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Caucasus Report: October 22, 2004

22 October 2004, Volume 7, Number 40

IS THE BALANCE OF POWER SHIFTING IN CHECHNYA? Acting on a proposal from Alu Alkhanov, head of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration, Dmitrii Kozak, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin named last month as his envoy to the South Russia Federal District, named Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov on 19 October as his adviser on security issues.

While some Russian commentators have interpreted that appointment as strengthening Kadyrov's position vis-a-vis Alkhanov, others see it as a further move by Alkhanov to sideline his young rival, whose power derives in the first instance from his command of a "presidential security force" variously estimated to number between 2,000 and 8,000 men.

Immediately after the murder of Kadyrov's father, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, in a terrorist bombing in Grozny on 9 May, Russian television showed footage of Putin meeting with Ramzan Kadyrov in Moscow. Shortly afterwards, Kadyrov was named Chechen first deputy prime minister in what was widely perceived as a bid by the Kremlin to secure his loyalty and deter him from acting as a "loose cannon" during the campaign preceding elections on 29 August for his father's successor as head of the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership. Some Russian observers even predicted -- wrongly, as it turned out -- that Moscow would condone amending the Chechen Constitution adopted in March 2003 to remove the stipulation that candidates for that post must be over 30 years of age. When Russian officials stressed that the constitution would not be altered, it was suggested that then-Chechen Interior Minister Major General Alu Alkhanov, the candidate whom the Kremlin clearly favored, was intended purely as an interim leader, and that Alkhanov would step down in October 2006 when Ramzan Kadyrov turns 30, to permit him to succeed to the leadership.

Many observers both in Russia and abroad concluded that the death of the senior Kadyrov had dealt a severe blow to Putin's Chechen policy, and that whoever was elected to succeed the murdered leader could never command the same degree of respect. Those arguments were to some degree substantiated by the failure of an attempt in July to limit Ramzan Kadyrov's power by subsuming his security force into a new crack Interior Ministry regiment (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 23 July 2004).

True, some experts warned against writing Alkhanov off as a nonentity bereft of real power. Former Russian Nationalities Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov characterized him as "able, reasonable, and loyal," "Izvestiya" reported on 31 August, while Federation Council Deputy Speaker Svetlana Orlova described him to Interfax on 30 August as giving the impression of "an educated and consistent man." Senior Communist Party official Ivan Melnikov said Alkhanov is "experienced" and "a man of principle," but at the same time expressed doubt that he will prove able to effect radical change in Chechnya as "there are too many people interested in destabilizing" the situation there.

As anticipated, Alkhanov won the 29 August ballot, allegedly garnering 73.48 percent of the vote. But Moscow's treatment of Alkhanov in the weeks that followed his election victory seemed to reflect a divided approach. His inauguration was scheduled for the last possible date -- 40 days after the ballot -- permitted by the Chechen Constitution, and was on a more modest scale than that of his predecessor. But the Russian authorities agreed to Alkhanov's request that all revenues from the extraction and sale of Chechen oil should be channeled into the republic's budget to help finance reconstruction -- a concession that Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov had lobbied for without success. Having hinted prior to his election that he would consider peace talks with representatives of the Chechen resistance, Alkhanov announced on 5 October -- the day of his inauguration -- and again the following day at the autumn session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, that he will never negotiate with Aslan Maskhadov, the resistance leader who was elected Chechen president in January 1997 in a ballot hailed by both Russia and the international community as free and fair.

On his return from Strasbourg to Grozny, Alkhanov named outgoing Prime Minister Sergei Abramov to head the new Chechen government, and reappointed Ramzan Kadyrov as first deputy prime minister with responsibility for security and law enforcement. But within days, Alkhanov issued what appeared to be a tacit warning to Kadyrov that he will not tolerate gratuitous abuses of human rights by the latter's security force. When Kadyrov's security guards cordoned off the village of Novye Atagi for three days last week to conduct a search for resistance sympathizers, searching every home and corralling all males between the ages of 14 –60 in a barbed-wire enclosure, Alkhanov dispatched officials to order Kadyrov to desist (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 October 2004). Alkhanov subsequently warned that such egregious human-rights violations are likely to undercut the population's support for the pro-Russian Chechen leadership.

As indicated above, Russian commentators disagree over the implications of Kadyrov's appointment as Kozak's aide. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 21 October quoted Mercator group head Dmitrii Oreshkin as suggesting that the appointment underscores Kadyrov's "elevated status." But other experts noted that the new job will require Kadyrov to spend a certain amount of time outside Chechnya. (Kozak's headquarters are in Rostov-na-Donu). That, in turn, would provide Alkhanov with the opportunity to strengthen his position without the risk of being undercut by punitive actions by Kadyrov's security guard against the civilian population.

Kadyrov has hinted, however, that he will give priority to his duties in Chechnya, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 20 October. That statement suggests that he has no intention of leaving the republic, in which case the standoff between him and Alkhanov is likely to continue. The likely ultimate outcome was elegantly summarized on 30 August by the Council of Europe rapporteur for Chechnya, Tadeusz Iwinski, who told dpa "Nobody knows how long [Alkhanov] will be president. But the next president will definitely be Ramzan Kadyrov." (Liz Fuller)

EU OFFICIALS STRESS IMPORTANCE OF GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN RELATIONS. Addressing the European Parliament on 13 October, the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and the bloc's external relations commissioner, Chris Patten, gave a positive evaluation of reforms in Georgia and underlined the important role the EU has played in supporting President Mikheil Saakashvili. However, both acknowledged that resolving the conflicts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia are decisive to Georgia's long-term success.

