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Caucasus Report: April 13, 2006

13 April 2006, Volume 9, Number 13

ADYGEYA PRESIDENT, OPPOSITION ASSAIL PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY. Despite the joint statement in early March by the leaders of Adygeya and Krasnodar Krai, Khazret Sovmen, and Aleksandr Tkachev, that the controversial plan to subsume the former federation subject into the surrounding larger one is no longer on the agenda (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 2, 2006 and "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," March 10, 2006), presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak is reportedly still pushing for that territorial merger. In separate statements on April 10 and 11, Sovmen and two public organizations representing Adygeya's small Adyg/Cherkess minority condemned Kozak's "pernicious" role in lobbying to strip Adygeya of its status as a separate republic.

At a joint meeting of their respective executive councils on April 10, the Cherkess Council and Adyghe Khase adopted a statement expressing support for Sovmen and for his policies "aimed at peaceful constructive development," reported. That statement reaffirmed the Adygs' collective rejection of proposals to revise the republic's borders, and warned that doing so could have catastrophic consequences not only for the North Caucasus but for the entire Russian Federation. It is high time, the statement continued, to disabuse Kozak of his idee fixe and to make clear to him that the Cherkess people are not prepared to sacrifice their "national home" in return for dubious promises of a future economic upswing that may never materialize.

They further announced that a congress of the Cherkess people has been scheduled for May 21. During an earlier working meeting in late February, Adyg and Cherkess communities from across the North Caucasus warned that in the event that Moscow continues to push the abolition of Adygeya's status as a separate republic, they would propose unifying within the Russian Federation the historic territories of Adygeya, Kabarda, Cherkessia, and Shapsughia to create a far larger Adyg (Cherkess) Republic.

Adygeya's Sovmen for his part was quoted by the Russian daily "Kommersant" in an interview published on April 11 as similarly claiming that following his appointment in October 2004, Kozak began "saber-rattling" in favor of the merger of Adygeya with Krasnodar Krai. Sovmen said he does not believe the idea of the merger originated with Tkachev. Sovmen further accused unnamed officials from the Southern Federal District of undercutting the authority of Adygeya's government. He recalled that those bureaucrats responded to complaints from the Adygeya republican prosecutor's office about corruption within the Interior Ministry by publicly presenting certificates of merit to the Interior Ministry officials in question.

Sovmen also clarified the circumstances of his offer during a parliament session on April 4 to resign. He explained that it was a direct consequence of his ongoing conflict with Kozak over the territorial merger and not, as some Russian media reported, a reaction to some parliament deputies' failure to rise to their feet as a mark of respect when he entered the parliament chamber (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 5, 2006). He said the parliament "respects the president." But that may be an overstatement: "Novye izvestia" on April 5 quoted political analyst Oksana Goncharenko as pointing out that the new Adygeya parliament elected on March 12 is divided almost equally between (mainly Cherkess) supporters of Sovmen who reject the proposed territorial merger and Slavs who oppose him and would support that merger. Most of the pro-Sovmen faction represent the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, while the Slavs belong to the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the Unified Industrial Party of Russia, and the Agrarian Party.

In an April 7 interview with "Kavkazsky uzel," pro-Sovmen parliament deputy Rashid Mugu similarly said that the president told him on April 4 shortly after declaring his readiness to step down that the reason was the pressure he was under from Kozak to agree to the territorial merger. Mugu further made the point that such pressure is undercutting support within the parliament for Sovmen's insistence on parity between the Cherkess and Slavs in electing parliamentary committees.

Sovmen reportedly met late on April 11 with Sergei Sobyanin, head of President Vladimir Putin's administration, in a bid to secure the Kremlin's support for preserving the territorial status quo, but the outcome of that meeting has not been made public. Sovmen's presidential term expires early next year, and the Kremlin may have decided to delay the territorial merger until after the appointment of a new president. The most likely candidate to succeed Sovmen, according to on April 5, is Tkachev's Adyg deputy, Murat Akhedzhak. (Liz Fuller)

NAGORNO-KARABAKH CONFLICT SIMMERS, PEACE PROCESS REMAINS FROZEN. Negotiations between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh are frozen, unlike the conflict itself which threatens to erupt into armed conflict again, say two experts on the region. Sabine Freizer and Laurence Broers told an RFE/RL audience recently that the negotiation process over the disputed region should be broadened to include more "actors" particularly members of civil society in both countries, and the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Sabine Freizer, Caucasus Project Director for the International Crisis Group, said the resumption of a full-scale war is possible, because cease-fire violations have increased markedly in the last year along the "Line of Contact" separating Armenian and Azerbaijani forces east of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, and "the skirmishes could get out of hand." She described the situation in the Azeri-controlled territory adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh as "dire." "The destruction is worse than Bosnia...cities have been dismantled, scavenged...there's been no demining." Freizer added that if the conflict heats up again, neighbors in the region could easily be "pulled in."

Freizer attributed the failure in negotiations to a "buying time strategy" on the part of both Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Armenian government, Freizer said, believes that "the de-facto reality" of Nagorno-Karabakh as a state and the principle of self-determination, "as in the case of East Timor and Kosova," will lead the international community to acknowledge the independence of Nagorno-Karabakh, while the government of Azerbaijan believes that the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity will prevail and notes that there have been "four UN Security Council resolutions [in 1993] supporting" them. Freizer is also concerned that the Azerbaijani government "may possibly take military action" to reunify the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh with Azerbaijan, noting that it has increased its military spending from $135 million in 2003 to $600 million in 2006, and plans to spend $1 billion by 2009.

Laurence Broers of the British NGO Conciliation Resources, who is also a research analyst for Amnesty International, said the stalemate in the negotiations over Nagorno-Karabakh stems from a "narrow group of stakeholders" who "can't sustain an agreement" because there is little support within the societies they represent, since the negotiations involve "only the presidents, foreign ministers, and their aides." Broers also noted that "the marginalized actors -- the Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh and the displaced Azeris" -- are not parties in the peace process.

Broers and Freizer stressed the need for civil society to play an active role in the peace process, but said this is unlikely until both countries' political systems "democratize." Currently, Broers said, the "peace process provides political legitimacy to the regimes," which are "unlikely to allow wider participation." Broers said the international community could help by doing more to "advance political democratization," sponsoring "development plans inclusive of both the de jure and de facto states of the region," and viewing the resolution of the conflict as a "multi-level process with medium and long-term timelines," rather than simply focusing on "windows of opportunity." (RFE/RL)