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Caucasus Report: April 13, 2007

Abkhazia Certain To Reject New 'Peace Plan'

By Liz Fuller
April 13, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli presented to an April 10 session of the UN Security Council a new Georgian proposal for resolving the Abkhaz conflict, which is likely to prove even less palatable to the Abkhaz than previous proposals.

Not only does it not promise the autonomous status envisaged in earlier peace plans, and which the Abkhaz leadership has consistently rejected, but it borrows from the Karabakh peace plan currently under discussion the provision for holding a referendum on Abkhazia's status after the repatriation of the Georgian displaced persons who constituted the largest ethnic group in Abkhazia prior to the 1992-93 war.

Right Of Return

As summarized by Caucasus Press on April 11, the new Georgian peace proposal consists of three stages: first, the Georgian displaced persons who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war would be permitted to return to their abandoned homes throughout Abkhazia.

That provision is problematic for two reasons. First, the Abkhaz want the repatriation to proceed very gradually, with Georgians returning first to the unrecognized republic's southernmost Gali Raion where they constituted the majority of the prewar population, and only later to other districts.

Second, Georgian leaders have recently taken to grossly overstating the number of Georgians allegedly driven out of Abkhazia. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, for example, was quoted by Caucasus Press on March 4 as claiming that "between 400,000-500,000 people were expelled from Abkhazia during the fighting."

The entire prewar population of Abkhazia, however, numbered only half a million, and the current population is estimated at between 210,000-220,000, including up to 50,000 Georgians who have already returned to Gali.

UN officials estimate the total number of displaced persons, both Georgians and representatives of other ethnic groups, at approximately 240,000. The far-larger estimates of the number of displaced persons adduced by Georgian officials have given rise to fears that Georgia might seek to settle in Abkhazia a considerable number of people who did not in fact live there previously, thereby reducing even further the Abkhaz percentage of the total population.

Unacceptable Provisions

The second point of the new Georgian proposal entails recognition by Abkhazia of Georgia's territorial integrity, which would be a U-turn by the Abkhaz authorities, who continue to hope for ultimate recognition as a sovereign independent state.

The third point, apparently borrowed from the current blueprint crafted by the OSCE's Minsk Group for resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, entails a referendum on Abkhazia's future status, to be held only after the return of all displaced persons.

But if the prewar demographic balance, under which the Abkhaz constituted a minority in their own republic and Georgians were the largest ethnic group, was restored, the Georgians could be expected to endorse whatever status Tbilisi deemed most appropriate for Abkhazia.

Abkhaz Counteroffer

The Abkhaz leadership, by contrast, has a very different vision both of the optimum solution to the conflict and how it could and should be achieved.

President Sergei Bagapsh outlined his own proposals for resolving the conflict in a letter to the UN Security Council in January 2006, advocating the signing by both sides of a formal document abjuring the use of force and militant rhetoric; ending the international blockade of Abkhazia; implementing confidence-building measures agreed upon during talks in Sochi three years earlier, including the repatriation of Georgian displaced persons; and beginning "civilized negotiations" on all issues relevant to the conflict, with the exception of Abkhazia's status.

Then in May 2006, Bagapsh unveiled a more detailed peace plan titled "The Key to the Future," which additionally called for an official Georgian apology to Abkhazia for what Bagapsh termed its "state policy of assimilation, war, and isolation"; guarantees by the international community and the UN to preclude the resumption of hostilities; and Abkhaz participation in multilateral cooperation within the parameters of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization and the European Union's European Neighborhood Policy.

Ossetia Strategy?

The timing of the new Georgian initiative too is puzzling. On the one hand, unveiling the new proposal at the Security Council is a way of ensuring maximum visibility, discussion, and media coverage. But on the other, why make an unacceptable offer at a juncture when the Abkhaz leadership has set conditions for the resumption of any direct talks that the Georgians are unwilling to meet?

Since late last year, Abkhaz officials have consistently ruled out any further direct talks until Tbilisi withdraws from the upper Kodori Gorge the Interior Ministry troops it deployed there in July 2006.

And why give priority in the new peace proposal to demands that the Abkhaz are bound to reject, when UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's most recent (April 3, 2007) letter to the Security Council detailing developments in Abkhazia in recent months stresses that at a February meeting in Geneva, the so-called Group of Friends of the UN Secretary-General specifically called on the conflict sides to resume immediately talks on less controversial issues, such as security; to implement confidence-building measures; and to take into account each others' sensibilities?

Noghaideli hinted at one possible explanation when he told the Security Council session that Tbilisi considers Russia's role "unhelpful." But seeking to capitalize on nascent Western misgivings about Russia's long-term geopolitical strategy and objectives in order to exclude Russia from the conflict-resolution process in Abkhazia would not only prove problematic, given that Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and one of the five members of the Group of Friends; it would also risk hardening the Abkhaz position even further, and bringing the peace process to an indefinite standstill.

The question therefore arises: is Tbilisi pursuing in Abkhazia the same policy that it has launched in South Ossetia, deliberately alienating the Abkhaz with a view to deadlocking the negotiating process and creating a pretext for formally declaring the Abkhaz government in exile -- now ensconced, despite Abkhaz objections, in the Kodori Gorge -- the sole legitimate partner with which a formal settlement could be concluded?

New Chechen Head Moves To Consolidate Power

By Liz Fuller
April 13, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Following his lavish inauguration as Chechen Republic head on April 5, Ramzan Kadyrov has moved to strengthen even further his control over the Chechen government, naming one close relative as prime minister and promoting to the post of first deputy prime minister a second relative, Adam Delimkhanov, hitherto deputy prime minister responsible for security and law and order.

