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Caucasus Report: July 25, 2003

25 July 2003, Volume 6, Number 26

ABKHAZIA REMAINS A STICKING POINT IN GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN RELATIONS. The resolution adopted last week by the Georgian parliament calling on the government to request that the UN undertake a "peace enforcement" operation in Abkhazia in accordance with Article 7 of the UN Charter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 2003) has soured Georgian-Russian relations yet again. Russia's ambassador to Tbilisi, Vladimir Chkhikvishvili, was quoted in the daily "24 saati" on 23 July as predicting that the resolution will exacerbate the existing tensions between the two countries, while Georgian National Security Council Secretary Tedo Djaparidze told the Caucasus news agency the following day that during his talks in Moscow (on 16-18 July) members of Russian President Vladimir Putin's administration told him point blank that Russia will veto the Georgian request at the 31 July session of the UN Security Council.

Djaparidze said it would be more reasonable for Georgia to seek a common language with Russia in a joint bid to resolve the Abkhaz conflict. But recent efforts in that direction now seem threatened. Putin and Shevardnadze reached agreement during talks in Sochi in March on a program of confidence-building measures intended to pave the way to a solution of the conflict (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 March 2003). But Shevardnadze has recently written to Putin accusing Russia of "double standards" in its policy towards Abkhazia, and demanding that it break off all political and economic ties with the unrecognized republic. A Russian spokesman denied on 21 July that Putin has received any such missive, but "Mtavari gazeti" on 24 July quoted Djaparidze as affirming that it has reached its addressee. Djaparidze added that the Russian and Georgian approaches to Abkhazia are diametrically opposite.

A recent article by Russian State Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Lukin (who headed a Duma delegation that has just visited Tbilisi) is likely to compound Georgian suspicions of Russia's motives. Lukin wrote in "Novye izvestiya" on 24 July that: "There is an influential group within our political establishment that considers Georgia unreliable, and that Russia cannot do anything with Georgia, and that for that reason Russia must try to hold on to its influence wherever it is possible to do so, which means in those regions that are not controlled by Georgia. In the first instance, Abkhazia. I think this policy is strategically incorrect. What we need is not a tiny piece of coastline but serious influence throughout the Caucasus as a whole. To put it more simply, we need close and special ties not just with Abkhazia, but with a Georgia that has the same sort of relations with Abkhazia. But it is imperative to ensure that those ties are comfortable for Abkhazia, and for Georgia, and for Russia." (Liz Fuller)

UN CONTINUES EFFORTS TO RESOLVE ABKHAZ CONFLICT. On 21-22 July, representatives of the five countries (the U.S., the U.K., Russia, France, and Germany) aligned in the "Friends of the UN Secretary-General for Georgia" group met in Geneva to discuss the progress made since their previous meeting in February towards promoting economic cooperation between Georgia and Abkhazia, expediting the return to Abkhazia of Georgian displaced persons, and resolving political and security issues. Working groups to address economic reconstruction and repatriation were established after the Sochi meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Georgian counterpart Eduard Shevardnadze.

According to a statement by UN Undersecretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guehenno circulated by Caucasus Press on 24 July, the "Friends" group welcomed initiatives intended to expedite the repatriation process, including greater involvement by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the UN proposal to recruit civilian specialists who would train local police personnel in Abkhazia to protect Georgian displaced persons who return to their abandoned homes.

"Kommersant-Daily" on 24 July claimed, however, that the repatriation of Georgian displaced persons is "the most contentious issue." The paper quoted Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba as arguing that the primary obstacle to the displaced persons' return are the activities of Georgian guerrillas in southern Abkhazia. Caucasus Press on 12 July quoted Zurab Samushia, commander of the White Legion guerrilla formation, as saying that his men plan to launch a military operation to restore Georgian control over Abkhazia before 30 September, when the Abkhaz leadership plans to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Georgian retreat from Sukhum. Shamba also insisted that the repatriation process should not be overly politicized. Shamba attended the second day of the Geneva talks, as did Tbilisi's point man for Abkhazia, Minister for Special Assignments Malkhaz Kakabadze.

