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Caucasus Report: June 2, 2000

2 June 2000, Volume 3, Number 22

Exit Gantemirov? On 30 May, Russian government representative in Chechnya Nikolai Koshman fired his controversial Chechen deputy, Beslan Gantemirov, "for failing to discharge his service duties, breaches of discipline and systematic absenteeism" both on his own part and on the part of the 2,500 pro-Moscow Chechen militia he commanded. But Gantemirov made clear that he does not consider Koshman's decision legitimate: he argues that only Russian President Vladimir Putin, who appointed him to that post, has the right to dismiss him.

Gantemirov's dismissal is surprising since only six weeks ago he was being touted as a possible future Chechen leader. On 21 April, Russian Army Chief of General Staff Colonel General Anatolii Kvashnin personally promoted him to the rank of army lieutenant-colonel, one day after acting Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii had predicted that "Gantemirov will play a significant role in the political process in Chechnya."

What went wrong? One possible explanation is that Gantemirov was too vocal in his criticism of the Russian military's tactics in Chechnya: in mid-April he told a Russian national TV station that the military campaign was three-four months behind schedule. He has also made derogatory comments about fellow members of the Russian representation in Chechnya, accusing its members (in an interview published in "Vremya-MN" on 4 May) of being "mired in corruption" and of forging ties with "Chechen and Moscow oligarchs."

Alternatively, someone within the Russian leadership may have considered Gantemirov unsavory and/or not totally trustworthy. There are indeed grounds for doing so: he transferred his allegiance during the first Chechen war from President Djokhar Dudaev to the pro-Moscow puppet leadership, was named mayor of Grozny, and then in the spring of 1996 was arrested on charges of embezzling millions of rubles allocated for reconstruction of the ravaged capital.

But Gantemirov consistently told journalists who interviewed him in pretrial detention that he had been framed to protect others, and in the fall of 1999 he was pardoned by then Russian President Boris Yeltsin -- possibly at the behest of his protector Boris Berezovskii -- and returned to Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 43, 22 December 1998 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 1999).

Or Moscow may simply have planned all along to use Gantemirov and his followers as long as seemed expedient and then simply discard them. The issue that served to alienate Gantemirov from the Russian government was the latter's shabby and discriminatory treatment of his fighters in comparison with regular Interior Ministry personnel. (Gantemirov's men, for example, were paid only 450 rubles per month, while federal personnel received a daily wage of 950 rubles.) In mid-May, the Russian authorities in Chechnya decided to disband Gantemirov's militia, and at the same time to set about recruiting OMON forces from among the Chechen population. That move, if implemented, would have deprived Gantemirov of a power-base at a time when hostilities in Chechnya were localized in the southernmost districts, and when his political options had already been limited by the draft Russian legislation on direct rule in Chechnya, which does not provide for the post of a republican president.

Despite this latest move, Gantemirov is unlikely simply to vanish from the Chechen political scene. Interfax quoted him on 31 May as saying he has no intention of disbanding his personal militia detachment, which numbers some 760 men. What is more, in an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 12 May he pledged his overt opposition to "those upstarts and political and economic opportunists" currently seeking to carve out a niche for themselves in Chechnya. (Liz Fuller)

New Georgian Finance Minister Assesses Budget Shortfall. On 19 May, the Georgian parliament overwhelmingly approved the candidacy of Zurab Nogaideli, former chairman of its tax and revenues committee, as finance minister. He has already pledged to present within one month a revised plan of budget spending for the second half of this year that will take into account the 36.5 percent shortfall in revenues to date. The combined budget deficit, according to Interfax, is some 400 million lari ($200 million) which will necessitate sequestering spending by between 130 million and 150 million lari. But Nogaideli said those cuts will not affect the payment of pensions and wage arrears, as some ministers had feared. (Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze, for example, had argued that sequestering the budget would preclude payment of the 13 month wage arrears owed to police personnel.)

Nogaideli singled out tax evasion and other manifestations of corruption as one of the primary causes of the budget shortfall. He cited unidentified foreign experts as saying that tax collection should account for approximately 26 percent of GDP, whereas in Georgia the figure is only 13-14 percent, and only 53 percent of anticipated taxes are actually collected.

In a recent review of the Georgian economy, the IMF similarly singled out corruption in general, and lax fiscal discipline in particular, as areas of concern. It said the Fund's directors "noted that the economy continues to face large external and internal imbalances that pose a significant threat to macroeconomic stability." (Liz Fuller)

Displaced Persons, Georgian Leadership At Odds Over Abkhaz Policy. Former KGB general Tamaz Nadareishvili, chairman of the Abkhaz parliament in exile which consists of the ethnic Georgian deputies to the Abkhaz parliament elected in late 1991, has consistently espoused a far tougher policy with regard to the unresolved Abkhaz conflict than has the Georgian leadership (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 15, 9 June 1998). Specifically, Nadareishvili advocates the withdrawal of the CIS peacekeeping force deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, a new war to bring the breakaway region back under the control of the central Georgian government, and international condemnation of the alleged policy of genocide and ethnic cleansing that he claims the Abkhaz perpetrated against the Georgian population of Abkhazia. The fact that Nadareishvili also has political ambitions within Georgia has inclined several western observers of the Georgian political landscape to classify him as one of the most dangerous threats to Georgia's continued stability.

On 24 May, Nadareishvili announced his intention to step down as chairman of the parliament in exile and to quit the "Abkhazeti" Georgian parliament faction (which is aligned with the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia) to protest Tbilisi's failure to impose a political settlement that would restore its hegemony over Abkhazia. Three days later, the entire Abkhazeti faction, which originally numbered 16 deputies including Nadareishvili, announced that it will leave the majority bloc, but at the same time the faction stressed that it will not align itself with the opposition minority. Faction member Gia Gvazava told Caucasus Press that the faction will continue to lobby on behalf of the Georgian displaced persons constrained to flee Abkhazia during the 1992-1993 war. He said that it might transform itself into a political party to that end. (Nadareishvili created his own political party to represent the displaced persons in late 1998.)

