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Caucasus Report: January 3, 2002

3 January 2002, Volume 5, Number 1

INGUSHETIA'S PRESIDENT BOWS OUT. Ruslan Aushev formally relinquished his powers as president of Ingushetia on 29 December, having announced two days earlier that he would not seek a third presidential term. Aushev explained his decision in terms of the need to preserve domestic political stability which, he argued, would be threatened if presidential and parliamentary elections are held simultaneously in March 2003. Aushev was re-elected in 1998 for a five-year term with some 66 percent of the vote (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 2, 9 March 1998), but in November 2001 the parliament of Ingushetia voted to shorten the presidential term by one year to four years and scheduled presidential elections for 1 March 2002; Ingushetia's Supreme Court, however, apparently under pressure from Moscow, on 26 December declared that amendment invalid, according to RFE/RL's "Liberty Live" on 27 December.

A former Soviet army general who distinguished himself during the war in Afghanistan, Aushev was first elected president of Ingushetia in 1993 at the age of 38. Announcing that his decision to quit was "final and irreversible," Aushev pointed out that during the past eight years he has not taken a single vacation; yet in a 28 December statement he denied that he is "physically tired" of the responsibilities of power. As Ingushetia's first elected president, he explained, he "should set an example of how to come to power and how to leave it." "The world will not collapse without me," he added.

Observers in Moscow, however, have advanced several alternative hypothetical explanations for Aushev's decision. Some of those hypotheses are based on the nature of domestic politics in Ingushetia, which are reportedly dominated by a handful of strong "clans" and the interaction between them. According to those scenarios, Aushev resigned either as a result of pressure from rival clans out to incriminate him in financial irregularities arising from the cost of building the new Ingush capital, Magas, or, alternatively, in order to facilitate the election as his successor of Alikhan Amirkhanov, who currently represents Ingushetia in the Russian State Duma. "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 29 December suggests that if elections are held in 2002, Aushev may be able to engineer the outcome of the poll in Amirkhanov's favor, whereas one year later he might no longer be in a strong enough position to do so.

It has also been suggested that Aushev was motivated less by domestic political considerations than by constant friction with Viktor Kazantsev, Russian President Vladimir Putin's envoy to the South Russia federal district, and with federal inspector Musa Keligov, who Aushev has branded "an enemy of the Republic [of Ingushetia]."

A third factor that may have influenced Aushev's decision is the war in Chechnya, according to "Izvestiya" on 28 December. Since Russian troops launched their second Chechen campaign in the fall of 1999, Aushev has repeatedly criticized the use of violence, warning that it may prove counterproductive and even lead to Moscow's loss of control over the entire North Caucasus. At the same time, he has consistently called for negotiations between the Russian leadership and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. As a result, he has incurred the animosity of several leading Russian officials, including Kazantsev and Russian troop commander Colonel-General Gennadii Troshev. Former Grozny Mayor Belsan Gantemirov, who is currently one of Kazantsev's deputies, has accused Aushev of sheltering Maskhadov and other Chechen fighters, which Aushev denies (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 7/8, 23 February 2001).

Moreover, Ingushetia is currently hosting almost 170,000 displaced Chechens who fled their homes to escape the fighting, and who have to date resisted all pressure and inducements on the part of the federal authorities to return to their homes. Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and Prime Minister Stanislav Ilyasov have both accused Aushev of deliberately trying to prevent the displaced persons from leaving Ingushetia because he seeks to control the funds provided by the Kremlin for their upkeep.

In addition, tensions exist between the Chechen and Ingush leaderships over the border between the two republics: Some Chechens claim that parts of Ingushetia's Malgobek and Sunzhen raions are historically part of Chechnya. It is also conceivable that once a peace settlement in Chechnya is finally achieved, Moscow may be planning to abolish the 1992 division of the former Checheno-Ingush ASSR into two constituent republics in order to preempt any future campaign for Chechnya's independence from the Russian Federation. Aushev issued a formal denial in January 2001 that he had discussed that possibility with Russian leaders and added that such a reunification would create "such an explosive mixture that not even three federal centers could cope" with the resulting tensions. But if reunification is again being discussed as a possible option, Aushev may have decided to disassociate himself from that discussion now in order to present himself as a savior if the situation threatens to spiral out of control at some later date.

Finally, Aushev's close friendship with disgraced oligarch Boris Berezovsky may have served as a black mark against him.

But many things may change between now and March 2003, and it is entirely possible that that Aushev will again reverse his decision not to seek re-election, as he did in the runup to the March 1998 ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 1997). "I am ready to help Ingushetia and my people any time when there is any trouble," he told Interfax on 28 December. (Liz Fuller)

GEORGIAN MILITARY WANTS DRAFT DEFERMENTS ELIMINATED. The Georgian Defense Ministry is considering drafting legislation that will deprive many male students of the possibility of postponing their military service or avoiding it entirely. Gela Ugrelidze, a senior officer responsible for mobilization, told Caucasus Press on 17 December that over the previous two months, only 52 percent of the young men liable for induction into the armed forces in the fall draft had been drafted into the army. The lowest rates were reported from the west Georgian regions of Imereti and Mingrelia. The local military commissar told Caucasus Press in early November that only two of a total of 275 eligible young men had been drafted by that date. Ugrelidze characterized as "abnormal" the fact that the sons of wealthy and middle-class Georgians are able to avoid military service on the grounds that they are studying, and that consequently the armed forces rank and file are composed primarily of the uneducated sons of poor families.

