes and infrastructure. Those charges are unfair, however, insofar as Kadyrov exercises no influence over the Russian government which bears ultimate responsibility for providing the funding for Chechnya. To date, Moscow has not transferred any of the 7.5 billion rubles ($267 million) it has promised for reconstruction in Chechnya this year.

On 11 September, Gantemirov went even further, convening a meeting of his supporters in Grozny at which he branded Kadyrov "a failure" and accused him of "aggravating crisis processes in Chechnya" and of failing to fulfill promises he made to Russian President Vladimir Putin to stabilize the situation. He characterized Kadyrov's administration as "a teyp-oligarch grouping concerned solely with its own enrichment, rather than with the interests of the people." Gantemirov further accused Kadyrov of promoting to key positions in his administration "myrmidons" of deceased Chechen President Djokhar Dudaev, former acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev and current President Aslan Maskhadov.

Kadyrov for his part was less explicit, telling Interfax only that he had sought to reach an agreement with Gantemirov that would serve as the basis for cooperation between them but that his efforts 'were not appreciated." He said that although Gantemirov had accepted his invitation to serve as his deputy and in that capacity to supervise the work of the law enforcement agencies, within days Gantemirov had gone back on that agreement and "organized a demonstration of force" against Kadyrov. But Kadyrov confirmed Gantemirov's statement that he no longer works as Kadyrov's deputy, saying that Gantemirov "is a regular Chechen and Russian citizen who has nothing to do with the administration of the republic." Echoing Gantemirov's charges, Kadyrov said Gantemirov's position "does not contribute to the stabilization of the situation in Chechnya and in the city of Grozny."

As in July, Moscow is again trying to craft a solution to the standoff that would preserve a role for both men. Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii told Interfax on 12 September that the federal center had done all in its power to reconcile the two rivals, believing that "the interaction between them could significantly increase the efficiency of the new Chechen administration," given that each man enjoyed popularity and support in a specific district of Chechnya (Kadyrov in Gudermes, northeast of Grozny, and Gantemirov in Urus-Martan to the southwest of the capital).

Yastrzhembskii conceded that it is now clear that the two men cannot work together and that "a decision has to be made so that both Kadyrov and Gantemirov can remain in the ranks." But he simultaneously hinted that Kadyrov is considered the greater asset, affirming that Moscow "supports Kadyrov, but will not abandon Gantemirov." Yastrzhembskii said the latter will be offered a new position but "not necessarily connected with further work in Chechnya."

Removing Gantemirov from the Chechen political landscape would lessen the likelihood of a full-scale clash between his clan and Kadyrov's. (Speaking at RFE/RL last week, an official of the Czech NGO People In Need Foundation predicted that such inter-clan fighting is inevitable, given that there is no single Chechen figure who could unite disparate factions and interests. And in a clear attempt to prevent that scenario, State Duma Legislative Committee chairman Pavel Krasheninnikov on 13 September advocated creating a new Chechen government body, the State Council, on which all clans would be represented.) But how Gantemirov and the estimated 8,000- strong militia he commands would react to being redeployed elsewhere within the Russian Federation is an open question. (Liz Fuller)

Deja Vu All Over Again. Addressing deputies on the last day of the spring parliament session in 1998, Georgian parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania warned that he would resign if it proved impossible to strengthen the executive branch and overcome the legal anarchy and corruption that he perceived as throttling the reform process in Georgia (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 20, 14 July 1998).

But in the event, Zhvania failed to make good on that threat. But during his speech to a plenary parliament session earlier this week, Zhvania again threatened to step down as speaker and to quit the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia unless the country's present hard-won financial stability can be parlayed into a victory over corruption. "Our children will not forgive us," he said, "if things remain as they are."

