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Caucasus Report

Sunday 30 April 2017


Georgian Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze (file photo)

In reaching an agreement to purchase gas from Azerbaijan, Georgia has both obviated the need to purchase any additional Russian gas in 2017 and temporarily deflected criticism of a recent deal with Gazprom.

In reaching an agreement to purchase gas from Azerbaijan, Georgia has both obviated the need to purchase any additional Russian gas in 2017 and temporarily deflected criticism of a recent deal with Gazprom.

The new agreement with Azerbaijan was announced on April 7 by Georgian Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze, who had incurred harsh criticism and faced claims he sold out his country's energy security after signing a two-year agreement with Russia's gas giant in January.

That deal entailed a phased shift from payment in kind to payment in cash of the tariffs Georgia receives for the transit of Russian gas across its territory to Armenia.

Critics of that deal ignore the fact that the volume of gas Georgia has hitherto received from Russia accounts for just under 10 percent of the total 2.4 billion cubic meters it imports annually; the remaining 90 percent comes from Azerbaijan.

In that respect, allegations by the opposition that the deal will result in a budget shortfall and threaten Georgia's energy security are misleading, especially considering that the amount of imported gas in question is consistent with figures from previous years. By comparison, in 2015, Slovakia and the Czech Republic depended on Russia for over 90 percent of imports; Germany receives some 30 percent of its gas from Russia.

Cash Payment

Kaladze is quoted as saying that, during the first three months of 2017, Georgia received 100 million cubic meters of gas from Russia. That is the equivalent of 10 percent of the first 1 billion cubic meters supplied via Georgia to Armenia, for which, according to Armenian Prime Minister Karen Karapetian, Georgia was to be reimbursed in kind, with the option of purchasing additional gas at the price of $185 per 1,000 cubic meters.

This year at least, however, Tbilisi will not have to do so. Instead, it has reached agreement with Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR and with the international consortium currently developing the Shakh Deniz offshore Caspian gas field to supply a total of 2.347 billion cubic meters of gas, adequate to cover its domestic requirements. The price of that gas has not been divulged.

Meanwhile, Gazprom will pay in cash for the transit of the remaining 1.2 billion cubic meters it is contractually obliged to supply Armenia with in 2017, and for the entire sum due in 2018. Kaladze has repeatedly declined to disclose the actual tariff, angering the opposition and NGOs that fear unwarranted concessions to Moscow.

Opposition Initiatives

The Georgian parliament majority has rejected two opposition bids to force disclosure of the terms of the treaty with Gazprom.

The first was a draft legal initiative by the two opposition factions into which the former ruling United National Movement split in January to amend the parliament statutes to permit the creation of an interfactional group that would have access to agreements that constitute a commercial secret.

The second was a demand by one of those two factions to establish a parliamentary investigative commission to evaluate the agreement with Gazprom, the website reported on February 23.

It is not only opposition parties that are alarmed by the possibility that the agreement is detrimental to Georgia's interests.

A poll conducted by the International Republican Institute between February 22 and March 8 reportedly found that 58 percent of the 1,501 respondents took a negative view of the agreement, even without knowing the precise terms, InterPressNews reported on April 5. Only 11 percent expressed approval.

It is still unclear whether, as veteran parliamentarian Gia Volsky has implied, the Georgian government was strong-armed into making concessions in the face of a threat by Gazprom to suspend gas supplies to Armenia via Georgia altogether and instead supply Armenia through an alternative pipeline via Iran.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov

Isa Yamadayev, who seven years ago accused Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov of ordering the murders of his brothers Ruslan and Sulim, has been charged in absentia with plotting the revenge killing of Kadyrov, according to the news portal Rosbalt.

Isa Yamadayev, who seven years ago accused Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov of ordering the murders of his brothers Ruslan and Sulim, has been charged in absentia with plotting the revenge killing of Kadyrov, according to the news portal Rosbalt.

Kadyrov's own press spokesman had dismissed the initial reports of such a plot as "untrue from beginning to end," and details that subsequently emerged are fragmentary and in some cases contradictory.

First to break the "plot" story was the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which for 15 years has doggedly researched and publicized reports of arrests, torture, and extrajudicial killings allegedly perpetrated at Kadyrov's behest. In a lengthy article on October 3, the paper chronicled how, after the May 2004 death of his father, Akhmed-hadji, Kadyrov consolidated his position as one of the most powerful men in Russia. In the course of that process, Kadyrov systematically sidelined or neutralized all potential rivals, including Ruslan and Sulim Yamadayev, both trusted colleagues of his late father. (From 2002 – 2007, Ruslan headed the Chechen chapter of the United Russia party.)

