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Caucasus Report: July 23, 2004

23 July 2004, Volume 7, Number 29

CHECHEN STRONGMAN FIGHTS TO PRESERVE HIS PRIVATE ARMY. In the run-up to the 29 August ballot to elect a successor to slain pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, the Russian leadership is apparently seeking to undercut the authority of Kadyrov's son Ramzan by either abolishing the "presidential guard" he commands or subsuming some of its members into a new crack Interior Ministry regiment. But a Chechen spokesman, Muslim Khuchiev, told Interfax on 22 July that the presidential guard will continue to exist despite the creation of the new regiment.

Russian media consistently portray the 28-year-old Ramzan Kadyrov as a semi-literate thug whose private army, variously estimated to number between 2,000 and 6,000 men, has in recent years routinely engaged in the arbitrary abduction and murder of hundreds of Chechens. Ramzan Kadyrov thus became one of the most powerful and most feared men in Chechnya, which is presumably why he was named Chechen first deputy prime minister the day after his father's death (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2004). But the Russian authorities drew the line at either violating or amending the Chechen Constitution to circumvent the requirement that candidates for the post of republican leader must be at least 30 years old, thus effectively barring him from becoming president for the time being.

Moscow 's strategy appears to be to engineer the election next month as Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov's successor of Chechen Interior Minister Major General Alu Alkhanov, on the assumption that Alkhanov is strong enough to keep Ramzan Kadyrov and his guardsmen in check. But the wisdom of that assumption was called into question by Ramzan's recent statement that "if the [Chechen] people demand that we fight against Russia, we shall obey," according to "Nezaavisimaya gazeta" on 22 July.

On a lightning visit to Grozny after Kadyrov's murder, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for the creation of a special-purpose Interior Ministry regiment to be deployed in Chechnya. On 19 July, Putin ordered Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev to complete that task as soon as possible, and on a visit to Grozny three days later, Nurgaliev announced that the regiment is almost ready. "Russkii kurer" on 21 July quoted an unnamed Chechen Interior Ministry official as saying that the new regiment "will act under the law on the police, the manual and charter of the traffic-police regiments." In a clear allusion to Ramzan Kadyrov's "presidential guard," that official added: "No spontaneous organization following its own rules will exist any longer." The new regiment will be commanded not by Ramzan Kadyrov but by Aslanbek Yasaev.

Alkhanov has promised that the new regiment will be supplied with the most modern weaponry, and he said on 21 July that it will be deployed outside Chechnya to counter "terrorist attacks" if necessary. The new regiment already has at its disposal pistols, automatic rifles, sniper rifles, grenade launchers, machine guns, and even armored vehicles.

A spokesman for the Chechen Interior Ministry, Ruslan Atsaev, said that the process of selecting recruits for the new regiment will continue until the end of this month, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 22 July. He said selection criteria are strict and that "almost all applicants have either graduated from high school or have secondary technical education." "Russkii kurer" reported that applicants will be screened by the Federal Security Service (FSB) and that that in order to exclude many of Ramzan Kadyrov's men, many of whom are illiterate, amnestied former resistance fighters, applicants to join the new regiment will be required to take a literacy test.

"Novye izvestiya" on 23 July quoted Khuchiev as saying that the new regiment will comprise exclusively ethnic Chechens. The paper quotes unnamed sources as saying that an analogous ethnically homogenous regiment is being created in Ingushetia in the wake of last month's attacks by Ingush and Chechen militants. (Liz Fuller)

WEBSITE SHEDS LIGHT ON MOTIVES OF INGUSH MILITANTS. On 19 July, the independent website published an update by B. Bagaudinov on the ongoing investigation into the 21-22 June raids on Interior Ministry facilities in Ingushetia that left almost 90 people dead (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 June 2004). Four days earlier, on 15 July, Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov gave the number of suspects arrested in connections with those coordinated attacks as approximately 30, of whom 20 have been formally charged (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2004). Bagaudinov failed to cite the source of his information, which seems plausible, however.

According to Bagaudinov, the majority of the raiders were ethnic Ingush aged 18-25. (On 21 and 22 June, quoted eyewitnesses as saying most of the raiders were very young and spoke Ingush.) But the young men fall into two distinct categories. The first, more radical group comprises those young men who left home to fight in the ranks of the Chechen resistance and won their Chechen co-militants' respect. The second group includes young men from "normal" Ingush families who, frustrated by poverty and the lack of employment and alienated by widespread official corruption, turned to Islam as a vehicle for "the moral salvation of the nation." As a result, some of them were abducted and murdered by the Ingush authorities on the mistaken assumption that they were "Wahhabis," even though, as Bagaudinov stressed, "they had no ties with the militants and did not try to split [Ingush] society."

Bagaudinov claimed that the two groups would never have made common cause were it not for the lawlessness unleashed on Ingushetia by the Federal Security Service (FSB). But then, in an implicit contradiction, Bagaudinov said that the Chechen resistance registered the mass alienation of the population of Ingushetia, and resolved to make use of it for their own ends. He claimed that early this year the Chechens sent emissaries into Ingushetia -- Ingush who had fought in the Chechen ranks -- to recruit such disaffected young men, who during April-May were trained in basic military skills in camps on Ingush territory that the FSB somehow failed to detect. Bagaudinov identified radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev as the mastermind behind the raids into Ingushetia. The website quoted eyewitnesses of the raid as saying young participants claimed that Basaev was their commander. And RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service pointed out that there are no Ingush field commanders with the experience and tactical knowledge to plan and launch such a complex operation. Only Basaev, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov (who has disclaimed responsibility), and a couple of other Chechen field commanders would have been capable of doing so.