The Georgian representatives in Geneva, for their part, again argued for establishing an "interim international joint administration" in Gali, Abkhazia's southernmost raion, the population of which prior to the 1992-1993 war was overwhelmingly Georgian. But Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister and presidential envoy for the Abkhaz conflict Valerii Loshchinin, who represented Moscow in Geneva, told "Kommersant-Daily" that he doubts that Abkhazia would agree to that proposal, which Shamba has in fact already rejected. On 27 June, Shamba told Apsnipress on 27 June that the Abkhaz leadership believes that establishing such a body could lead the search for a solution to the conflict "into a blind alley." In the same interview with Apsnipress, Shamba insisted that the repatriation of displaced persons is a purely humanitarian issue, and accused the Georgian leadership of treating the displaced persons as pawns in a "political game." (Liz Fuller)

FOUR MORE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES APPROVED IN AZERBAIJAN. As of its most recent session on 16 July, Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission has approved a total of 19 nominations to contest the presidential election scheduled for 15 October. The four most recent additions to the list of hopefuls are Vahdat Party leader Tair Kerimli (approved on 14 July); Shadman Huseinov, nominated by the Vatan initiative group (approved on 14 July); Social-Democratic Party of Azerbaijan co-chairman Araz Alizade (approved on 16 July); and Namus party chairman Togrul Ibragimli (approved on 16 July).

Four more applications have been rejected: those of former presidential adviser Eldar Namazov; United Communist Party Chairman Musa Tukanov; architecture professor Kyamran Rustamov; and former President Ayaz Mutalibov. The Appeals Court upheld the CEC rejection of Rustamov's candidacy on 17 July, and that of Namazov the following day. Both men have said they will challenge the CEC decision, which they termed politically motivated, in the Supreme Court.

One further would-be presidential candidate, Communist Party Chairman Sayad Sayadov, submitted his application to the CEC on 16 July. (Liz Fuller)

INTERVIEW WITH PACE RAPPORTEUR FOR CHECHNYA ANDREAS GROSS. The following interview with Swiss parliamentarian Andreas Gross was conducted by RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service on 9 July, two weeks after Gross was named as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's (PACE) rapporteur for Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2003).

RFE/RL: Do you regard your mission and your first trip to Moscow as the continuation of the mission begun by Lord Frank Judd?

Gross: Yes of course. The Council of Europe is an organization which is responsible for ensuring that human rights, democracy, and the rule of law are respected throughout Europe and that is why it has been engaged for a long time already in Chechnya [in a bid] to overcome this violent conflict. Lord Judd was the rapporteur for several years, Mr. Mullemann was another rapporteur, another Swiss before me, and now I take up Lord Judd's task because he stepped down after the discussion in January and February [over the optimum date for holding a referendum on a new Chechen constitution and election laws]. [After that] the mandate of the Council of Europe was reviewed so I work now on a new base, but with the same commitment that my friend Lord Judd showed to the Chechen people and the Russian people and to the cause of human rights in Europe.

RFE/RL: I assume that you have discussed your new mission with Lord Judd. Can you tell our listeners in the North Caucasus what Lord Judd said to you during your consultations?

Gross: Lord Judd is an old friend of mine and we have always discussed how the Council of Europe can fulfill its mission in a better way, but he's also a very intelligent and a wise man and in this sense he didn't tell me what I have to do. We discussed the situation in Chechnya and how we see it for two hours over dinner in London yesterday at the House of Lords, how we could promote an agreement, a common understanding between all those in Chechnya who know that violence is not helping the Chechen cause, and the Russian authorities who are also aware that they have to find a political solution. A political solution means a common understanding, and I always think of a favorite quote of Mr. [Yitzhak] Rabin, the late prime minister of Israel, that you have to make peace with your former enemies, you can't choose the people you have to make peace with...

You know this is not my first mission [to Chechnya], I was in Chechnya three years ago, in January 2000, and together with Frank Judd I discussed the situation with Mr. Putin for three hours. And I often met with people who discuss the Chechen issues and I followed those Russian discussions. I will spend one day in Moscow to meet with those people who can spare time from their heavy schedule, because Russian [politicians] are already preparing for the [7 December] State Duma elections. I will also spend two or three days in Kazan attending a Council of Europe-sponsored conference on federalism in Europe. That is exactly the right issue at the right time, because we will discuss autonomous solutions. I presented last June a report in the Parliamentary Assembly on how with really good, well-done autonomy you can avoid or overcome conflicts. And in the second half of August I will come back to Moscow for two or three days and then also go for two days to Chechnya.

RFE/RL: It is not by chance that you were appointed the PACE rapporteur for Chechnya. You must, for sure, have your own vision of how a peaceful solution to this conflict can be achieved. Can you describe your vision of how to achieve peace, because there is no other way to resolve the conflict except by a peaceful solution?

