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Caucasus Report: December 13, 2005

13 December 2005, Volume 8, Number 44

RUSSIA DENIES IT HAS DITCHED SOUTH OSSETIA. Among the documents adopted at the 5-6 December annual OSCE foreign ministers' meeting in Ljubljana was one ( expressing support for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity and for Georgian initiatives aimed at resolving peacefully the conflict between the Georgian government and the breakaway unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia. Initial summaries of that document led some Russian dailies to speculate that Moscow has abandoned its decade-long support of the unrecognized republic. But Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin rejected such speculation on 9 December as misplaced.

The Russian dailies "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Novye izvestiya" on 8 December both interpreted the wording of the Ljubljana declaration on Georgia as an explicit endorsement by Russia, which could have vetoed the declaration but didn't, of President Mikheil Saakashvili's most recent plan for resolving the South Ossetian conflict.

As recently as 2 December, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Kamynin explicitly denied that Moscow has endorsed that revised plan which, Kamynin said, contains numerous shortcomings that have been pointed out to the Georgian government. Kamynin added that the revised plan is inferior to the earlier version that Saakashvili presented to the UN General Assembly in late 2004 and which, according to Kamynin, the South Ossetian leadership was inclined to accept (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2004 and 5 December 2005).

Among the key differences between the original and the revised version is that the former was to be implemented over a three-year period, and the latter by 2007. In addition, the most recent plan envisages "changes" to "optimize" the format of the peacekeeping force deployed in the conflict zone, according to Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili on 31 October, meaning that Georgia might insist on the withdrawal of the 500-man Russian peacekeeping contingent and its replacement with an international force.

Both Russian publications interpreted the apparent Russian volte-face as a betrayal of the South Ossetian leadership, which Russia has covertly supported since 1992, and as evidence of Moscow's lack of a clear and consistent policy with regard to the South Caucasus .

In fact, however, the Ljubljana declaration does not explicitly endorse or call for the immediate implementation of Saakashvili's most recent peace proposal. Instead, it reads: "We welcome the steps taken by the Georgian side to address the peaceful resolution of the conflict and believe that the recent proposals, in particular the peace plan built upon the initiatives of the president of Georgia presented at the 59th United Nations General Assembly and supported by the sides, will serve as a basis for the peaceful settlement of the conflict." It also calls for the "full implementation" of earlier agreements intended to defuse tensions in the conflict zone, in the first instance "early and complete demilitarization" (which constitutes the first stage of Saakashvili's most recent three-stage peace plan), and it advocates an early meeting between Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli and South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity.

Kokoity, who has repeatedly declined to set a date for any such meeting, travelled to Moscow on 7 December for consultations with the Russian leadership, during which he may be ordered to agree to meet at last with Noghaideli.

The Ljubljana declaration does, however, affirm the "need to increase the effectiveness of existing negotiation mechanisms, including the Joint Control Commission, and to fully implement the decisions agreed upon within its framework." The Joint Control Commission (JCC), established in 1992 under the aegis of the then CSCE (the forerunner of the OSCE), comprises representatives from Russia, Georgia, South Ossetia, and North Ossetia. Given that Russia and the two Ossetian polities can override Georgia, the Georgian side wants to expand the JCC's composition to include U.S. and EU representation. This would, on the one hand, strengthen Georgia's position; but, on the other, until such time as the demilitarization process was complete, it would also extend responsibility for security, and possible fatalities, in the conflict zone to the EU and the United States.

"Novye izvestiya" on 8 December quoted Russian analyst Sergei Markov as suggesting that Moscow's failure to veto the Ljubljana declaration was prompted by the desire to preclude the demise of the JCC and thus preserve some measure of influence over the situation in the conflict zone. Also on 8 December, the commander of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in the conflict zone, Major General Murat Kulakhmetov, warned that Georgia's policies in the conflict zone risk precipitating "a humanitarian catastrophe," reported.

And North Ossetian President Teimuraz Mamsurov wrote to Russisan First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin expressing his concern at the spiralling tensions in the conflict zone (as reflected in tit-for-tat abductions several days earlier), and calling on Russia to convene an emergency session of the JCC to discuss the deteriorating situation.

Those apparently coordinated statements belie the Russian media speculation that Moscow has washed its hands of South Ossetia. Kamynin too sought to end such speculation by telling journalists in Moscow on 9 December that "nothing has changed" with regard to Moscow's assessment of the successive Georgian peace proposals for South Ossetia. (Liz Fuller)

HAS RAMZAN KADYROV LAUNCHED HIS PRESIDENTIAL BID? Numerous commentators both in Russia and abroad have observed that, whether or not the results of the 27 November parliamentary election in which the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia won 33 of the 58 mandates are an accurate reflection of voters' preferences, they serve to strengthen even further the power of Chechnya's de facto ruler, First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov.

Those observers point out that the new parliament would almost certainly support unequivocally Kadyrov's candidacy for republic head as soon as he reaches the minimum age of 30 in October 2006. Kadyrov's moves and statements over the past two weeks may be intended to garner popular support for an eventual bid to formalize his position as the most powerful man in Chechnya.

