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Caucasus Report: January 21, 2000

21 January 2000, Volume 3, Number 3

Chechnya's Foreign Minister Says Moscow Seeks To Create 'Zone Of Instability.' Speaking at RFE/RL's Washington office on 18 January, Ilyas Akhmadov said that Russia's latest war in Chechnya is part of a broader effort to create a "zone of instability" across the entire North and South Caucasus. Only by doing so, Akhmadov said, could Moscow hope to reimpose its hegemony on the region and prevent the spread of Western influence.

Akhmadov admitted that the Chechen leadership had failed to take full advantage of the period that followed the Khasavyurt peace accords and the 1997 presidential election. But he added that Moscow's failure to fulfill those accords was one of the factors that "doomed our leadership to make some dangerous and unforgivable mistakes."

Akhmadov expressed the hope that Moscow and the Chechen leadership will soon reach agreement on conditions for peace talks. But he warned that Grozny will never yield on its insistence on independent status, although it is prepared to compromise on all other issues. (RFE/RL)

Ingushetia's President Predicts Stalemate In Chechnya. Never a man to mince words, Ruslan Aushev has been among the most outspoken critics of the war in Chechnya. In a recent interview in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Aushev contrasted the military tactics adopted by the federal and Chechen forces, and predicted that sooner or later Moscow will be forced to seek peace talks.

Aushev, a retired Soviet army general who fought in Afghanistan, categorically rejected Russian generals' predictions that the war will soon be over. On the contrary, Aushev said, there will be a long-drawn out partisan war. "What we are seeing," he explained, "is the same scenario as during the first Chechen war. The Russian generals are hotheads. Despite all setbacks, they say that they should not be held back, that victory is imminent. They do not think about the interests of the Russian state, or what terrible problems the war is creating in the Caucasus, for Ingushetia, for the Russian Federation. They are behaving like stubborn children. How much more time do they need for their victory: one year or ten years?"

Aushev similarly rejected the suggestion that the Russian military has adopted a new strategy in Chechnya. "If a Russian army wants to advance from Moscow to the English Channel," he argues, "then it needs a strategy. But to try to hunt down ten or twelve guerrillas--do you call that strategy? The generals have no strategy, they are simply repeating the mistakes of the first war." He added that the Russian army "has neither money, new ideas or high morale," in contrast to the Chechens who have all three.

Aushev concedes that the Chechens, too, lack a strategy, but that they make up for it in terms of "fighters' instinct, common sense, courage, experience and their Islamic faith." He argues that in a guerrilla war, tanks are useless: the Chechens strike in one place, always where they are least expected, and then withdraw before the Russians can retaliate. "When the army is fighting in the mountains, the rebels advance on the towns. When the army returns to the towns, they take to the mountains again."

Asked whether the Russians have any chance whatsoever of winning the war in Chechnya, Aushev cites the intervention in Afghanistan. He noted that the Soviets deployed 100,000 men in Afghanistan, a country of 650,000 square kilometers with a population of 18 million, whereas they now have 140,000 troops in Chechnya, which has a surface area of only 20,000 square km and fewer than 100,000 remaining inhabitants. Moscow, Aushev continued, has deployed its entire military might in Chechnya, but even so, victory will be long in coming. But even when the war is won, "Moscow has no concept of a political solution." And the army "can hold the country by the throat for one, two years, but as soon as it relaxes its grip, then things will start all over again."

Aushev argued that Moscow committed two serious errors: first, in refusing to acknowledge Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, predicting that ultimately Moscow will have to sit at the negotiating table with him--or with the parliament speaker. He added that Maskhadov is still in a position to win back the sympathies of the 170,000 Chechens who fled to Ingushetia, very few of whom have any sympathy for field commanders such as Shamil Basaev. The second mistake, Aushev said, was Russia's failure to try to mobilize the Chechen people to fight on Moscow's side against the "terrorists." (Liz Fuller)

A Modest North Caucasus Success Story (Continued). As already reported, Aleksandr Dzasokhov's election in January 1998 as President of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alaniya marked a turning point in that republic's economic fortunes (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 38, 24 September 1999). In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" this week to mark the second anniversary of his election as president, Dzasokhov shed some light on how the modest economic upswing was achieved, and warned against reading to much into what appear to be impressive statistics.