Gross: ...It's true that it was not by chance that I was elected, because a Spanish colleague and a French colleague were also candidates for this, let's say impossible mission or very difficult mission. Surely I was elected because I'm a dedicated democrat, I don't fear authorities, I speak frankly to everybody, and I have experience in the Caucasus because I have been responsible for the monitoring of Azerbaijan for three years already. I will be in Azerbaijan next week, we have to observe the preparations for the presidential election there.

As for the second half of your question, of course I have my personal ideas, but I want to listen first to all the different responsible people and then come up with propositions, because it's not that I have to have my personal ideas but that I have to find a way which can be accepted by all people concerned, and this means you have to listen first before you speak, otherwise it can damage the perspective. So I will not speak about my mission before I have listened to as many people as possible.

RFE/RL: Your mission must be made more complicated and perhaps even endangered to a certain extent by recent acts of terror, especially the most recent terrorist attack in Moscow [on 5 July]. Can you comment on this terrorist act and how these acts of terror will complicate your mission?

Gross: You know, all violence, every violent act complicates this mission, because when you want to find peace, the way to peace has to be peaceful, you can't bomb your way to peace. I personally and in the name of the Council of Europe immediately sent a letter of condolence to my colleagues in the [Russian State] Duma, in which I showed my grief and expressed my solidarity with the Russian people and expressed regret over this inhuman act. I stated clearly that such acts undermine all efforts to find an agreement, and I was also very happy that the official representatives of the democratically elected authorities of Chechnya, Mr. [Aslan] Maskhadov and his spokesmen, also condemned this act as much as many Russians did.

This shows that many Chechens feel like the meat in a sandwich, between two different violent structures, and we have to liberate them, because acts of violence substantiate the [alleged] links between Chechens and global international terrorist structures and this again could [serve to] justify violent acts in response to such violence, and this shows how violence could escalate. The worst thing about violence is that you never forget it, we have to stop this violence and we have to overcome violent approaches to opposing anything because [unless we do] we shall never find a solution.

And for me personally this act of violence was not helpful, on the contrary it damaged the mission of the Council of Europe.

RFE/RL: Your predecessor Lord Judd was very active in consulting Russian representatives, Duma representatives, and you are also going to do this, but he was also famous for cooperating with Russian and Chechen human rights activists and organizations? Are you going to follow the same path?

Gross: Of course, you know, as a democrat you have to listen to everybody, and I have already acquired all the documentation [about Chechnya] published by important human rights organizations and I will read it tomorrow in Moscow. And I already met with different people, and you should not underestimate the capacity of the rapporteurs of the Council of Europe to cope with their task, even though it is very difficult.

CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM IN DAGHESTAN: THE END OF ETHNOFEDERALISM? The Kremlin's campaign to bring regional legislation, in the first instance constitutions and statutes, into accordance with federal legislation is nearing its end. Within the parameters of this campaign, fundamental corrections were made on 10 July to the constitution of the Republic of Daghestan. Along with such purely cosmetic changes as the designation of Daghestan as a "sovereign republic" and the inclusion of a reference to citizenship, the entire system of power was modernized. As of 2006-2007, Daghestan will be transformed into a presidential republic with a compact unicameral parliament elected partly in single-mandate constituencies and partly from party lists. That radical transformation may trigger a struggle for power among Daghestan's various ethnic-based clans in the not too distant future.

Under the constitutional amendments, the post of an elected president will be introduced in 2006. The configuration of the parliament will be changed in 2007 when the powers of the present People's Assembly expire, and the number of deputies will be reduced from 121 to 72, of whom half will be elected on party lists and half in single mandate constituencies. The number of those constituencies will be cut by a factor of four.

Until now, a complex mix of new democratic and traditional ethno-clan-based norms obtained in Daghestan, which is the most diverse subject of the Russian Federation both in terms of its geographical relief and the ethnic composition of the population. According to the old system, supreme power belonged (at least formally) to a "collective presidency" in the form of the State Council, which comprised 14 members, one from each of the republic's 14 titular nationalities. They are the Avars (28 percent of the total population), Dargins (15.5 percent), Kumyks (12.9 percent), Lezgins (11.5 percent), Russians, Azerbaijanis, Chechens, Rutuls, Laks, Tsakhurs, Tabasarans, Aguls, Nogais, and Tats. The 14 members of the State Council were elected by a specially convened 242-person Constitutional Assembly, of whom half were parliament deputies and half representatives of local government bodies.

One characteristic of Daghestan's collective leadership was that all deputies participated in the election of the 14 State Council members, rather than just deputies from the same ethnic group. This precluded the election to the State Council of the most powerful ethnic leaders and made the entire unwieldy structure easier to manipulate.