True, Kadyrov told journalists on 4 December that he does not aspire to succeed present Prime Minister Sergei Abramov should the latter be appointed to a more senior position (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2005). But at the same time, Kadyrov's press service announced -- erroneously, as it turned out -- that Kadyrov has been elected to succeed Frants Klintsevich as head of the Chechen regional branch of Unified Russia. Klintsevich denied that report in an interview with "Kommersant" summarized on 8 December by (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 December 2005).

Kadyrov then called on 5 December for revising and formally demarcating Chechnya's borders to include lands that were Chechen in the 1930s, prior to the abolition of the Checheno-Ingush ASSR in the wake of the 1944 deportation and its subsequent restoration, with slightly different borders, in 1957. He argued that "it is well-known both in neighboring republics and in Chechnya where the border ran" before the then Chechen and Ingush autonomous oblasts were merged in 1936, adding that "we should be masters of our own lands," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 6 December.

It is not clear whether Kadyrov's postelection statements were intended as a covert challenge to his nominal superior, Alu Alkhanov, or as a response to Alkhanov's 29 November announcement that he plans to met "soon" in Brussels with unnamed representatives of the Chechen regime formerly headed by President Aslan Maskhadov in an apparent bid to end armed resistance in Chechnya.

A formal end to the Chechen conflict -- however utopian it may now seem -- would strengthen the case for disbanding Kadyrov's private security force, which is estimated to number between 5,000-7,000 men, and thus undercut his influence. As one Russian analyst observed, writing in "Ekspert" No. 45, Kadyrov therefore has a vested interest in maintaining instability on Chechnya as long as possible.

Western journalists who visited Grozny for the elections remarked on the palpable tension between Kadyrov and Alkhanov, tensions that Alkhanov's characterization of his younger rival as a kindred spirit and close and reliable colleague did little to dispel.

Swiss parliamentarian Andreas Gross, who is the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's rapporteur for Chechnya, similarly commented in an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 30 November on the uneasy and potentially destabilizing relationship between the two men.

Gross observed that "real power" in Chechnya lies with "private semi-official security forces" that derive their legitimacy from their role in the fight against terrorism, and he identified Kadyrov as exemplifying that "real power," in contrast to Alkhanov, whom he characterized as "far more serious" and more inclined to listen to, and accept, criticism.

Gross implied that Kadyrov is seeking to undermine Alkhanov's position, and he warned that "the Kremlin should not delegate too many of its powers to Ramzan Kadyrov, insofar as that would not only discredit the basic interests of Russian society, but would undermine such fundamental values as human rights and democracy."

If Kadyrov is indeed ultimately confirmed as head of Unified Russia's Chechen branch, which according to Duma Deputy Ruslan Yamadaev numbers 27,000 members, it would be difficult to construe that appointment as anything other than a further affirmation by the Russian leadership of their collective faith in Kadyrov. And that position could be more effective in promoting a bid for supreme leadership than could that of the prime minister, who could be held responsible by a hypothetical rival candidate for continuing socioeconomic problems. (Liz Fuller)

IMF EXPERTS HAIL ARMENIAN GROWTH, WARN OF PITFALLS. Armenia has made "remarkable" economic progress in recent years but cannot realize its potential in full without open borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan, according to extensive research conducted by economists from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). "Despite geographical isolation, trade blockades, and occasional political upheaval, Armenia's economic performance during the past four years has been remarkable," they write in a 100-page research paper presented in Yerevan on 6 December. "Growth has averaged nearly 12 percent and poverty has fallen. The country has become a reform leader among CIS countries."

The authors of the study led by senior IMF official Enrique Gelbard, attribute the growth to the macroeconomic policies of the Armenian authorities and their "minimal intervention" in economic activity, as well as substantial cash remittances from Armenians working abroad. They believe that it has reduced poverty in Armenia and put it on track to be "one of the few low-income countries to achieve the [UN] Millennium Development Goals within the next 10 years."

"In coming years, economic growth and capital formation should be broad-based and generate employment," reads the study, predicting an annual rate of gross domestic product growth of at least 6 percent from 2006 through 2010.

But the paper, which essentially reflects the IMF's positive assessment of the Armenian government's economic track record, also warns of significant risks lying ahead. It says the country's long-term development prospects hinge on improved tax collection, increased public spending, and regional integration, which at present is hampered by the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

"Armenia's economic potential lies with an export-led development growth process, and further integration with its neighbors and main trading partners should be a priority," the report says. "Such potential will only be realized when the artificial barriers to regional integration are removed."

The study specifically notes the potentially "extremely positive" benefits of reopening the Turkish-Armenian border. "The proximity of the large Turkish market and Armenia's lower wages would provide incentives for new investments and the development of new export activities," it says. "The impact on import prices would also be significant." (Emil Danielyan)

QUOTATION OF THE WEEK. "At times we thought we'd been taken captive by the Armenians." -- Mirza Tagiev, one of 25 Azerbaijani opposition activists apprehended by police following the 26 November protest demonstration, speaking to journalists after his release on the conditions of his detention (quoted by on 7 December).