Industrial production increased in North Ossetia last year by 15.1 percent, and agricultural output by 3 percent. Dzasokhov stressed that his republic's economic successes were achieved exclusively by the more rational use of existing resources and by more effective tax collection, rather than by issuing ever more credits. He said that over the past two years the percentage of the republic's budget covered by domestic funds has increased from 36.4 percent to 46.4 percent, and that for the first time North Ossetia overfulfilled (by 112 percent) its tax payments to the federal center.

One of Dzasokhov's greatest successes, although he does not describe it as such, is to have legalized the underground production of vodka, which a few years ago was virtually the only marketable commodity North Ossetia produced. That curtailing of the shadow economy has not only improved North Ossetia's previous dubious image but yielded badly needed tax revenues.

Dzasokhov warned, however, that there are no grounds for "euphoria." He admitted that most of the republic's population have not benefited financially from the economic upturn, and that the increase in production has not been matched by an increase in the population's spending power. (Liz Fuller)

Armenia Says Caucasus Stability Pact Contingent On Improved Armenian-Turkish Relations. Following talks in Tbilisi last weekend with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Turkish President Suleyman Demirel called for the creation of a Caucasus Peace and Stability Pact modeled on the Balkan Stability Pact concluded by the international community last year. Demirel proposed that the pact be drafted jointly by all three South Caucasus states and signed by their presidents and those of the world's leading countries. "Stability and peace in the Caucasus should be under European guarantees because this is important not only for Georgia and other countries of this region, but for their neighbors," Reuters quoted Demirel as saying.

Shevardnadze, for his part, noted similarities between Demirel's proposal, which he wholeheartedly endorsed, and earlier regional initiatives (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 17, 23 June 1998). He told journalists that, besides the three South Caucasus states, Russia, Turkey, and Iran will also participate in the pact.

Armenian reaction to Demirel's proposal, however, has been lukewarm. Officials and analysts in Yerevan have told RFE/RL's bureau there that Demirel's initiative has few chances of success without an improvement in Turkish-Armenian relations.

"If Turkey really wants to see stability and development in the region, it should normalize relations with Armenia," Armenian foreign ministry spokesman Ara Papian told RFE/RL on 19 January. "Without a normalization of the Turkish-Armenian relationship it is impossible to speak about regional programs," he said.

Aleksandr Grigorian, an analyst at the Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS), similarly observed that "As long as Turkish-Armenian relations remain virtually non-existent, there will be no regional security and stability."

The Armenian reaction is puzzling insofar as Armenian President Robert Kocharian proposed the creation of a pan-Caucasus security system, that could complement the existing European security system, and of which the three South Caucasus states, Turkey, Russia and Iran would be members, in his address to the OSCE summit in Istanbul two months ago. Kocharian met personally with President Demirel on the sidelines of that summit, and told journalists afterwards that prospects for a normalization of the relationship between Armenia and Turkey had "definitely improved" over the previous 18 months, although Ankara still pegged the establishment of formal diplomatic relations to a settlement of the Karabakh conflict. (Liz Fuller/Emil Danielyan)

Quotations Of The Week. "A thaw [in Russian-Georgian relations] is out of the question, because there has been no cold spell yet." -- Acting Russian President Vladimir Putin, quoted by Interfax, 18 January.

"A growing deficit of dialogue between Moscow and Grozny is becoming increasingly apparent. The impression is that, under the influence of the military component, potential participants in the badly needed negotiation process are moving further and further away from each other, and that is hindering the search for a necessary and dignified compromise. A somewhat paradoxical picture has emerged. The military and the terrorists can conduct (and very successfully) negotiations on an exchange of the bodies of those killed, but the politicians are in no hurry to establish contacts on which the fate of thousands of people depend." -- North Ossetia's President Aleksandr Dzasokhov, interviewed in "Nezavisimaya gazeta," 18 January.

"Wait until Putin gets into the presidential chair--the first thing he will do is call for negotiations." -- Chechen Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov, quoted by Reuters, 18 January.