When the first State Council was elected in July 1994, it was intended that the chairmanship should rotate among the 14 nationalities. But in fact that post has been occupied by one and the same individual, Magomedali Magomedov, who is a Dargin. The constitution was amended in 1998 to abolish the restriction stipulating that a representative of one and the same nationality could not serve more than two consecutive terms as State Council chairman. Magomedov, who is now 72, was last re-elected State Council chairman in 2002.

Magomedov is one of the last remaining political figures in Daghestan to have risen to a position of authority during the Soviet era. While the Kremlin is under no illusions concerning the extent of the corruption he tolerates, it nonetheless continues to back Magomedov at times of crisis rather than risk political destabilization in a multiethnic republic that borders on Chechnya.

As for the deputies of the People's Assembly, ethnic quotas were in force until this year's elections that ensured that in constituencies where the ethnic composition of the population is mixed, only a representative of the largest ethnic group could be elected. This was a clear violation of the principle of equal rights for all voters proclaimed at the federal level, but in Daghestan's unique conditions it helped to prevent interethnic standoffs during elections and to ensure the proportional representation in the legislature of all 14 titular nationalities. In the most recent elections, the ethnic quota system was superceded by multimandate constituencies, but the reduction in the number of deputies elected from such constituencies will necessitate abandoning that system.

It should be noted that legality of the process of bringing the federation subjects' legislation into conformity with federal legislation has been questioned. An expert assessment conducted by the Russian Ministry of Justice noted not only that "the content of the Constitution of the Republic of Daghestan contradicts federal legislation in 46 points," and that over 100 articles of Daghestan's Constitution needed to be brought into conformity with federal legislation, but also that "the legality of the adoption of the Constitution of the Republic of Daghestan by the Constitutional Assembly and the existence of that assembly as a legislative organ" are open to question.

More to the point, there is considerable opposition to the introduction of the post of elected president. Three successive referenda have been held on the desirability of doing so, in 1992, 1993 and 1999, in which only 10.6 percent, 30.7 percent, and 23.7 percent of voters respectively expressed approval of that change. It is understandable that only representatives of the largest ethnic groups should favor direct presidential elections, in the first instance the Avars, who for the past decade have failed to occupy any of the most senior posts. In the Soviet era, the post of first secretary of the Daghestan Obkom of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was reserved for an Avar; now the highest position open to an Avar is speaker of the National Assembly. The numerically smaller nationalities, for their part, are more interested in preserving the ethnic balance within the power structure that has evolved over the decades. In other words, the new constitution does not correspond to the wishes of most of the republic's population.

Even though the adopted amendments remove the past discrepancies between the constitutions of Daghestan and the Russian Federation, implementing the proposed changes may not prove easy. In that respect, it is probably fortunate that the amendments will be put into effect only three years from now, which gives time for careful preparations.

But even if the approved system functions painlessly, the process of adopting the constitutional amendments highlights a number of troubling trends: the "one model fits all" approach favored by the federal center, which risks triggering interethnic conflicts; the Kremlin's chronic inability to comprehend the situation in the "ethnic republics" and its refusal to listen to the other side's arguments; and the weakness of local leaderships, most of which have proven unable to defend the interests of their regions in the protracted horse-trading that accompanied the process of amending their respective constitutions. (Nikolai Petrov)

ARMENIAN DRAM GAINS GROUND AGAINST DOLLAR, EURO. The Armenian national currency, the dram, has appreciated in value against the two main Western currencies over the past three weeks due to a host of factors, including weaker demand for the U.S. dollar. As of 21 July, the dram had strengthened against the dollar and euro by roughly 3 percent since the entry into force on 1 July of a government decision banning all business transactions in cash that exceed 100,000 drams ($175). Businesses now have to carry them out through bank transfers.

The new rules, which are aimed at curtailing the huge informal sector of the Armenian economy, appear to be complicating cash deals made in dollars. Those still cover a large part of economic activity in Armenia, despite the dram's domestic convertibility and a relatively stable exchange rate.

Analysts also attribute the dram's strengthening to the seasonal factor, saying that economic turnover across the country traditionally declines in the summer. They predict the Armenian currency will continue to gain ground in the coming weeks.

Also strengthening the dram is the fact that the summer period sees the greatest influx of tourists and other visitors from abroad who arrive in Armenia with hard currency. According to official figures, over 160,000 foreign nationals, mainly diaspora Armenians, visited the country last year. (Atom Markarian)

QUOTATION OF THE WEEK. "Georgia is a failed state." -- Armenian Deputy Parliament Speaker Vahan Hovannisian (quoted by Caucasus Press on 21 July).