On 12 December, Defense Minister David Tevzadze similarly expressed concern at the slow pace of the fall draft, warning that he would fire all military commissars unless at least 66 percent of those liable for military service were inducted.

Conditions in the Georgian army, however, are so appalling that it is little wonder that young men go to any lengths to avoid induction or, if they are forcibly drafted, to desert. (Defense Ministry spokesman Koba Liklikadze admitted two years ago that some 3,000 servicemen deserted from the Georgian army in 1999, mostly as a result of appalling living conditions.) Testifying last month before the Georgian parliament's committee for human rights, Georgian Ombudsman Nana Devdariani said that mistreatment of conscripts by non-commissioned officers has resulted in at least 100 fatalities, but that most of such incidents are hushed up. (The most recent such death occurred in Telavi over the New Year holiday, when a drunken sergeant-major "accidentally" shot a private dead, according to Caucasus Press on 3 January.) A senior officer admitted in January 2001 that recruits are issued one set of underwear to last for their two years of service, and that as a result of financial constraints, servicemen's rations do not exceed 4,000 calories per day, half the NATO norm. Meanwhile, in 2000 the Georgian Defense Ministry chalked up 93,483 laris ($43,300) for "entertainment." Servicemen's pay is miserly: A private earns 5-7 laris per month but is required to pay his superior a bribe of 60-100 laris to receive one month's leave, according to Caucasus Press on 6 March 2001.

Nor is the situation much better even in elite units: Poor conditions and wage arrears were the primary reasons cited for a mutiny in May by the elite Georgian National Guard (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 29 May 2001).

It is not clear whether the proposal outlined by Ugrelidze to abolish draft deferments is intended to replace or complement the proposed scale of payments for such deferments reported by the independent newspaper "Alia" in June 2001. That proposal envisaged a payment of 200 laris to postpone induction for one year and 2,000 laris to have one's name permanently removed from the list of those liable for military service. Such payments, it was calculated, could bring the army up to 15 million laris annually. (Liz Fuller)

WHO ARE ARMENIA'S MOST INFLUENTIAL POLITICIANS? The independent newspaper "Azg" on 27 December published the results of the most recent of a series of polls it has conducted of late to determine Armenia's 20 most influential politicians in 2001. The December findings show little change from a poll conducted in August: On both occasions, President Robert Kocharian topped the list, followed by Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, parliament Law and Unity faction leader Artashes Geghamian, and People's Party of Armenia Chairman Stepan Demirchian. That ranking broadly tallies with the findings of a recent poll commissioned by RFE/RL's Armenian Service in which Kocharian and Sarkisian were ranked as the most influential political figures, and Kocharian as the most popular, followed by Geghamian, Demirchian, and the chairman of the Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State) Party, Artur Baghdasarian, who ranked 12th in the "Azg" survey (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 39, 29 November 2001).

Of the "Top 20" politicians listed by "Azg," 11 are members of the executive or the presidential administration, five are leading members of opposition parties, three are prominent members of parties which largely support the present leadership, and one is a businessman with close ties to Sarkisian.

One related question that "Azg" does not address, however, is the nature of political influence. In the case of members of the present leadership, that influence can be presumed to derive primarily from the position they occupy; but that in itself does not explain, for example, the fact that Sarkisian's rating is higher than that of Premier Markarian. In Sarkisian's case, two additional factors are crucial: his control over lucrative areas of economic activity, such as the import of grain and gasoline and the export of precious metals, and his close ties with the Russian government. It was Sarkisian, rather than Markarian, who played the key role in the recent negotiations on signing over several key state-owned enterprises to Moscow in payment of Armenia's state debt (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2002).

Most Armenian political commentators who were invited to comment on the "Azg" poll findings emphasized that influence generally derives from political power and economic clout, which are firmly in the hands of the present leadership, rather than from ideological commitment and personal charisma. Several suggested, however, that the relative weakness of the opposition reflects opposition party leaders' shared tendency to focus more on pursuing their personal interests and quest for power, rather than on ideology or even drafting alternative programs that would address the most crucial problems facing the country. (Liz Fuller)

QUOTATION OF THE WEEK. "The war in Chechnya could be stopped if war criminals from both sides were put in the dock, including Generals [Gennadii] Troshev and [Vladimir] Shamanov." -- Chechen field commander Turpal-Ali Atgeriev, speaking during a break in his trial in Makhachkala on charges arising from his participation under Salman Raduev in the January 1996 hostage-taking in Kizlyar (quoted by AP on 25 December 2001). Shamanov commanded the eastern front in Chechnya between 1999 and late 2000, when he resigned from the army to run (successfully) as governor of Ulyanovsk Oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2000). Troshev is commander of the North Caucasus Military District.