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Caucasus Report: May 18, 2000

18 May 2000, Volume 3, Number 20

From Unity To Stability? Late on 12 May President Robert Kocharian appointed Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) chairman Andranik Markarian as Armenia's new premier. A 49-year-old computer specialist but someone with minimal economic experience, Markarian served a three-year prison sentence in the mid-1970s on charges of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda based on his membership in the underground National Unity Party. He was elected to parliament in 1995 as chairman of the tiny Republican Party which merged with the Yerkrapah Union of veterans of the Karabakh war in July 1998.

Meeting on 13 May with the outgoing government, Kocharian and Markarian vowed to end the infighting between the president. parliament and government that, according to Markarian, threatened over the past six months "to undermine the foundations of our statehood." The two men also pledged that the new cabinet, whose composition will be unveiled within a week, will not retreat from the economic policies espoused by its predecessors. Kocharian further charged the new premier with building a new pro-government majority within the legislature. That move suggests that Kocharian does not, at least at present, contemplate dissolving the parliament and calling new elections.

In reaching an accommodation with Markarian and the HHK, which is the senior partner in the majority Miasnutiun (Unity) parliament bloc, Kocharian has reinforced the tactical victory he scored 10 days earlier by firing premier Aram Sargsian and Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 18, 5 May 2000). But while Kocharian has strengthened his own position, that of Markarian has been weakened by subsequent realignments within the parliament.

Observers have long perceived strains within Miasnutiun, which came into being in the spring of 1999 as an election alliance between HHK chairman and then Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian (Aram's elder brother), and Karen Demirchian, the leader of the People's Party of Armenia (HZhK). That alliance rested on the combined popular appeal of the two parties' leaders, despite clear divergences in their political programs (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No. 14, 6 April 1999). Both men were killed in the 27 October parliament shooting.

Kocharian said on 13 May that in his talks with the HHK and HZhK on the optimum candidate for premier, he had offered both parties a choice: either they should nominate one of the bloc's leaders, or he himself would propose an alternative "technocrat" candidate and then embark on negotiations with the various parliament factions to try to form a parliamentary majority that would support the new cabinet. But although the HZhK refused to endorse Markarian's candidacy, its chairman Stepan Demirchian (Karen's son) told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 15 May that his party will support and work with the new government "because the situation is critical." But Demirchian added that even if the HZhK retains its two portfolios (agriculture and transport and communications) in the new cabinet, the HZhK will not share responsibility for the cabinet's performance.

But if Markarian's appointment did not precipitate the anticipated split within Miasnutiun, it nonetheless prompted 10 parliament deputies who are also members of Yerkrapah to quit Miasnutiun, and two more to leave the second-largest Kayunutiun faction. Those defections leave Miasnutiun with only 50 deputies in the 131-member parliament. This means that Miasnutiun will need the support of Kayunutiun (which now has 20 deputies), but there is little doubt that faction will be willing to cooperate. Speaking to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 13 May, Kayunutiun faction leader Vartan Ayvazian hinted that his faction would accept a ministerial portfolio if offered.

As for Yerkrapah, some of its members remain so incensed by Kocharian's dismissal of Aram Sargsian that they have pledged to continue campaigning for the president's impeachment. But Markarian has moved fast to neutralize Yerkrapah's political influence. On 15 May he fired from the government three influential figures who had been close to Aram Sargsian and/or had ties to the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement. They were Sargsian aide Andranik Kocharian (no relation to the current president), chief of government staff Shahen Karamanukian, and the head of the government department for information and book publishing, Tigran Hakobian. In addition, government sources told RFE/RL on 15 May that Minister for Industrial Infrastructure Vahan Shirkhanian and Minister for State Revenues Smbat Ayvazian, both leading Yerkrapah members, are unlikely to retain their posts in the new cabinet. (Liz Fuller)

Jaw-Jaw or War-War? In one of his first statements following his 7 May inauguration as Russian president, Vladimir Putin said that the draft law on direct federal rule in Chechnya will be submitted to the State Duma "in the very near future." "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 11 May quoted acting Justice Minister Yurii Chaika as saying that Putin may issue a federal decree imposing direct rule even before the Duma passes the required legislation.

One of the immediate consequences of imposing direct rule, as the same paper pointed out, would be to deprive Aslan Maskhadov of the status of Chechnya's legitimate leader, and thus obviate the need for any negotiations with him. That imminent loss of political relevance to Moscow may be one of the reasons for Maskhadov's recent peace proposals, the latest of which was unveiled on 8 May. The first phase of that draft settlement plan, which Maskhadov envisaged being implemented by 31 May, entails a cessation of hostilities, a ceasefire, the start of government-level talks, and a broad amnesty for participants in the fighting. Maskhadov also proposes that joint Russian-Chechen military districts be created and a civilian administration formed. During the second phase, which would begin six months later, Chechnya would be demilitarized and control handed back to civilians under the supervision of the OSCE.