Zhvania's most recent ultimatum was preceded by his meeting last week with three other members of the SMK's "reformist" wing, including Tax Minister Mikhail Machavariani and Economy Minister Zurab Nogaideli, and President Eduard Shevardnadze. According to the independent newspaper "Rezonansi" as summarized by Caucasus Press, the four young reformers asked Shevardnadze to intervene in what appears to be a battle for budget resources. Specifically, they made clear their objections to apparently inordinate financial demands by the power ministries and asked for Shevardnadze's permission to "rein in" the ministers involved. The two ministers reportedly warned Shevardnadze that acceding to demands for increased funding from the "power" ministers would jeopardize budget fulfillment for this year (on which future loans from the IMF and World Bank are contingent) and undermine the government's ability to pay off pensions and wage arrears.

Zhvania and his associates also requested stronger backing from Shevardnadze for their parliament faction to preclude dissent and "disobedience" among its remaining members. (Thirty-seven mostly young reformist-minded deputies left the SMK parliament faction late last month to form a new faction named "New Movement," which will be the third largest. Those defections leave the SMK with 97 deputies; the opposition Revival Union has 51.) Zhvania was careful to impress on his faction afterwards that the demands to Shevardnadze were not intended as a challenge. "Georgia needs an aggressive parliament," Zhvania argued. "But that aggressiveness should not turn into a confrontation with the president. We are the president's political team." (Liz Fuller)

Whipping Boy Or Linchpin? It is becoming increasingly difficult to open an Armenian newspaper without being confronted by yet another prediction of the imminent replacement of parliament speaker Armen Khachatrian, often accompanied by the approximate anticipated timeframe. ("Azg" and "Yerkir" on 13 September suggested late September as the most likely date.)

Khachatrian has been under fire since the spring of this year (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 14, 7 April 2000), primarily for his extensive travel schedule, which he has sought to justify on the grounds that his frequent trips abroad "could bring millions and billions of dollars" in foreign investments in Armenia's economy. And the parties levelling criticism at him include not only the opposition Right and Accord bloc but also his own People's Party of Armenia (HZhK), which on 1 August criticized his absence from the crucial energy privatization debate the previous week, and the HZhK's partner in the majority Miasnutiun coalition, the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).

Khachatrian, however, has shrugged off both that criticism and the repeated calls for his resignation. In an interview with RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 29 August, he dismissed speculation of his imminent replacement as "gossip," arguing that under the Armenian Constitution, the parliament speaker is elected for a four-year period and may not be removed. (Khachatrian was elected speaker last fall following the assassination of HZhK chairman Karen Demirchian.) Khachatrian further pointed out that "I have never been criticized for the lack of knowledge, politeness or hard work."

In that interview, Khachatrian also underscored his opposition to the HZhK quitting the Miasnutiun bloc to join the opposition. HZhK chairman Stepan Demirchian held exploratory talks last month with Right and Accord leader Artashes Geghamian on the possibility of creating a new alignment (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 31, 3 August 2000), but had pledged his continued support for cooperation with the HHK after Prime Minister Andranik Markarian threatened to strip the HZhK of its remaining government posts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August and 12 September 2000).

The daily "Yerkir" suggests that while some HZhK members may not be entirely happy with Khachatrian's behavior and public image, the party nonetheless considers it a point of honor to prevent his dismissal. Khachatrian may thus believe that as long as the HZhK and the HHK both have a vested interest in the survival of the Miasnutiun bloc, his position is secure, no matter how vociferously other opposition parties and the media may call for his dismissal.

But Miasnutiun's future is by no means certain, as the HHK continues to try to wrest from its junior partner a statement of support for the policies of the present cabinet. Deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian, who is viewed as the most likely replacement for Khachatrian, said on 14 September it is "essential" for the two parties to have "common positions on at least the main political issues." And the collapse of Miasnutiun would inevitably mean Khachatrian's replacement. (Liz Fuller)

Quotations Of The Week. "I will be back and my return is going to be a triumph." -- Former Azerbaijani President Ayaz Mutalibov, who is currently in Moscow, interviewed by Ekho Moskvy on 14 September.

"We lack one small thing in order to become a modern state: a normal government which loves the country, cares about its people, and accepts the idea of motherland." -- "Yerkir," on 12 September.

"Linking Armenia's membership with Azerbaijani elections is a bit worrying." -- Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Armen Martirosian, meeting with a European Parliament delegation on 13 September (quoted by RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau).