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Caucasus Report: February 17, 2000

17 February 2000, Volume 3, Number 7

Moscow's Plans For Chechnya's Future. In what may yet prove to be a pyrrhic victory, on 6 February acting Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russian forces had taken complete control of what remains of Grozny. Russian military spokesmen subsequently described the "liberation" of the Chechen capital as ending the second phase of the "anti-terrorist" operation in Chechnya. The third and final phase of that operation, to neutralize those Chechen fighters who have withdrawn to bases in the mountains south of Grozny, got underway a few days ago. Defense Minister Igor Sergeev predicted that it will be successfully completed in less time than was needed to take the capital.

Other Russian officials, however, are less sanguine. Lieutenant-General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, commander-in-chief of the Russian Interior Ministry forces, was quoted by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 15 February as predicting that a localized struggle with individual bands of Chechen fighters could continue "for decades." The Defense Ministry has already made clear that, even after it announces a final victory over the Chechens, a detachment of some 25,000 Russian troops will be permanently stationed in Chechnya. Chechen mufti Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov argued in a recent interview that such a permanent Russian military presence is essential in order to preclude fighting between rival Chechen factions, and to shore up the next Chechen leadership.

Meanwhile, the Russian government is faced with the task of restoring the damage the war has inflicted on Chechnya's infrastructure and determining how the region should be ruled in the short and medium term. Putin announced last week that the Russian government has already spent some 50 million rubles ($1.8 million) on restoration in Chechnya, and will earmark a total of 2 billion rubles for that purpose by the end of this year. But Nikolai Koshman, the Russian government representative in Chechnya, estimated that a minimum of 10 billion rubles will be needed for reconstruction this year alone. Those funds will not be adequate to allow for the rebuilding of Grozny, Koshman said. He added that reconstruction of the devastated capital should be financed by Chechnya itself, not from Moscow, above all by the proceeds from the republic's oil industry. But Interfax last week reported that the Russian government has decided to hand over all functioning oil-sector facilities in Chechnya to the state-owned oil company Rosneft, which will also "temporarily" acquire the right to exploit oil and gas fields in Chechnya.

Elsewhere in Chechnya, Russian media report on a daily basis alleged progress in reopening schools, medical facilities and even mosques, and providing gas and electricity supplies to Chechnya's civilian population.

Russian military and temporary police units brought in from elsewhere in the Russian Federation are responsible for maintaining order in the "liberated" raions. That task comprises identity checks and the issuing of new identify papers, confiscating armaments, and taking measures to prevent the theft of humanitarian aid and money sent from Moscow to fund reconstruction. On the basis of those identity checks, hundreds of Chechen men have been rounded up and sent to so-called "filtration camps" where they are routinely submitted to torture and rape. Younger Chechen men, meanwhile, will be recruited to serve in special brigades of the Ministry for Emergency Situations and the railway troops "in order to remove them from the war environment," Koshman said. A Western journalist who recently visited Gudermes, Chechnya's second-largest city with an estimated population of 48,000, noted that most of the town's male population is unemployed. Russian Deputy Labor and Social Development Minister Konstantin Laikem said last week that a local office of the Federal Employment Agency has been opened in the hope of recruiting 2,000 volunteers to help in the reconstruction process. But, Laikem added, many Chechens are reluctant to do so, fearing reprisals by the "militants."

At present, individual Chechen raions under Russian control are administered by a mayor and a military commandant, as is Grozny. Koshman told Interfax on 12 February that the Russian Security Council will decide on creating "a system of vertically structured administration" at the end of this month. That administration will be formed by merging the Russian government mission to Chechnya, which Koshman heads, and the Gudermes-based interim Chechen administration, which will control the new Interior Ministry and other unnamed departments.

Koshman predicted that the new combined administrative structure will be in place by late May, after which elections will be held in Chechnya to the Russian State Duma. By late 2000 or early in 2001, he continued, it will be possible to schedule elections for a new Chechen head of state and for local government bodies. Chechen mufti Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov similarly suggested that a new Chechen leader should be elected "in a year or two," "after people calm down." (Liz Fuller)

Azerbaijani Officer's Arrest Highlights Broader Problems. On repeated occasions in 1995-1996, the Azerbaijani leadership claimed to have thwarted attempts or plots to overthrow President Heidar Aliev. On one such occasion, that claim was demonstrably at odds with the actions of the purported instigators of the coup; on two subsequent occasions, no evidence was adduced to substantiate the coup charges. Yet in contrast to the maximum publicity given to those cases, the Azerbaijani state media have not sought to portray the arrest last week of an unruly army officer as the most recent in a series of coup attempts, even though the main protagonist had publicly uttered threats against the present leadership.

The officer in question is Colonel Rasim Akperov, commander of an infantry brigade deployed in Azerbaijan's Geranboi Raion. Akperov was arrested on 9 February, allegedly in connection with the murder by his men of two lieutenants. But Azerbaijani media have pinpointed other relevant factors. Quoting a journalist on the staff of the Azerbaijani paper "Zerkalo," "Izvestiya" on 10 February noted that on 8 February President Heidar Aliyev had issued a decree dismissing Akperov's father Aga from his post as governor of Geranboi Raion. It was that dismissal that impelled Akperov to hint publicly that he might seek to overthrow the authorities.

But to characterize Akperov's threats as heralding a coup, and thus to draw attention to the fact that the Azerbaijani army is less than totally loyal to the country's leaders, would be counter-productive on several counts. First, it would render even more remote the prospect of Azerbaijan joining NATO. Second, it would further undermine the position of Abiev, who is implicated in large-scale financial irregularities (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 34, 26 August 1999 and Vol. 3, No. 5, 4 February 2000). And third, it would demonstrate the vulnerability to attack of the planned Baku-Ceyhan export pipeline for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil. (Geranboi is very close to the planned pipeline route, and also on the Line of Contact separating the Azerbaijani armed forces and the Defense Army of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.) According to some reports, one of the topics on the agenda of the upcoming meeting of GUUAM defense ministers is the creation of a special force to protect that pipeline.

One further aspect of the Akperov affair is worthy of note. One of the major components of Heidar Aliev's support base are Azerbaijanis from Armenia. Aliyev last year ordered the arrest of several senior Interior Ministry officials from that community, to which the Akperov family also belongs. Further moves against the group could either alienate it, or lead to its split into pro- and anti-Aliyev factions. (Liz Fuller)

Adjar Leader's Election Participation Doubtful. Meeting late last week, the Revival Union of five Georgian opposition parties, which is the second-largest faction in the new Georgian parliament, agreed on the conditions under which they will propose Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze as the union's candidate for the 9 April Georgian presidential poll. To date, 13 candidates have announced their intention to run, including incumbent President Eduard Shevardnadze and former Georgian Security chief Igor Giorgadze (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 6, 11 February 2000).

The leader of the Union for Revival's Tbilisi organization, Giorgi Targamadze, told Caucasus Press that Abashidze's nomination is contingent on the Georgian parliament adopting amendments to those articles of the election law that deal with the registration of voters, the technology of registering the casting of ballots, collating election returns and forming district electoral commissions. It is not clear whether those proposed amendments are among the 40 or so already approved by a special inter-faction parliament group (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 5, 4 February 2000). "Revival" also demands the introduction of the post of Vice President, for which it intends to propose former Georgian CP First Secretary Djumber Patiashvili. (That innovation would presumably necessitate changes to the Georgian Constitution.)

Given that the deadline for nominating presidential candidates is 19 February, the likelihood that Revival's conditions will be met is very small. If those conditions are not met, "Revival" will call on its supporters to boycott the presidential poll. (Liz Fuller)

Quotations Of The Week. "It is possible to predict already that guerrilla warfare will go on in Chechnya for a very long period of time. The final resolution of the conflict in Chechnya still remains very remote." -- General Mahmut Gareev, president of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences, quoted in the "International Herald Tribune," 10 February.

"I would not be surprised if I become the [Chechen] head of state one day, even though I do not aspire to that post." -- Pro-Moscow Chechen militia commander and deputy Russian government representative in Chechnya Beslan Gantemirov, interviewed in "Trud," 15 February.

"I'm not betraying my people, I'm trying to save them." -- Marika Gesimeeva, named mayor of Gudermes after none of the town's men would accept that post, quoted in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," 2 February.