Russian spokesmen, both civilian and military, however, continue to insist that the only topic on which talks may be conducted with Maskhadov are the conditions under which he, and the Chechen fighters whom he claims to control, are prepared to surrender. But there are grounds for suspecting that Kremlin Chechnya spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii's repeated denials that any such talks are being conducted or even considered are directed in the first instance at those Russian generals who are intent on continuing the war until the last Chechen resistance is wiped out.

In late April, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" cited the Moscow-based news agency "Svobodnaya Chechnya" as reporting that as a result of direct talks between Maskhadov and the Russian leadership, a five-point agreement had been reached that Maskhadov would remain Chechen president; that all Russian servicemen held prisoner in Chechnya would be released; that all Chechen fighters would surrender their weapons, after which all those who had not participated either in terrorist acts or hostage-taking would be amnestied; that a Chechen government would be formed in which Maskhadov's supporters, the pro-Moscow Chechen diaspora, and representatives of the Russian population of Chechnya would be equally represented. But serious disagreements between the two sides remained, according to "Svobodnaya Chechnya," over Chechnya's future status within the Russian Federation and the permanent deployment there of Russian troops.

If "Svobodnaya Chechnya's" information is reliable and such an agreement with Maskhadov was indeed reached, it may have been torpedoed by the two Chechen ambushes of Russian Defense Ministry forces in Chechnya on 24 and 26 April. And the Russian military will doubtless adduce the 11 May Chechen attack on a Russian troop column in Ingushetia to substantiate its argument that the most effective course of action is to eliminate Chechen resistance by force, rather than to seek a political settlement of the conflict.

The introduction of direct federal rule has the advantage of sidelining Maskhadov, whose ability to control his field commanders is questionable, while allowing the federal forces to continue their operations to wipe out the Chechen resistance and permitting Moscow to appoint its own interim candidate as Chechen leader for the next couple of years. One of the prospective candidates for that post is Chechen Mufti Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, who had proposed the option of presidential rule for Chechnya to Putin two months ago. Kadyrov told "Vremya novostei" last week that talks with Maskhadov are essential in order to persuade the Chechen president to surrender his powers to the Chechen parliament elected in early 1997 and "stop hindering [a settlement]." He said that body comprises several dozen deputies with whom Moscow could embark on negotiations on Chechnya's future relations with Russia.

Both Kadyrov's logic and that underlining Moscow's apparent determination to impose direct presidential rule seems to be based on the assumption that, somehow, at some point in the near future, the Chechen military threat will cease to exist. But Moscow's parallel argument that Maskhadov is incapable of reining in his field commanders undercuts that assumption. To judge by last week's attack in Ingushetia, Moscow is more likely to be faced with the threat of continued Chechen guerrilla attacks not just in Chechnya but over an increasingly broad geographical area until Chechen field commanders and their supporters decide that such tactics are no longer effective. And the sequel is likely to be that outlined by the CSRC's Charles Blandy in a superb analysis earlier this year: as many as three Chechen governments-in-exile, at least one of which is likely to resort to terrorist attacks against Russian targets. (Liz Fuller)

Raduev Offers Military Cooperation With Russia. Salman Raduev, currently confined to Lefortovo prison, is confident that the prosecution will fail to substantiate charges against him of participating in terrorist bombings of Russian cities. What is more, he fully intends to sue the Russian authorities for $1 million in damages, which he intends to donate to improve facilities at Lefortovo, he said in an interview published in "Komsomolskaya gazeta" on 16 May.

Raduev also claimed that he was drawn into the fighting in Chechnya against his will. "Any political fighting is fighting for power and influence," he said. "I never wanted to see Chechnya as a site of eternal religious war in the interests of third countries. Hence my discord with other leaders, Maskhadov included. It is the war that turned me into a militant. Honestly, I always wanted to turn Gudermes [his home town] into a free economic zone."

Looking ahead to the end of hostilities in Chechnya, Raduev announced that he will then enter politics. But he also offered cooperation with the Russian leadership. "I'd eagerly help every representative of the Russian leadership," Raduev affirmed. "I mean assistance in formulating the right policy in the Caucasus. I know a lot about Chechen secrets, strategic and information technology included.... Russia can use Chechnya. We have unique training and military skills. The Chechen national army can protect Russia's borders and fight on its side in any war, including wars in Islamic countries. All that is needed is an intelligent treaty [defining relations between Chechnya and Moscow]." (Liz Fuller)

Quotations Of The Week. "Party discipline [is] above everything else." -- Georgian parliament speaker Zurab Zhvania, quoted by "Izvestiya," 12 May.

"Dear compatriots. Do not walk in the streets late at night. You would risk being caught and named prime minister." -- Joke circulating last week in Yerevan, cited by "Aravot" and "Yerkir" on 12 May.

"[The post of Minister of Finance] can be compared to a slaughterhouse." -- Georgian Presidential advisor Temur Basilia, who rejected that position, saying that he does not wish to become a scapegoat (or, presumably, a blood sacrifice). Quoted by Caucasus Press, 13 May.