Bagaudinov estimated the number of raiders as approximately 300 Ingush, 30 Chechens, and 10 members of other North Caucasus ethnic groups, including one Ossetian. He claimed that "the investigation has established that it was primarily the Ingush who bear responsibility for the killings." After the raid, the "radicals" and accompanying Chechens retreated to the mountains, while the young Ingush returned to their families: It is primarily these, according to Bagaudinov, who have been detained and arrested.

In an interview published on 21 July in "Nezavisimaya gazeta," former Ingush Mufti Magomed-hadji Albogachiev painted a more detailed picture of the genesis of militant Islam in Ingushetia and the Ingushetian authorities' reaction to it. Albogachiev admitted that the primary reason for his resignation as mufti earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 July 2004) was the lack of trust between himself and Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov and which made it "difficult" for the two men to work together. But he went on to lambaste Zyazikov for allegedly declining to take resolute steps to counter "extremism" among Ingushetia's Muslims on the grounds that such measures could scare off potential investors.

Albogachiev, who served as mufti for 12 years, claimed that thanks to close cooperation between the senior Muslim clergy and the republic's political leadership, the religious situation was "always very quiet," to the point that Ingushetia "served as an example to the entire Russian Federation." But the war in Chechnya fueled the rise of what he termed "extremist " religious elements, which the official clergy sought to neutralize. Since Zyazikov's election in April 2002, Albogachiev claimed "Islamic religious organizations whose leaders acquired their education outside the republic have started to be legalized [and] extremist elements and 'dissenting' [raskolnicheskie] mosques have begun to appear." But, he noted, the republic's leadership failed to take any steps to counter the rise of militant Islam.

Neither Bagaudinov nor Albogachiev offered any explanation for the Ingushetian authorities' failure to crack down on militant Islamic groups -- a failure that is all the more incomprehensible in the light of repeated Russian warnings of the dangers such groups pose. Nor did either offer an estimate of how many of Ingushetia's population of 300,000 belong to, or sympathize with, such groups. (Liz Fuller)

EU DEPLOYS 'RULE OF LAW' MISSION TO GEORGIA. On 19 July, the European Union inaugurated its first-ever "rule-of-law" mission to a non-EU country. The mission will place eight EU experts in key Georgian ministries and institutions to advise Georgia on reforming its judiciary, criminal law, police, and penitentiary systems.

The mission's head, French judge Sylvie Pantz, has had an impressive international career, having served 20 years in France as a prosecutor and a judge. In the 1990s, she spent four years heading the investigating division at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Pantz then became the top UN judicial official in post-war Kosova and went on to sit on an international judicial panel overseeing Bosnia's judicial reforms.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels on 16 July, Pantz said her mission in Georgia will be similar -- to advise the authorities on judicial reforms. "The purpose of this mission, which I am very happy to lead, and which was requested by the Georgian people -- and this is very important -- is to help them find their way in the middle of all these ideas, expertise, initiatives [currently flowing into Georgia from abroad] in order for them to draft their strategy for their future [regarding] to the judicial field, the judicial domain."

The EU mission to Georgia is historic in two respects. It is the first "rule-of-law" mission the bloc has undertaken, and is also the first time the EU has tested the civilian crisis management capabilities which form part of its defense and security policy.

The mission is small but consists of senior EU experts who will be spending a year in Georgia. At least two will come from new member states -- one from Lithuania and from Latvia. The experts will be placed at key ministries, as well as the supreme court, the Tbilisi district court, the Tbilisi prosecutor's office, the public defender's office and at Georgia's judicial council.

Pantz said on 16 July the mission will take an in-depth look at the functioning of law-enforcement structures in Georgia: "[The mission] will be starting [with] the laws, the criminal procedure law, the institutions, the judges -- how they [could] achieve the independence of their judges, including the level of salary for the judges. [It will also look at] the prosecution officials, the structure of the prosecution, as well as the lawyers, the experts, the forensic [experts] -- everyone who [is active in] the judicial field."

Pantz stressed that she will not make an attempt to force an external, ready-made system on Georgia: "As I explained to [the Georgian authorities] -- and they were very pleased -- it won't be my system, it won't be my French system, it won't be [anybody else's]. It will be their system. And I think it is very important. In each of the missions I have participated in [previously], it looked like international members and actors [wanted] to impose their own laws. This is just ridiculous. [Georgia] needs to find their own [way]. They have a system. They need to take [account] of their traditions, their history, their [human resources], their suffering -- all the influences that created [that] state." However, Pantz said, she will recommend aspects of another country's judicial reform program -- that enacted by Lithuania in 1998.

EU officials said 16 July that no other former Soviet republic has expressed interest in hosting a similar "rule-of-law" mission. (Ahto Lobjakas)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "Whoever decided this made a serious mistake. This means that there is only one legitimate president of Checnya, and that is [Aslan] Maskhadov." -- Moscow-based Chechen businessman Malik Saidullaev, commenting on the Chechen Election Commission's decision to bar him from contesting the 29 August ballot to elect a new Chechen leader (quoted by Reuters on 22 July).

"Following [Georgian] President [Mikheil] Saakashvili's visit to Armenia, Georgia has taken such contradictory and abrupt steps that almost all neighboring countries have the impression that Georgia is an unpredictable partner.... The new Georgian leadership has overestimated international support [for it] after the 'Rose Revolution' and is trying to play the role of regional leader." -- Armenian daily "Hayots Ashkharh on 22 July (quoted by RFE/RL's Armenian Service).

"We have to appear as one region, speaking as much as possible with one voice." -- Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili, speaking to journalists on 22 July at the end of a two-day visit to Armenia (quoted by RFE/RL's Armenian Service).

"There's no harm in daydreaming." -- Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba, commenting on President Saakashvili's recent prediction that Abkhazia will soon again become part of a unitary Georgian state (quoted by "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 22 July).