Ruslan, the eldest of the Yamadayev brothers and a former Russian State Duma deputy, was shot dead in his car in Moscow in September 2008. Sulim, commander of the notorious Vostok battalion that was directly subordinate to the GRU (Russian military intelligence) and that participated in the brief Russian-Georgian war in August 2008, was killed in Dubai in March 2009. The Dubai police apprehended two men in connection with that shooting, one of them a groom who cared for Kadyrov's Dubai-based racehorses. They also issued an arrest warrant for Adam Delimkhanov, one of Kadyrov's closest associates, whom they suspected of masterminding the assault. (As a State Duma deputy, Delimkhanov enjoys diplomatic immunity.)

According to a follow-up article Novaya Gazeta published in late January, there was indeed a plot to kill Kadyrov in the spring of 2016 that involved above all members of his own large Benoi teyp (clan), including some members of the republic's elite, who stockpiled quantities of weaponry and explosives to that end. The plot came to light after Valid Yakhikhanov, a relative of Kadyrov's cousin Islam Kadyrov, who heads the presidential administration, purloined from him the number of Kadyrov's private mobile phone and gave it to a fourth Yamadayev brother, Badrudi.

Under interrogation, Yakhikhanov reportedly divulged details of the planned assassination. Several dozen men from the southeastern Kurchaloi, Gudermes, and Nozhai-Yurt districts were arrested, but all public mention of those arrests was suppressed in the run-up to Kadyrov's reelection in late September for a third term as republic head. The fact that Islam Kadyrov had both wrists in casts in early summer 2016 gave rise to speculation whether he, too, was implicated in, or at least ungently questioned about the intended killing of Kadyrov.

The charge against Isa Yamadayev of seeking to kill Kadyrov in revenge for the death of his two brothers is, however, based on the testimony of three men who the head of the Chechen Interior Ministry's Counter-Extremism Center says were arrested in Gudermes on January 23, 2017. All are former Vostok battalion members and one, Aziz Aldiyev, is a former bodyguard of Isa Yamadayev. (Aldiyev testified in the trial in 2009 of Khavazh Yusupov, whom Isa claimed Kadyrov had dispatched to Moscow to kill him. Yusupov told the court that Kadyrov had threatened to have his entire family killed if he refused to shoot Yamadayev. A Moscow court jailed him for 8 1/2 years for having tried unsuccessfully to do so.)

Questioned about the purported plan to assassinate Kadyrov, Aldiyev claimed to have had a conversation at some point in May 2016 with Isa Yamadayev, who he said asked him to recruit men to kill Kadyrov who he promised would be paid $100,000 each if they succeeded. But Yamadayev left Russia in early 2016. (He too is believed to have taken refuge in Dubai.)

Other aspects of Aldiyev's imputed confession are similarly dubious. First, Aldiyev is said to have spent the months of May-September in Chechnya seeking prospective killers. But Rosbalt points out that in light of his role in securing the conviction of Yusupov, he would almost certainly have been apprehended if he tried to return to Chechnya. Rosbalt also quoted acquaintances of Aldiyev and his alleged fellow conspirators as saying they suspect the men were snatched in Moscow last summer and brought to Chechnya for interrogation.

And second, given the risks involved, $100,000 is a paltry sum to offer for the murder of Kadyrov. (The main "evidence" against Aldiyev, the news portal Caucasian Knot reported on April 1, is that he had $200, construed as a down payment, in his possession at the time of his arrest.)

Moreover, according Novaya Gazeta, it is Badrudi Yamadayev, not Isa, whom Kadyrov considers his most dangerous enemy. Kadyrov and Isa Yamadayev formally announced their reconciliation in August 2010, just months after Isa accused Kadyrov of giving orders for the murders of Ruslan and Sulim. And the two men are said by Novaya Gazeta to have had "a peaceable phone conversation" after Yakhikhanov divulged details of the assassination plot last summer that presumably convinced Kadyrov that Isa was not part of that conspiracy.

If one discounts the possibility of two separate conspiracies organized by Badrudi and Isa respectively, the question thus arises: are the Chechen authorities so supremely confident of their impunity that they made no attempt to ensure that the criminal case against Isa Yamadayev was watertight, or at least consistent with earlier statements? Yamadayev, who is still a serving member of the Russian military, has reportedly addressed a formal complaint to Investigative Committee head Aleksandr Bastrykin and Prosecutor-General Yury Chayka about the warrant issued for his arrest, Caucasian Knot reported on April 1, citing Rosbalt.

(The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.)

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About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.