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Caucasus Report: May 11, 2004

11 May 2004, Volume 7, Number 18

WHICH SCENARIO FOR CHECHNYA AFTER KADYROV'S DEATH? The 9 May bomb blast in Grozny, seen live on local television, that killed pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and seriously injured the commander of the combined Russian forces in Chechnya could serve as a turning point in the second Chechen war, which has already lasted over twice as long as that launched in December 1994 by then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin, by providing an exit strategy in the admittedly unlikely event that the Russian leadership is seeking one. But President Vladimir Putin's warning as he met later on 9 May with Kadyrov's son Ramzan that "retribution is unavoidable" suggests that of the various options available, the Kremlin will choose to intensify the ongoing battle against "terrorism" in Chechnya.

There are, however, other possible scenarios, of which the first is both the most optimistic and the least probable. Over the next four months, the Chechen resistance regains ground and launches a new offensive to win back Grozny, just as it did in 1996 under the command of Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected Chechen president in January 1997 in a ballot recognized by both Moscow and the international community. Under pressure from the international community, President Putin agrees to what the Council of Europe rapporteur for Chechnya, Andreas Gross, has described as a far-sighted and courageous step, such as negotiations with Maskhadov on an interim, UN-administered administration for Chechnya. It is, however, not clear whether the Chechen resistance is strong enough to launch such an offensive; in recent interviews Maskhadov has dodged questions about its current strength. Having committed himself to wiping out "terrorism," in Chechnya, Putin is unlikely ever to agree to negotiations with one of the men whom the Russian leadership regards as personifying it. And with its hands full coping with Iraq, the international community has little time or inclination to pressure Moscow to agree to a settlement that would consume UN energy and resources.

The second scenario is the one which observers and commentators consider the most probable: Putin orders the Russian military to intensify operations in Chechnya, and signals to Ramzan Kadyrov that he has carte blanche to draw on the help of the Russian military in a war that, as Akhmed Muradov, the leader of the Chechen community in Kazakhstan pointed out to RFE/RL on 9 May, has now become Ramzan Kadyrov's own personal blood feud against his father's putative killers. Kadyrov was quoted last week by the daily "Trud" as saying that he "prays to Allah" for the chance to face Shamil Basaev in battle and would consider it "an honor" to kill him. A Chechen Interior Ministry official told Interfax on 9 May that the Grozny bomb bore the hallmark of Basaev's handiwork.

A third possibility, however, is that those members of the Russian leadership who were beginning to become apprehensive over the long-term implications of both Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov's demands for total control of political and economic developments in Chechnya, and possibly also over the indiscriminate abductions and killings in which Ramzan Kadyrov's militia have engaged with total impunity, will seize upon Kadyrov senior's death as a heaven-sent opportunity to wrest back control and rein in Ramzan Kadyrov. The problem with this scenario is that some observers regard Chechen Prime Minister Sergei Abramov, whom Putin has named interim president pending new elections in accordance with the Chechen Constitution, as too young (he is 32) and too inexperienced (he has been in the job less than two months) to act as a counterweight to Ramzan Kadyrov. Meeting with Abramov hours after the Grozny explosion, Putin noted Abramov's good relations with security forces in Chechnya and urged him to continue cooperating with those forces in the interest of restoring "normal life" there -- a formulation that could be construed as orders to defer to Ramzan Kadyrov.

Duma First Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska proposed on 9 May imposing presidential rule in Chechnya, and possibly in other regions bordering it (which would mean Ingushetia and Daghestan). Should Putin decide to parachute in a strongman to administer Chechnya until new elections are held, one possible candidate is the former commander of Russian troops in Chechnya, Colonel General Gennadii Troshev. Troshev, who was born in Grozny, is currently Putin's adviser on Cossack affairs. Assuming that Moscow will rig the election of Kadyrov's successor as blatantly as it rigged his own last October, Troshev is one of the two candidates the Kremlin is most likely to select. The other is former Interior Ministry General Aslanbek Aslakhanov, who pulled out of last year's Chechen presidential ballot to take up a position as an adviser to Putin. (Ramzan Kadyrov is too young at 27 to contest the ballot; the Chechen Constitution stipulates that presidential candidates must be 30 or older.)

If Moscow decides to rely on Ramzan Kadyrov in its ongoing war of attrition against the Chechen resistance forces and civilian population, that decision will inevitably impact on developments in neighboring Ingushetia, where President Murat Zyazikov, a former Federal Security Service general, is under increasing criticism for his inability to end a string of abductions of Ingush citizens by bands operating out of neighboring Chechnya. Some observers have construed those abductions as intended to create a pretext for first extending "antiterrorism" operations from Chechnya into Ingushetia, and then for merging those two republics into a single federation subject. Kadyrov was one of the most ardent supporters of such a merger, which Zyazikov rejected as unnecessary and counterproductive.

