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Caucasus Report: June 3, 2004

3 June 2004, Volume 7, Number 22

CHECHEN OLIGARCH SAYS HE WILL CONTEST AUGUST BALLOT. Speculation is intensifying in the Russian press over which candidate Moscow will support in the 29 August ballot to elect a successor to slain pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, on the assumption that as in the October 2003 election, the support of the Kremlin, rather than the preferences of the Chechen electorate, will prove the decisive factor.

Broadly speaking, potential candidates can be divided into three categories: those backed by Kadyrov's surviving supporters in Grozny (assuming that the so-called Kadyrov team is not on the verge of disintegrating into rival groups, as Chechen journalist Khamzat Gerikhanov is quoted as suggesting by "Rodnaya gazeta" on 28 May); the wealthy Moscow-based Chechen diaspora; and the "siloviki," or representatives of the Federal Security Service (FSB) or federal "power" ministries.

Initially, two representatives of the "Kadyrov team" were identified as most likely to succeed him. The first is former Nationalities Minister Taus Dzhabrailov, who was promoted after Kadyrov's death to the post of chairman of the State Council (the interim Chechen legislature). Dzhabrailov, who was born in 1957, is a former mathematics teacher whose association with the assassinated leader dates back to late 1996 when the latter was Chechnya's mufti. The second is Chechen Interior Minister General Alu Alkhanov. Both men are considered 100 percent loyal to Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov's younger son Ramzan, who was named Chechen first deputy prime minister the day after his father's death in tacit acknowledgement of his unofficial status as the most powerful man in Chechnya.

Ramzan Kadyrov commands a personal security detachment numbering several thousand men who, according to Russian human rights groups, have repeatedly been accused by relatives of the victims of engaging with impunity in the abduction and murder of individuals suspected of sympathizing with the Chechen resistance. At 27, he is too young to contest the ballot, but some experts have suggested that Moscow might engineer the election of a figurehead leader who would administer the republic in tandem with the younger Kadyrov.

Interfax on 29 May quoted Shirvani Yasaev, who is head of the Urus Martan district administration and a member of the Chechen State Council, as arguing that Alkhanov is the most appropriate candidate to succeed Kadyrov. Yasaev also pointed out that the Chechen police force (which numbers some 12,000 men) would unanimously cast their ballots for Alkhanov. "Kommersant-Daily" on 2 June, quoting unnamed sources, reported that Alkhanov met at the Kremlin 10 days earlier with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who endorsed his candidacy. To date, however, neither Dzhabrailov nor Alkhanov has declared his candidacy. Instead, unnamed Chechen ministers and district administrators have nominated Ruslan Yamadaev, the former deputy military commandant of Chechnya who as the candidate of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party was elected last December, as Chechnya's deputy to the State Duma. Reporting Yamadaev's candidacy, "Gazeta" on 1 June quoted commentator Dmitrii Orlov as predicting that "if Unified Russia endorses Yamadaev, we may take it that the Kremlin has made up its mind" who Kadyrov's successor will be.

On 26 May, however, "Trud" quoted Frants Klintsevich, who is deputy chairman of Unified Russia's Duma faction and heads the party's Chechen chapter, as saying that the party is still discussing the choice of possible candidates and what the key tenets of its candidate's election program should be. Klintsevich described his party's ideal candidate as "an honest person, someone who is not involved in any corrupt dealings, any Chechen intrigues.... This person should preferably be an ethnic Chechen and not from a military background. It would be good if this person lived and worked in Chechnya together with his family. At the same time, he should be an independent figure with enough contacts in Moscow to lobby Chechen interests."

