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Caucasus Report: June 25, 1999

25 June 1999, Volume 2, Number 25

Interview With Azerbaijan State Foreign Policy Advisor. In an exclusive telephone interview with RFE/RL from Baku on 24 June, Vafa Guluzade, who is the foreign affairs advisor of Azerbaijani President Haidar Aliyev, voiced concerns about recent violations of the cease-fire in Nagorno Karabakh. "Neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan are interested in the resumption of military activities," he said. The Azerbaijani official, who met Armenia's President Robert Kocharian in Luxembourg a few days ago, proposed unspecified measures to prevent clashes in the future. However, he repeated Azerbaijani charges that Russia is not interested in the resolution of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh because of its competition with West, especially on proposed pipeline routes. He called upon Armenia to "free" itself of Russian influence and to cooperate with Azerbaijan and Turkey.

Guluzade also voiced satisfaction with his brief meeting with President Kocharian in Luxembourg. He characterized Kocharian's conduct during the event as "gentlemanly" and "moderate."

Guluzade was optimistic on the subject of Aliev's health, saying that "I can tell you the president goes to work every day. He even goes to work on Sundays." Guluzade added that speculation in the Azerbaijani opposition press that Aliyev is seriously ill "has a definite goal" (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 24, 17 June 1999), but is unfounded. He noted that other world leaders, including former Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev, and Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyyazov have also undergone coronary bypass surgery, which requires "a certain period of rehabilitation." Guluzade said that "in a few months" Aliyev will have regained his full strength and be able to travel to the U.S. and elsewhere. (Turan on 25 June announced that Aliyev will travel to Iran in September.)

As for the recent government changes following the Armenian parliamentary elections, Guluzade was less positive. He said "The situation in Armenia is controlled by the Russian military-industrial complex," indicating his belief that the appointment of new Defense Minister Vagarshak Harutiunian, who served for years as Armenia's military advisor to the CIS, was approved by Moscow. (Armen Doulian, Mardo Soghom)

Fighting Unlikely To Prevent Yeltsin-Maskhadov Meeting. The fighting on Chechnya's borders on 17-18 June, in which at least a seven Russian army and interior ministry troops were killed, lends credence to repeated complaints by President Aslan Maskhadov that unnamed forces have a vested interest in preventing any improvement in relations between Moscow and Grozny. Meeting in the new Ingush capital, Magas, less than one week earlier, on 11 June, Maskhadov and Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin had laid the groundwork for a meeting between Maskhadov and Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Maskhadov had called for such a meeting "to defuse tensions" following the abduction in Grozny on 5 March of senior Russian Interior Ministry official Major-General Gennadii Shpigun. Moscow initially suggested that a lower-level meeting between Maskhadov and then Russian Premier Yevgenii Primakov was more appropriate, but on 19 April Yeltsin signalled his readiness to meet with the Chechen President.

After briefing Yeltsin on 15 June on his talks with Maskhadov four days earlier, Stepashin told journalists that the meeting between the two presidents should take place without delay, either in June or July. Stepashin said that the Magas talks had been productive, given that he and Maskhadov had reached agreement on the latter's proposal to focus only on those spheres in which the two sides have no substantive differences, such as defense, a common economic space, economic reconstruction and crime prevention. In other words, it seemed that the most crucial issue-that of formally defining relations between the Chechen Republic Ichkeria and the Russian Federation-would not figure on the agenda of the Yeltsin-Maskhadov talks. Stepashin said that an agreement on less contentious issues would be very important in terms of demonstrating support for Maskhadov and of making sure that the pause in political dialogue caused by the Shpigun abduction does not continue indefinitely.

Stepashin reacted to the recent clashes, as he had done to the Shpigun abduction, by issuing orders to his successor as interior minister, Vladimir Rushailo, to "take exhaustive measures to annihilate bandits who endanger the life and health of Russian citizens and representatives of the organs of power and government." But there is apparently no question of Moscow adducing last week's fighting as the rationale for scrapping the planned Yeltsin-Maskhadov meeting, preparations for which were discussed at an informal meeting in Moscow on 24 June between Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev and his Chechen counterpart Ruslan Alikhadzhiev. (Liz Fuller)

Return Of Military Property Remains A Bone Of Contention Between Moscow, Tbilisi. For the past 18 months, Russian and Georgian defense ministry officials have been engaged in often acrimonious negotiations over the return to Georgian control of facilities formerly used by the Russian (and before that, the Soviet) army troops stationed in Georgia. When those talks got underway in January 1998, it was envisaged that Moscow would first relinquish ten facilities, mostly kindergartens and repair shops for cars and armored vehicles, and then a further 30 (of a total of over 2,000). But those plans received an unexpected setback in early April 1998, when the Russian State Duma termed a government decree on the initial transfer of army premises to Georgian control illegal, and called on President Yeltsin to annul it.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry responded to that demand with a statement stressing that the facilities in question are Georgian state property which had been leased to Russia. Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Ukleba told journalists that Moscow owed over $300 million in rent due since 1991, in addition to several billion dollars in compensation for military equipment withdrawn from Georgia after the collapse of the USSR and before Georgia joined the CIS.

At further talks in Tbilisi in February 1999, Russian First Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Mikhailov and Georgian Defense Minister David Tevzadze agreed on a list of ten premises to be handed back to Georgia, and that list was endorsed by the Russian cabinet in early April. But when a Russian team arrived in Tbilisi to inspect the premises in question before their return to the Georgian government, the Georgian side objected that the Russian list differed from that agreed on in January, in that it did not include a military airfield at Alekseevka. The Russians were constrained to return to Moscow to clarify the issue. They took with them a personal missive from Tevzadze to his Russian counterpart Igor Sergeev stressing the importance of the facilities in question to Georgia, and listing a further 44 premises to which Tbilisi lays claim. Tevzadze reportedly hinted that if Moscow takes as long to condone the return of those 44 premises as it did to endorse the original ten, Tbilisi might "unilaterally" take control of them. Tevzadze did not, however, set any deadline for Moscow to accede to the Georgian demands.

The confusion over what military premises Russia should give back to Georgia suggests differences of opinion within the upper echelons of the Russian Defense Ministry, or possibly between the Ministry in Moscow and the commanders of the Russian army presence in the Caucasus. The Ministry's stated rationale for ceding the property to Georgia - to cut costs - may be considered of minimal importance by "hawks" who are reluctant to condone any further weakening of Russia's rapidly eroding military presence in the South Caucasus. For the Georgians, the question of restitution of property used by the Russian military forms part of the broader objective of ultimately forcing the closure of the four remaining Russian military bases on Georgian territory. (Liz Fuller)

Quotations Of The Week. "I believe unequivocally that human rights take precedence over state sovereignty." Czech President Vaclav Havel, interviewed by RFE/RL's South Slavic Service, 21 June 1999.

"If the people of Chechnya want to live independently, they should be given that opportunity." Mosow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, quoted by Interfax, 21 June 1999.