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Caucasus Report: July 20, 2000

20 July 2000, Volume 3, Number 29

Muscle-Flexing Or Attempted Coup? On 18 July, Chechen deputy interim administration head Beslan Gantemirov dispatched some 200 militiamen to Gudermes, where the administration of interim Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov is located, with orders to comb the town to identify Chechen fighters loyal to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Gantemirov cited two motives for that action: first was the need to cleanse the town in general, and Kadyrov's entourage in particular, of "terrorists, separatists and nationalists," and second, his personal objection to the decision taken by Kadyrov on 17 July to fire six local administration heads and police department officials in Grozny and other towns.

Reports differ as to whether or not Gantemirov actually confronted his superior, but Chechen military commandant Lieutetnant General Ivan Babichev and deputy presidential representative to South Russia Lieutenant General Vladimir Bokovikov reportedly persuaded Gantemirov to back down, and the unruly commander eventually withdrew his men the same day to his Grozny headquarters. A meeting between Kadyrov and Gantemirov on 19 July in Gudermes failed, however, to paper over the animosity between the two men.

Kadyrov has offered varying explanations for the deterioration in his relations with his deputy. In an interview with Interfax on 18 July, Kadyrov termed Gantemirov's behaviour "puzzling and illogical," because, he said, Gantemirov had approved the dismissals of the six officials at a meeting the previous day. On 19 July, Kadyrov described Gantemirov as "unpredictable" suggesting that he could even be plotting a coup. He also told Interfax that the reasons for Gantemirov's objection to the firing of the six officials was that "without these people who had connived at thievery Gantemirov's influence has been sharply declining." In the same conversation with ITAR-TASS, Kadyrov said "the real reason for the conflict betwen Gantemirov and myself is a feud between clans."

All of those statements may contain elements of truth, except perhaps Kadyrov's hypothesis that Gantemirov was planning to overthrow him, which was more probably intended as an appeal by Kadyrov to Moscow to take resolute action to rein Gantemirov in. (Even if Gantemirov himself failed to realize that trying to remove Moscow's chosen marionette at this juncture would achieve little, his backers must have been aware of that fact.)

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the entire episode is the light it has shed on the varying degrees of support for Gantemirov among Russian military and civilian leaders. Presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii and Chechen military commandant Babichev both unequivocally characterized Gantemirov's action as impermissible and illegal. Yastrzhembskii stressed that it is imperative that "decisions by the head of the Chechen administration, who was appointed to that post by the Russian President, should be fulfilled without fail. Otherwise the new Chechen administration will follow the pattern of the Maskhadov administration, when several centers of power existed simultaneously, bringing about the paralysis of local authority and anarchy" in Chechnya.

But at the same time. Yastrzhemsbkii said that Gantemirov "still has a chance" to remain in his post. And despite the perception that Gantemirov had acted unlawfully, it appears that no legal action has been taken against him. Interfax on 19 July quoted Bokovikov as saying that criminal proceedings had been opened against Gantemirov, but later the same day Chechnya's newly appointed prosecutor, Nikolai Shepel, said that his office is still considering whether there are legal grounds for doing so.

Meanwhile Lieutenant General Vladimir Shamanov, commander of the western group of forces in Chechnya, blamed Kadyrov for the confrontation. In an interview published in "Trud" on 20 July. Shamanov accused Kadyrov on initiating a "counter-productive" attack on Gantemirov. He went on to argue that "objectively, Kadyrov cannot control the situation in all of Chechnya's districts, and life is promoting to him a coalition method of government." Shamanov also advocated that "at the current stage, a representative of the federal authorities must run the republic, a person who is above clashes between the local clan leaders."

The clear reluctance on the part of both the Russian military anv civilian leadership to take action against Gantemirov is understandable. First, it could turn the current conflict in Chechnya into a three-sided one, with the Russian forces facing attack both from Maskhadov's men and Gantemirov's loyalists. Second, it would be a clear admission that Gantemirov's appointment constituted an error of judgment in the first place. And third, allowing Gantemirov's Chechen militia to take over from the Russian Interior Ministry part of the responsibility for identifying and neutralizing those apparently numerous Chechens who spend part of their time fighting with Maskhadov's men and the rest loafing around their native villages in civilian clothes would reduce Russian casualties. If his track record in "neutralizing bandits" proves mediocre, that of itself would provide a convenient reason from dismissing him if his behaviour appears to constitute a threat at some future stage.