The 11 candidates who originally registered last summer to contest the October 2003 ballot included two prominent members of the Moscow-based Chechen diaspora, businessman Malik Saidullaev and Khusein Dzhabrailov (no relation to Taus), deputy director of Moscow's Hotel Rossiya. Dzhabrailov withdrew from the race on 2 September, saying that he was convinced that he could do more for the Chechen people by directing his social and economic resources toward furthering dialogue between the various Chechen factions and helping to create a civil society in Chechnya. Three weeks before the ballot, Chechnya's Supreme Court annulled Saidullaev's registration in response to a suit by a rival candidate, ruling that over 40 percent of the signatures Saidullaev produced in support of his registration were forged, (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 12, and 26 September 2003). The names of both Saidullaev and Umar Dzhabrailov have figured among possible election candidates, along with those of two other Moscow-based Chechens, Russian Industrial Bank President Abubakar Arsamakov and Usman Masaev, who heads the Union of Industrialists and Businessmen of Chechnya, "Rodnaya gazeta" reported on 28 May.

On 31 May, "Kommersant-Vlast" published an interview with Saidullaev in which he affirmed that "the time has come," and that he will run in the 29 August ballot. Saidullaev, who is reputedly very popular in Chechnya, told the journal that Chechnya no longer needs a powerful and brave leader such as Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, but "a civilized and educated man" who can attract foreign investment and impose strict financial control to put an end to the continued theft of budget funds earmarked for reconstruction of the republic's war-shattered infrastructure.

Russian commentators are, however, of the opinion that the outcome of the ballot will be decided beforehand in Moscow, rather than on 29 August at the ballot box, and that Russia's priority is to install a new leader who is acceptable to, but could at the same time act as a counterweight to, Ramzan Kadyrov. Saidullaev, for all his popularity and good intentions, does not meet either criterion. One man who may be strong enough to stand up to Kadyrov is "silovik" Said-Selim Peshkhoev. A former high-ranking FSB officer, Peshkhoev was named in late 2002 to head the Chechen police force, then served as deputy presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District. According to Putin aide Aslanbek Aslakhanov, Peshkhoev has "an impeccable reputation;" "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 2 June claimed that Moscow views his candidacy favorably. But the paper also noted that Peshkhoev is opposed to permitting former Chechen fighters to serve in the police or other Chechen security forces. That could bring him into conflict with Ramzan Kadyrov, whose personal security detachment numbers many such former fighters.

In an interview published in "Kommersant-Vlast" on 24 May, Peshkhoev suggested that it may have been former resistance fighters who planted the bomb that killed Kadyrov on 9 May. He argued that alternative employment could and should be found for the former militants, and indirectly condemned the appeal to Putin by the State Council to waive the constitutional minimum age requirement to permit Ramzan Kadyrov to contest the presidential ballot. Lawmakers, Peshkhoev argued, should in the first instance seek to uphold the constitution rather than circumvent it.

Asked whether he has a personal security force, Peshkhoev answered in the affirmative, adding that "these are men who carry arms legally." But he admitted that he does not have the $1 million that former Grozny mayor Bislan Gantemirov estimates a presidential campaign will cost. On 31 May, "Kommersant-Vlast" quoted Gantemirov as saying he has not decided whether to join the presidential race himself. "If it is an appointment instead of an election, I'm not going to be part of the performance," he said. At the same time, he hinted that if for whatever reason he does not run, he might back Peshkhoev instead.

With six weeks still to elapse before the deadline for registration, it remains unclear which candidates will emerge as the favorites, but Russian Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov has already predicted "a hot summer." His Chechen counterpart, Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov, predicted for his part that the ballot might go to a second round -- a suggestion that implies that the Kremlin may wait until the last possible minute to decide which candidate best meets its needs. (Liz Fuller)

NEW POLITICAL TENSIONS EMERGE IN ADJARA. Four members of the Interim Council appointed in early May by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to govern the Adjar Autonomous Republic resigned their posts on 31 May, Georgian media reported. The four men include Tamaz Diasamidze, leader of the Our Adjara opposition movement that spearheaded the protests that contributed to the resignation on 5 May of long-time autocratic Adjar leader Aslan Abashidze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2004). Their resignations were intended to protest the introduction into the autonomous republic's election law of amendments that bar Georgian parliamentary deputies from contesting the ballot for a new Adjar legislature. That ballot is scheduled for 20 June.

