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Caucasus Report: June 16, 2000

16 June 2000, Volume 3, Number 24

Putin Names Interim Chechen Leader. Four days after imposing direct rule on Chechnya, Russian President Vladimir Putin on 12 June named as Chechnya's interim leader 49-year-old Mufti Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov.

Kadyrov was the favored candidate both of the Russian civilian leadership -- he was the sole Chechen invited to the banquet that followed Putin's inauguration as president last month -- and of the Russian military commander in Chechnya, Colonel General Gennadii Troshev. Troshev, who was born in Grozny, said the Muslim cleric is "well-known and trusted." Putin's aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii, for his part, characterized Kadyrov as "experienced, strong-willed and tough," and at the same time honest and realistic in his assessment of his own capabilities. "He says frankly what he can and can't do," Yastrzhembskii commented. Putin himself had observed of Kadyrov in December that "at every meeting he speaks for the interests of the Chechen people."

A graduate of the Bukhara medresseh and the Islamic University in Bukhara, from 1989-1994 Kadyrov headed the first Islamic University in the North Caucasus, according to the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" on 14 June. He was elected Chechen mufti in March 1995, after then- President Djokhar Dudaev's leadership was forced to abandon Grozny. After the end of the first Chechen war, he continued to occupy that post under Aslan Maskhadov, whose presidential bid he backed. In mid-1998, at the time of the first clashes between Maskhadov's security forces and Islamic radicals loyal to field commander Arbi Baraev, Kadyrov maintained a low profile, but several months later, as the pressure on Maskhadov from his rival field commanders intensified, Kadyrov publicly spoke out both against manifestations of Islamic extremism and against the criminal activities (including abductions for ransom) of some field commanders (including Baraev) known for their radical Islamist sympathies. Two weeks after doing so, in late October 1998, Kadyrov later narrowly escaped death in a car bomb attack, one of at least four attempts to kill him over the past 2 1/2 years.

In December 1998, Kadyrov again made clear his opposition to demands by Maskhadov's rival field commanders for the imposition in Chechnya of Islamic law. He argued that Chechnya was not yet ready for such a step, which, he said "could backfire." The following month, Kadyrov sided with Maskhadov in the latter's dispute with the Shariah Court, which tried to dissolve the Chechen parliament and replace it with an Islamic Council composed of Maskhadov's rivals.

It was Kadyrov's rejection of radical Islam that precipitated his final split with Maskhadov last October. Maskhadov issued a decree dismissing Kadyrov for the latter's condemnation of the ill-fated Chechen incursions into Daghestan two months earlier led by field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab. Interviewed by an United Arab Emirates newspaper, Kadyrov explained that Basaev and Khattab had committed "dual treason," first in attacking another Muslim people and secondly by provoking a new war with Moscow. He further argued that radical Islam is alien to the mentality of the Chechens, who traditionally espoused sufism.

In November 1999, reportedly at the request of the inhabitants of Gudermes (Chechnya's second largest town and the power base of his close relatives and supporters, the Yamadaev brothers), Kadyrov traveled to Moscow, where he met in mid-November with then Prime Minister Putin to discuss humanitarian relief for Chechen displaced persons. Shortly after that meeting, Maskhadov denounced Kadyrov as an "enemy of the Chechen people," accusing him of having repeatedly attempted to unleash a civil war in Chechnya.

In his subsequent meetings with the Russian leadership, Kadyrov first argued that Moscow should embark on peace talks with Maskhadov, then proposed conducting a referendum on Chechnya's future political status, then in March advocated imposing direct rule from Moscow for a period of up to two years.

Kadyrov's most immediate priority, he told "Vremya novostei" earlier this week, is to end the fighting in Chechnya. To do so, he is prepared to engage in talks with Maskhadov, although he excludes any future political role for the current president. His broader aim is that which, he says, he has been pursuing single- handedly for the past three years, namely to eradicate "pseudo-leaders of Islam who go by the name of wahhabis."

Kadyrov's rejection of radical Islam may very well have been the determining factor in his selection as interim leader: his nomination buttresses President Putin's argument that the war in Chechnya is directed neither against civilians nor against Islam per se, but solely against "fundamentalism" and "terrorism." Viewed from that perspective, Kadyrov's visits earlier this year to Vienna, Geneva and Berlin may have been intended to present him as the moderate face of Chechen Islam or as Chechnya's future political leader, or both. By the same token, as a commentator for "Nezavisimaya gazeta" pointed out last December, Kadyrov as a religious figure stands a better chance of promoting reconciliation in Chechnya than would a secular leader, especially one who had actually participated in hostilities. Such a figure would be more clearly identified with his own taip (which includes the members of several neighboring villages often linked by ties to a particular Sufi order) and would thus be a valid target in a blood feud revenge killing.

Reaction to Kadyrov's nomination from Russian politicians, military representatives, Islamic clergy and from the government of neighboring Daghestan generally has been positive: the only dissenting voices were those of Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev, who continues to call for talks between Moscow and Maskhadov, and of Malik Saidullaev, chairman of the pro- Moscow Chechen State Council, who had made no secret of his aspiration to the post of temporary Chechen leader.