Both Solana and Patten had high praise for the performance of the Georgian government since the so-called Rose Revolution in November 2003.

Patten said both the presidential and parliamentary elections at the beginning of the year had been the "fairest and freest" in Georgia since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Patten also said Georgia has met with some success in undertaking reforms. He pointed out that "A good start has been made in addressing the structural problems facing Georgia, tackling, for example, endemic corruption, which has harmed every facet of life in Georgia. Georgia's state finances have been put on a more stable path to recovery. Revenue collection has increased, allowing the Georgian government to pay salaries on time. Reform of the law enforcement agencies has begun, and a new tax code has been presented to parliament."

Listing the EU's contributions, Solana said the bloc has been "absolutely engaged" with the new Georgian government. He said the EU's main achievements in the region have been the appointment of a special representative for the South Caucasus, Heikki Talvitie; the inclusion of the three South Caucasus countries in the EU's neighborhood policy; organizing a high-yield donors conference for Georgia; and the-first ever EU-sponsored "rule of law mission" in another country, which he said is working well in Georgia. The EU has doubled its financial aid to Georgia to 137 million euros ($172.5 million) for the years 2004 to 2006.

However, Solana noted that the economic situation in Georgia remains bleak. The country's gross national product has contracted by 60 percent, while 60 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. There are still up to 300,000 displaced people in Georgia waiting for various regional conflicts to be settled.

Both Solana and Patten highlighted the role of Russia in determining Georgia's future. Patten said Georgia is an important part of EU-Russia relations at every level: "It is essential if we're to solve conflicts and if we're to secure Georgia's long-term stability to see a serious improvement in the relations between Georgia and Russia. We hope that the presidents and governments of those countries can work to find solutions to the bilateral differences in full respect of each country's sovereignty. From our perspective, the South Caucasus is an extremely important part of the common neighborhood of the European Union and Russia. We'll continue to place this region high on [the agenda] of our bilateral dialogue with Russia."

Patten said the EU's view is that "strong and prosperous neighbors make the best neighbors." He said he hopes this is also the view of Russia.

Patten praised Saakashvili's recent pledge before the General Assembly of the United Nations to address regional conflicts solely by peaceful means (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2004). Patten stressed the importance of confidence-building, and pointed to EU-run rehabilitation programs in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Solana noted that Saakashvili solved the conflict with Adjara relatively easily. But he warned that Abkhazia and South Ossetia will be more difficult, will take a long time, and will require Russian cooperation. Nonetheless, he said, resolving both conflicts is essential for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

In this context, Solana praised Saakashvili's public assurances that no other country will be allowed to station forces in Georgia once Russia closes its remaining bases there: "President Saakashvili has made a good statement, saying that he would not accept forces from any other country on his territory. Therefore, that will give guarantees to the Russian friends that they can leave without any risk of forces from any other country appearing in Georgia."

But, Solana said, Georgia faces difficult times ahead, and he said Tbilisi will need all the help it can get from its friends. He said the EU is such a friend.

Patten said the main domestic challenges facing the Georgian government are sustaining the current pace of reforms and turning promises into reality. He said this is a hard job because the country's institutions have been -- as he put it -- "hollowed out" over the years.

Patten said the EU's neighborhood policy must be used to its fullest effect. The onus is on Georgia to demonstrate genuine commitment to political and economic reforms which, he said, are the only guarantee of Georgia's long-term stability. (Ahto Lobjakas)

POLL SHOWS ARMENIANS PREFER EU TO CIS. Most Armenians consider accession to the European Union preferable to their current membership in the Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States and would like their government to forge closer links with NATO, according to an opinion poll released last weekend.

Vox Populi, an independent polling organization, said only one in four persons interviewed by it across Armenia late last month wants Armenia to remain part of the loose grouping of 12 ex-Soviet states. As many as 72 percent of just over 1,000 respondents said, with varying degrees of conviction, that their country's future lies with the EU.

The survey also found unexpectedly strong support among Armenians, who have traditionally looked towards Russia, for closer ties with NATO, with almost 30 percent saying that Yerevan should primarily rely on the U.S.-led alliance for safeguarding national security. Another 29 percent believe that Armenia should maintain equally close military ties with both Russia and NATO. Only 38 percent of respondents said the military alliance with Russia should remain the bedrock of Armenian security policy.

Public opinion, according to the Vox Populi poll, is evenly split on the question of whether Armenia should be led by pro-Russian or pro-Western leaders. Each of the two foreign policy orientations is backed by approximately one-third of Armenian citizens. Twenty-six percent want their rulers to be equally sympathetic to Russia and the West, the survey shows.

The findings of the poll are somewhat unexpected given the long history of pro-Russian sentiment in Armenia, a key factor cementing the close post-Soviet relationship between Yerevan and Moscow.

They also seem to contradict the findings of another poll conducted by the Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS) in August. It showed Russia topping the list of foreign countries considered friendly by the majority of Armenians. ACNIS pollsters found 77 percent popular support for the further strengthening of Russian-Armenian links.

This contrasted sharply with the findings of a parallel survey of political and economic experts conducted by the Yerevan-based private think tank. The vast majority of them wanted closer links with the EU and the United States, rather than with Russia. (Emil Danielyan)