On April 10, Kadyrov named as Chechnya's new prime minister his cousin, First Deputy Prime Minister Odes Baysultanov, whom he had singled out one month earlier as the most qualified candidate for that post. On April 10, Kadyrov praised Baysultanov's role over the past year in expediting the reconstruction of a major cement plant and Grozny airport.

And the daily "Kommersant" on April 11 quoted an aide to Alu Alkhanov, Kadyrov's predecessor as republic head, as describing Baysultanov as not merely a first-rate manager who succeeded in speeding up the reconstruction process, but as devoid of any personal political ambitions.

In one respect, however, the choice of Baysultanov may prove controversial and even counterproductive: he is a member of a "teyp" (clan) from southwestern Chechnya, some of whose members have acquired a reputation for dishonesty and theft. If Baysultanov comes to be perceived as similarly rapacious, his actions could undermine the support base Kadyrov has built up over the past 12-18 months by his efforts to expedite reconstruction and attract investment into Chechnya's economy.

Alternatively, Kadyrov's opponents in Chechnya and elsewhere in Russia could launch a slander campaign, accusing Baysultanov of embezzlement in order to tarnish Kadyrov in the knowledge that such allegations would fall on fertile ground.

Known For Brutality

In the weeks after Alu Alkhanov finally capitulated after a two-year standoff with Kadyrov and stepped down in mid-February, and Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed Kadyrov to succeed him as republic head, both Russian and Western media have speculated at length on the reasons for Putin's apparent total confidence in Kadyrov's ability to "normalize" the situation in Chechnya, and on the extent of Kadyrov's loyalty to Moscow.

Does Putin still consider Kadyov indispensable? (epa file photo)

In the course of that debate, some Russian observers registered concern over the possible consequences of handing absolute power to a man many consider at best uncouth and unbalanced, and at worst an uneducated and sadistic psychopath. Specifically, those observers question whether Kadyrov will succeed in forging a similarly mutually beneficial relationship with whoever succeeds Putin as Russian president one year from now.

True, as enumerated in the Chechen Constitution adopted in 2003, Kadyrov's powers are no more extensive than those of the heads of other federation subjects. (That may change, however, in light of plans to amend the Chechen Constitution.)

But none of his peers have Kadyrov's reputation for condoning, if not actually engaging in, abduction, torture, and murder. (In early March, one North Caucasus website quoted a victim who claimed to have been tortured by Kadyrov with a blowtorch). None has been branded a sadist or psychopath. None is known to extort routinely a percentage of all salaries paid to public-sector employees. Nor are they as lacking as Kadyrov in practical administrative experience.

Going Too Far?

What's more, even Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiyev, who for over a decade engaged in horse trading with successive Russian leaders in an attempt to secure the maximum degree of autonomy and autarky for his republic, tacitly acknowledged that there are limits which it is neither wise nor advisable to ignore.

Kadyrov, by contrast, has over the past three years repeatedly been given to understand that he stands to all intents and purposes above the law, insofar as in Putin's eyes he can do no wrong: that in Dostoyevsky's memorable phrase "everything is allowed." Given Kadyrov's known proclivities, that may prove to have been ill-advised: it is not generally a terribly good idea to present a certified pyromaniac with a state-of-the-art flamethrower.

This is not to say that at least some senior Russian officials do not have qualms about Kadyrov's long-term agenda, specifically the possibility that he may at some future date seek either greater autonomy or even independence for Chechnya.

Speaking at Kadyrov's inauguration ceremony in Gudermes on April 5, presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak warned that Chechens' collective aspirations to a better life can be realized only within the parameters of the laws and constitution of the Russian Federation, a clear allusion to the hypothesis floated by commentator Sergei Markedonov in early March that Kadyrov either harbors a secret separatist agenda, or that he may seek to blackmail Putin's successor by demanding ever-increasing economic subsidies as the price for Chechnya remaining a part of the Russian Federation.

Broader Power Struggle

There are indications, however, that Kadyrov may have already decided on the first step towards augmenting his power and influence -- by launching a campaign to have neighboring Ingushetia again joined with Chechnya to form a single republic. Kadyrov's close associate Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, chairman of the lower chamber of the Chechen parliament, proposed such a merger last summer, even though Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov has consistently argued against it.

Zyazikov was present both at the consultations in Grozny on February 21 at which Kozak selected Kadyrov as one of three possible candidates as republic head, and at the March 2 parliament session that confirmed him in that post. Immediately after that vote, Kadyrov personally chauffeured Kozak and Zyazikov to Nazran, where they spoke to journalists. Although both Zyazikov and Kadyrov stressed the cordial relations between their respective republics, Zyazikov's entire demeanor and body language signaled defeat and acute distress, the most probable explanation for his evident discomfort being that he is aware that his days as president may be numbered.

The Chechen leadership's apparent decision not to push any longer for a draft power-sharing treaty between the federal center and the Chechen Republic, but to demand instead a free economic zone on Chechen territory, may likewise be part of a longer-term broader strategy under which the Chechen Republic in its current borders and with its current name may soon be a thing of the past.

Despite his reputation for tolerating corruption and his near-zero popularity among the population of Ingushetia, Zyazikov has been regarded until now as unsinkable, given that both he and Putin are veterans of the Federal Security Service (FSB). Zyazikov requested, and obtained, a formal expression of approval from Putin in the summer of 2005.

The question thus arises: is Putin so assured of his future postpresidential role that he could afford to risk alienating his former FSB colleagues by publicly sacrificing Zyazikov at this juncture? Or will Putin leave it to his successor to decide on both Zyazikov's removal and the abolition of Ingushetia as a full-fledged subject of the Russian Federation?