But that position, as Kadyrov himself has acknowledged, may prove to be a poisoned chalice. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted on 14 June that President Putin's draft bill on establishing temporary direct rule in Chechnya leaves the Chechen leader with far narrower powers than those held by the now defunct temporary Russian government representation. Kadyrov, for example, controls only the network of local district administrators, but he has no power over representatives in Chechnya of any of the federal ministries. Moreover, it is not clear how his subordinates will coordinate their activities with the local military commandants.

In what at the time appeared to be a purely hypothetical discussion, Kadyrov told "Vremya novostei" in mid-May that he has enough trusted and reliable supporters to appoint as local administrators throughout Chechnya, and who would not hesitate to take action against the Chechen fighters. And at that time, he accused the administrators appointed by the outgoing temporary Russian government representative in Chechnya, Nikolai Koshman, of being too cowardly to risk such action.

But even assuming that the Chechen mufti is trusted by a local population that blames the radical Islamist field commanders for unleashing a new war with Russia, he remains vulnerable both to attack from the surviving radical field commanders, and sabotage by rival Chechen politicians now in Moscow. There is little love lost, for example, between Kadyrov and Ruslan Khasbulatov, who also aspired to the post of interim Chechen leader (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 21, 26 May 2000). (Liz Fuller)

Former Armenian Presidential Adviser Questions Caucasus Security Plans. Gerard Libaridian, who served for seven years as foreign policy advisor to Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossian, believes that recent initiatives to craft a security system for the South Caucasus have no chance of success before the resolution of regional conflicts.

According to Libaridian, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia should themselves try to sort out their problems instead of relying on neighbors and superpowers that have a longer history of mutual animosity.

"The region must define itself, its interests and only then invite neighbors that accept that reality," Libaridian said at a recent seminar in Yerevan. He argued that "the main concept" of regional security must primarily encompass the three ex-Soviet republics. Only after they manage to work out common approaches will it be "necessary to bring the three neighboring states into play." "But not on the same level as their trilateral relationship," Libaridian stressed.

The idea of a security system that would safeguard the volatile region against future conflicts and help reconcile the often-conflicting interests of the outside powers was floated last year by the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Despite some variations, all blueprints proposed to date entail creating a framework that would give each interested party a stake in regional peace and stability. Turkey's idea of the Caucasus Security Pact essentially goes along the same lines.

The Armenian variant is based on the so-called 3+3+2 formula whereby the countries bordering on the South Caucasus - Russia, Turkey and Iran - would serve as "guarantors" of future security arrangements, and the United States and the European Union as their "sponsors."

The Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) tried to put some flesh on the bone of these initiatives last month, calling for a concerted international effort to assist in regional reconstruction and integration. Confidence-building measures should be taken before solutions are found to the ethnic conflicts, which would then facilitate the search for peace, the CEPS concluded.

But in Libaridian's view, there can be no regional cooperation without the settlement of the Nagorno- Karabakh conflict. Azerbaijan and its ally Turkey, he said, will not agree to normalize relations with Armenia -- a necessary condition for any regional system to work -- without a deal on Karabakh. He went on to question the wisdom of seeking greater outside involvement in the region, arguing that Russia, Turkey, Iran and the West have too many differences amongst themselves that would further complicate matters.

"We are thus creating a forum by letting them bring in their conflicts. Inevitably, that forum would turn into an arena of rivalry. But do we need any more rivalry?" Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia would risk provoking a "mini-Cold War," he warned.

To illustrate his point, Libaridian cited the example of U.S.-Iranian relations. Washington, he said, is staunchly opposed to any Iranian presence in the region, especially if it has to do with security. It is therefore hard to imagine Washington and Tehran cooperating in an area where they have diametrically opposite interests.

Libaridian further made the point that the "duality" of U.S. policy towards the ex-USSR and the Caucasus in particular will prove a serious handicap to the implementation of the security ideas. While seeking to strengthen the newly independent states, the US aims to minimize Russia's influence in what was past of the Soviet Union - a threat Moscow is determined to counter. Washington, Libaridian added, also has been pushing for a Turkish role in the region, something which is unacceptable to Armenia as long as its problems with Ankara remain unresolved.

Responding to Libaridian's arguments in a televised interview a few days later, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said that accommodating the interests of outside powers is vital for making and implementing peace deals in the South Caucasus. Such a harmonization is possible to achieve, he believes. True, the region is the scene of a clash of geopolitical interests, Oskanian said, but it can be transformed into a place where those interests converge.

For Libaridian, however, any "broadening of the security framework" benefits only large states that are in a position to impose their terms. "By broadening it, we (the region) become even smaller. We may end up convinced that we are unable to take care of our security," he said.

"No regional or international organization stands a chance of becoming a real one if its member-states are poor. Poor states can create neither an economic union nor common defense," unless there is a powerful state behind them, according to Libaridian. Armenia and Azerbaijan must make peace with each other to develop economically, or remain tools in the hands of international heavyweights, he concluded. (Emil Danielyan)

Quotation Of The Week. "[Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev] is today one of the few politicians in Azerbaijan who realize the futility of resuming hostilities and at the same time understand that today Karabakh has the strongest and most capable army in the Caucasus, with the exceptions of Russia's." -- Naira Melkumian, Foreign Minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, quoted by "Nezavisimaya gazeta," 14 June 2000.

"Although Georgia cannot be compared with Texas as regards oil reserves, production of oil will make Georgia less dependent on imports." -- European Bank for Reconstruction and Development Regional Director Olivier Ducamp, quoted by Caucasus Press, 15 June 2000.