With Kadyrov now out of the picture, it remains to be seen whether the abductions of Ingush will continue. A halt would suggest that Moscow has abandoned its support for a merger of the two republics and opted to shore up Zyazikov rather than risk destabilization in Ingushetia at a time when the primary objective is to concentrate all available resources on hunting down and neutralizing the purported instigators of Kadyrov's demise. (Liz Fuller)

GEORGIA SCORES TACTICAL VICTORY IN ADJARIA... The interplay of factors that culminated in Aslan Abashidze's resignation late on 5 May as Adjar Supreme Council chairman paralleled in many respects the events five months earlier that precipitated the ouster of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and the advent to power of a team of younger leaders headed by Mikheil Saakashvili. In both cases, Saakashvili gradually increased the pressure on his opponent, highlighting his weakness and tactical errors and thereby encouraging ever more people to take to the streets to demonstrate their desire for regime change. Crucial to that groundswell of support, in both instances, was the defection at the penultimate stage of police and security forces. And in both cases, pressure was exerted at the final stage by Moscow in the person of Igor Ivanov. (In November, Ivanov, who was born in Georgia, was Russian foreign minister; he is currently Security Council secretary).

Since his election in 1991, Abashidze had ruled Adjaria as his personal fiefdom, quashing any manifestation of domestic political opposition and reportedly syphoning off millions of dollars from the proceeds from the export of crude oil via Batumi. His five-month standoff with the Georgian government has, to all intents and purposes, been a struggle for control over those revenues. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) repeated allegations by Georgian officials, including Saakashvili, that Abashidze has not sought independence for Adjaria.

Abashidze's strategy has been initial rejection of demands from the central government that would circumscribe his freedom of maneuver, followed by last-minute tactical concessions. Thus he agreed only in late December to permit voting to take place in Adjaria in the 4 January preterm presidential ballot. In mid-March, Abashidze triggered a major crisis in relations with Tbilisi by refusing to allow Saakashvili's motorcade to enter Adjaria; that crisis was defused only following the intervention of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 19 March 2004). Most recently, Abashidze rejected first as unnecessary and then as logistically impossible Saakashvili's demand that he disarm illegally armed groups.

Saakashvili's failure to make good on his repeated threats to have Abashidze arrested should he fail to comply with Saakashvili's successive demands may have inclined Abashidze to conclude that the international community had warned the Georgian president against the use of force, and that therefore he could safely continue to defy Tbilisi, thereby demonstrating his own strength vi-a-vis the central government. If that was indeed Abashidze's rationale, then he failed to take into consideration, or perhaps his subordinates were afraid to inform him of, the magnitude of the resentment and hatred his policies had engendered. They ultimately created a situation in which, as Ivanov apparently made clear to him, he had no option but to resign.

If Abashidze demonstrated poor judgement, the Georgian leadership by contrast masterfully adapted its tactics as the situation evolved -- just as it had done last fall (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 11 November 2003). But it also profited from good luck insofar as there was no way it could predict how swiftly fear of Abashidze's repressions would give way to open defiance.

With Abashidze out of the picture, Saakashvili moved immediately to consolidate his control over Adjaria. The Georgian parliament endorsed on 6 May his imposition of presidential rule over Adjaria the previous day (as provided for by the Georgian Constitution). Also on 6 May, the Adjar parliament voted to abolish the post of republican head, and then dissolved itself, and the republic's prime minister and government resigned. To fill the ensuing legislative and executive vacuum, Saakashvili appointed as de facto governor of Adjaria the head of Georgian Railways, Levan Varshalomidze, a native of Batumi. Saakasvhili said on 8 May that he envisages Varshalomidze occupying that post for three to four months at the least.

Saakashvili also named, and will chair, a 19-person Interim Council that will govern the region until preterm elections are held on 20 June. Its headquarters will be the republican parliament building in Batumi; its members include Koba Khabazi and Tamaz Diasamidze, both leading members of the opposition Our Adjaria movement formed earlier this year. Khabazi told journalists in Batumi on 8 May that at its first session earlier that day the council established five commissions -- on law and order; reforms; regional government; education, culture, and sport; and the economy. Varshalomidze said the council will draft a new economic-development strategy for the region, Caucasus Press reported on 8 May. In addition, Georgian Interior Minister Giorgi Baramidze has been named to head a special commission to preside over disarmament and security issues.

Having brought Adjaria back under central government control for the short term, the Georgian leadership must now decide on the optimum framework for relations between Tbilisi and Batumi in the long term. Both Saakashvili and Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania have affirmed repeatedly in recent days that Adjaria's autonomous status will not be abolished. Two small nationalist opposition parties have argued that it should be, while the opposition Labor Party and Georgian parliament deputy Koba Davitashvili, a former close associate of Saakashvili's who split with him early this year in protest of the constitutional amendments that augmented the president's powers, have advocated putting the issue to a referendum.

Zhvania told journalists on 7 May that the Georgian parliament is drafting amendments to the Adjar Constitution and legislation that will abolish the bicameral parliament Abashidze established. Zhvania also said that all "power" ministries in Adjaria will be directly subordinated to the central government, but that the republic will retain a degree of autarky. Zhvania had announced on 3 May that the Georgian parliament will soon consider a draft bill on the creation of a free economic zone, but he said that the western region of Mingrelia would most probably be chosen as the site of such a zone instead of Adjaria. Whether the site of the zone might be changed following Abashidze's ouster remains to be seen. Stratfor noted in a 7 May analysis that one of the most crucial decisions facing the Georgian government will be how to divide between Adjaria and the central government the revenues from the Batumi port.