Diasamidze, who was elected to the Georgian parliament on the National Movement-Democrats party list in the 28 March elections, was quoted by Interfax on 31 May as saying that the amendments will not help to promote the central government's policy in Adjara. David Berdzenishvili, head of the Republican Party that functioned for years as an unofficial opposition party in Batumi, reportedly said the amendments were directed against himself and Diasamidze personally. Our Adjara announced on 12 May the temporary suspension of its activities, having achieved its primary objective of forcing Abashidze's resignation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2004). Its activists said at that time that they will contest the 20 June elections separately, as did Berdzenishvili's Republican Party, but Our Adjara was not among the 13 parties that Caucasus Press listed on 27 May as having registered to contest the 30 mandates.

One of those 13 parties, the New Rightists, announced on 31 May that it will boycott the ballot. Party chairman David Gamkrelidze told journalists that the election is illegal and should be postponed until the autumn to permit the Adjar population to declare in a referendum whether they want the republic to keep its autonomous status. Gamkrelidze claimed on 31 May, and the newspaper "Alia" similarly alleged on 1 June, that the National Movement-Democrats bloc uniting supporters of Saakashvili, Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania and parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze has already divided up all 30 Adjar parliamentary mandates among its own members. "Alia" predicted that consequently, the ballot will mark "the funeral of the Republican Party." (Liz Fuller)

ARMENIAN MILITARY TO SET UP FIRST THINK TANK. The Armenian Defense Ministry unveiled on 31 May plans to set up a special think tank that will advise it on defense and national security. Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian and the top brass of Armenia's armed forces attended an official ceremony marking the start of work on a building that will house the ministry's National Strategic Research Center. Officials said its construction will cost $600,000 and will be complete within a year.

The center will be named after the late General Drastamat Kanayan, one of the most prominent military commanders of the first Armenian Republic that existed from 1918-20. Kanayan's U.S.-based descendants have donated $350,000 for the project and were also present at the ceremony. The rest of the money will be raised by the diaspora-financed All-Armenian Fund Hayastan.

Speaking to journalists, Sarkisian said the center, the first of its kind in Armenia, is expected to provide the Armenian military and other security agencies with "quality advice" on security challenges facing the country. The think tank will be headed by Colonel Hayk Kotanjian who until recently served as military attache at the Armenian Embassy in Washington. It is not yet clear whether its personnel will be dominated by army officers or civilian experts. (Gevorg Stamboltsian)

ASIAN DEVELOPMENT BANK READY TO ADMIT ARMENIA. The Asian Development Bank (ADB), a Manila-based financial institution tasked with combating poverty in Asia and the Pacific, has decided in principle to admit, and serve as another sources of external assistance to Armenia, officials said on 2 June.

According to the Armenian government's press service, the bank's deputy secretary, Amarjit Singh Wasan, told Prime Minister Andranik Markarian that the ADB is ready to open accession talks with Yerevan and expects to complete the process in between six and nine months. Wasan was quoted as saying that he is satisfied with his talks with various-level Armenian officials held in Yerevan in the last few days.

Successive Armenian governments have been seeking to join the ADB since 1997 in the hope of securing more low-interest loans for the country's public services and economic infrastructure. The process gained momentum after the ADB and three other Western-funded lending institutions -- the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) -- promised in 2002 to coordinate their assistance to the seven poorest ex-Soviet states. Those include Armenia as well as neighboring Azerbaijan and Georgia.

The ADB was established in 1966 and is currently made up of 63 member states that act as its shareholders. Forty-five of them are located in the Asia/Pacific region. Among the other members are the United States and all major countries of the European Union. The bank's governing board approved the release of a total of $6.1 billion in infrastructure loans during the course of last year.

During the meeting with Wasan, Markarian expressed hope that membership of the credit institution will allow Armenia to obtain more financial resources and invest them in social services, agriculture, health care, education, and the economic infrastructure. He said the ADB's lending terms are "quite attractive" to his country.

Armenia has already borrowed more than $1 billion from the World Bank, the IMF, and the EBRD since independence. (Emil Danielyan)