The parliament in exile refused on 30 May to accept Nadareishvili's resignation on the grounds that doing so might impel the Georgian authorities to dissolve all parallel structures, including the government in exile. Thanking deputies for their support, Nadareishvili vowed to convene repeated protests to focus public attention on the Georgian leadership's failure to regain control of Abkhazia. The following day, displaced persons launched a series of protests to demand their overdue allowances of 13 lari ($6.50) per person per month.

Some displaced persons had expressed the fear that Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze might advantage of Nadareishvili's resignation threat in order to replace him as chairman of the parliament in exile with a less bullish and more pliable figure. (An ideal candidate for that post would be Abkhazeti faction leader and former Abkhaz Interior Minister Givi Lominadze, a longtime associate of Shevardnadze.)

But the Georgian leadership clearly prefers to see Nadareishvili occupying a formal post, rather than assuming the role of "loose cannon." Shevardnadze on 25 May expressed "understanding" for Nadareishvili's "resentment" at the Georgian leadership's failure to regain control of Abkhazia, but added that he hoped Nadareishvili would reconsider his decision to step down. And Malkhaz Kakabadze, Shevardnadze's proposed candidate for the post of minister with special responsibility for conflict resolution, termed Nadareishvili's decision "unjustified," arguing that they should work together, and in cooperation with all other persons and organizations capable of contributing to a solution to the conflict. (Liz Fuller)

Armenian Right-Wing Bloc Lambasts Leadership. The recently formed Union of Rightist Forces comprising four small right-wing parties allied with Levon Ter-Petrossian held its first congress in Yerevan on 29 May, renewing its attacks on the present Armenian authorities which it accused of "seizing power" in February 1998 by forcing Ter-Petrossian to resign. The gathering, attended by more than 1,000 activists, was meant to give an organizational form to the Union, whose leaders include former parliament speaker Babken Ararktsian, former Premier Hrant Bagratian and former national security minister David Shahnazarian, one of the most fierce detractors of the current regime.

"The current authorities are the most corrupt and least intellectual segment of the former authorities," Shahnazarian charged in a keynote address to the activists.

The conference formally endorsed a declaration that announced the creation of the right-wing bloc last month (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 18, 5 May 2000). The declaration accuses the administration of President Robert Kocharian of rolling back economic and political reforms and making Armenia "an obstacle to regional integration and development." "The very existence and territorial integrity of Armenia is in jeopardy," it says.

Shahnazarian and other speakers again urged parliament to impeach Kocharian and call fresh presidential elections. They alleged that Kocharian came to power by "exploiting" the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict but is now intent on making unacceptable concessions to Azerbaijan by agreeing to a territorial swap between the two conflicting countries. The authorities have repeatedly denied such intentions. Still, speculation that Yerevan could give up the southeast Meghri district as part of a peace settlement with Azerbaijan are being increasingly used by Kocharian's opponents to justify their tough anti-government stance.

Another line of fire is the claim that Armenia is now less democratic than it was during Ter-Petrossian's almost eight-year tenure as president. Shahnazarian accused Kocharian of violating the Armenian constitution, bullying dissenting media and politicians and reviving what he termed "a wave of terror." The bloc's leaders pointed to the 1998 presidential elections, which international observers said did not meet the standards of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. However, the Armenian government faced even harsher international criticism for its handling of the 1996 presidential elections, when the OSCE monitoring mission refused to recognized the official results that gave victory to Ter-Petrossian. Some of the ex-president's close associates later confessed later that the vote was rigged.

One of the bloc's leaders, Vigen Khachatrian, admitted that elections held under the former regime were not flawless - a claim rebutted by Aleksandr Arzumanian, acting chairman of the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), another party supporting Ter-Petrossian.

The former president, who has kept an extremely low profile since his resignation, reportedly maintains close ties with the leadership of the bloc but has not yet publicly commented on its formation. (Emil Danielyan)

Armenian Media Under Increasing Financial, Political Pressure. Addressing a recent seminar in Yerevan, Armenian journalist and media expert Mark Grigorian said that the political instability resulting from the 27 October parliament shootings has had a marked negative impact on the mass media. Grigorian said that the economic situation has deteriorated, making it more difficult for independent media to find the necessary financial resources to survive and grow, according to Armenpress on 29 May.

Given that the advertising market in Armenia is limited and print runs are small (maximum 7,000), newspaper sales cover only approximately 60 percent of expenses, with the result that most of the 50 newspapers that manage to publish regularly would not be able to do so without the support of wealthy patrons. "The media business is not profitable in Armenia," Grigorian commented.

In addition, Grigorian said, direct and indirect pressure exerted on the press by key Armenian officials has increased. "Before the attack the pressure very often was in the shape of physical abuse but now it has turned into creating economic obstacles for them," he said. He explained that the state-run printing house has been known to discriminate against certain newspapers, allowing those of which it approves to postpone paying their debts, while suspending printing others that are tardy in paying far smaller sums owed. (Liz Fuller)

Quotations Of The Week. "No one wants a new Berlin Wall in the Transcaucasus." -- Armenian President Robert Kocharian, in an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 30 May.

"The war must be ended at any price. Anyone who opposes this will be destroyed. We have enough strength and means to influence both [field commanders Shamil] Basaev and Khattab and anyone else. Those forces who do not want peace on Chechen territory must either be destroyed or leave here." -- Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov, interviewed by "Moskovskie novosti" on 30 May.