Of paramount significance will be the composition of the new Adjar parliament. Following the dissolution of Abashidze's Union for Democratic Revival (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 2004), there are at least two political forces vying for the support of Adjar voters. One is the Tbilisi-based Republican Party headed by David Berdzenishvili, which for years served as a surrogate opposition in Adjaria. Berdzenishvili is close to Saakashvili, but has clashed in the past with Zhvania, whom he accused in late February of clandestine ties with Abashidze. The second is Our Adjaria, which was formed in early February when the Tbilisi-based Democratic Adjaria was subsumed into the original Our Adjaria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2004). Even prior to that merger, Our Adjaria claimed 80,000 members, according to the independent television station Rustavi-2, quoing Diasamidze. Following the merger, Khabazi assumed responsibility for coordinating Our Adjaria's activities in Batumi, while Eduard Surmanidze, a member of the Burdjanadze-Democrats bloc, headed the organization's Tbilisi chapter. Many observers, not only in Tbilisi and Batumi, will be watching to see, first, whether Saakashvili demonstratively throws his support behind Berdzenishvili's Republican Party in the preterm Adjar elections or whether he encourages the National Movement to field candidates for the ballot; and second, which party ends up with a majority in the new Adjar legislature and how large that majority will be.

Also an open question is the long-term political loyalty of those members of Abashidze's leadership who chose not to flee to Moscow with him and whom Saakashvili has granted immunity from prosecution. "The Washington Post" on 7 May quoted Tsotne Bakuria, who headed the Tbilisi branch of Abashidze's Union for Democratic Revival, as saying that he plans to form a "loyal opposition" to Saakashvili in Adjaria. And the dismantling, or at least the internal reform, of Abashidze's draconian security organs may create a vacuum in which organized-crime structures based elsewhere in Georgia could be tempted to take advantage. (Liz Fuller)

...RAISING THE QUESTION: WHO WILL BE NEXT? In the longer term, President Saakashvili will be under pressure to make good on his pronouncement of early 6 May that the central government will "soon" parlay the ouster of Abashidze into the restoration of central government control over the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Russian daily "Vremya novostei" reported from Tbilisi on 7 May that the previous day's Georgian papers bore headlines predicting that by the anniversary in late November of Saakashvili's Rose Revolution, Abkhazia would again be under Georgian hegemony. But the "Financial Times" on 8 May quoted Saakashvili as estimating that it would take two years to restore Georgia's territorial integrity. He claimed that the population of South Ossetia is pro-Georgian and that the Adjar scenario could therefore be repeated there, possibly in the near future, but that it would take longer to win back Abkhazia. The "Financial Times" on 8 May quoted Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili as saying that "There is a feeling among my colleagues that South Ossetia is ripe for a rapid solution."

Officials in South Ossetia, which is to hold parliamentary elections later this month, have already expressed concern. Caucasus Press on 6 May quoted parliament Chairman Stanislav Kochiev as admitting the possibility that Tbilisi might try to mobilize the region's Georgian population to overthrow the (predominantly Ossetian) leadership. At the same time, Kochiev pointed out that the presence in South Ossetia of a Georgian-Russian-Ossetian peacekeeping force precludes the use of military force against the breakaway region.

In Abkhazia, by contrast, there is no large Georgian population to serve as a fifth column, and the Abkhaz have routed the Georgian military in the past (albeit with significant Russian support) and appear confident of their ability to do so again if necessary. Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba told Interfax on 6 May that "Abkhazia does not have a single political force, a single political leader who would welcome the possibility of reuniting with Georgia." He added that the Abkhaz will resort to force if necessary to defend themselves and their unrecognized sovereignty.

Georgian Foreign Minister Zurabishvili tacitly acknowledged during her talks in Moscow on 6 May with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov that the situation in Abkhazia differs fundamentally from that in Adjaria. She characterized the Adjar standoff as a conflict between democracy and the absence of democracy, one in which separatism did not play a role.

"The Wall Street Journal" on 7 May suggested that in return for effectively pulling the rug from under Abashidze, Moscow may have extracted a pledge from Tbilisi not to move against Abkhazia and South Ossetia. But the subsequent predictions by both Saakashvili and Zurabishvili of the anticipated time frame for bringing the whole of Georgia back under the control of the central government cast doubts on that hypothesis. "Kommersant-Daily" on 7 May suggested an alternative quid pro quo, namely that Moscow demanded that the Georgian leadership crack down on the Chechen presence in Georgia, specifically the quasi-official Chechen representation and any militants still evading capture in the Pankisi Gorge. (Liz Fuller)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "Almost all post-Soviet states are failing, but some fail more than others." -- "The Economist," 7 May 2004.

"The expansion of NATO has become an ideology: its actual consequences are not always thought through." -- Russian Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, addressing an international interparliamentary conference in St. Petersburg (quoted by "Literaturnaya Rossiya," No. 17, 26 April 2004).