Whether Kadyrov will agree to continue to work in tandem with Gantemirov is, however, unclear. Kadyrov told ITAR-TASS on 19 July that Gantemirov is not de jure his deputy, as he has not yet signed any official resolution to that effect. (Liz Fuller)

Can Georgia Achieve National Reconciliation? Three months ago, on 20 April, the Georgian parliament adopted a resolution with the seemingly anodyne name "On the Liquidation of the Consequences of the Events of 1991-1992." The "events" referred to were the overthrow in early January 1992 by warlords Tengiz Kitovani and Djaba Ioseliani of President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who had won 86.5 percent of the vote in a presidential poll seven months earlier whose fairness and legality was unambiguously endorsed by the CSCE. In order to give some semblance of legality to the Military Council they created following Gamsakhurdia's ouster, Kitovani and Ioseliani invited Eduard Shevardnadze to return to his native Georgia to head an interim administration.

The April 2000 resolution unequivocally condemned Gamsakhurdia's ouster as "the illegal overthrow of the legitimately elected authorities." After supporters of Gamsakhurdia had embarked on a hungerstrike in the early spring of 1999 to press for such an evaluation, the parliament had established a presidential commission to prepare such a legal evaluation. The draft resolution which the parliament adopted on 20 April was, however, tabled not by that commission but by the 21st Century Party, which is part of the opposition Revival Union parliament faction.

The 20 April resolution further called on Georgia's Prosecutor-General to review the cases of Gamsakhurdia supporters convicted for their role in the fighting that culminated in his overthrow or who are currently in detention awaiting trial on such charges. Addressing parliament the same day, Shevardnadze announced an amnesty for 279 people, including 68 supporters of Gamsakhurdia serving prison terms for offences ranging from banditry to treason.

Following the passage of the April resolution, the Georgian parliament created a Temporary Commission for National Reconciliation charged with outlining a further program of actions intended to overcome the rift within Georgian society between those who support the present leadership, and those who consider it unlawful. Specifically, the commission prepared a further list, which it unveiled in June, of 236 Gamsakhurdia supporters currently in prison or under investigation, whom it proposed should either be amnestied or released.

But the 9 July killing in Zestafoni by Georgian security officials of Gamsakhurdia supporter Akaki Eliava (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10, 17 and 18 July 2000) has led some in Georgie to question the present leadership's commitment to the process of national reconciliation. Nationalist politicians such as Zurab Gagnidze have said that Eliava's death has demolished any hopes that such reconciliation could be achieved. In a round table discussion moderated by RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau on 12 July, the chairman of the Temporary Parliament Commission on National Reconciliation, Vasili Maghlaperidze, and a member of the Round Table/Free Georgia coalition that won the majority of seats in Georgia's October 1990 parliamentary election, Vakhtang Tsagareishvili, discussed what they perceived as the primary obstacles to that goal.

That discussion identified three areas in which the perceptions and expectations of the two camps diverge.

The first of those is the identity of the factions involved. Maghlaperidze described the opposing sides as supporters of the deceased president on the one hand, and the rest of Georgian society on the other -- a formulation that fails to differentiate between the present Georgian leadership and members of the population whose attitude towards both those groups is ambivalent. Tsagareishvili, for his part, takes issue with the blanket term "Zviadists," widely used by the Georgian media and the present regime to describe Gamsakhurdia's supporters. He points out that the Round Table/Free Georgia coalition comprised several political parties and movements whose attitude towards the late president was not homogenous.

Second, the two discussion participants differedover the limits to reconciliation: Tsagareishvili argued that since the standoff between the Gamsakhurdia camp and the present Georgian authorities derived from what he termed a fundamental clash of values, to expect a consensus , or even a convergence of views, is utopian. Instead, he continued, the best that can be hoped for is agreement on living together in one country and observing the laws of that country.

The third difference in approach was over the requisite preconditions for reconciliation. Maghlaperidze argued that all that is required is the requisite political will on both sides, while Tsagareishvili repeatedly insisted that no progress is possible until the Georgian parliament delivers a formal ruling on whether the decision by Kitovani and Ioseliani on 2 January 1992 to suspend the Georgian constitution was legal. (Liz Fuller)

Dispute Over Azerbaijan's Central Electoral Commission Intensifies. On 20 July for the third consecutive day a planned session of the Azerbaijani Central Electoral Commission failed to take place because of the refusal to participate of six opposition representatives from the Azerbaijan national Independence Party and the Azerbaijan Popular Front. Those opposition representatives are demanding that the Law on the Elections passed last month be amended in line with opposition and OSCE recommendations. One of those amendments remove the ban on participation of parties which were not formally registered with the Ministry of Justice six months prior to the announcement of the date of the elections.

Also on 20 July, the 11 members of the Central Electoral Commission representing the majority Yeni Azerbaycan party and independent parliament deputies issued an appeal to President Heidar Aliyev and to Gerard Stoudman, Director of the OSCE's Office for Demcratic Institutions and Human Rights, condemning the opposition boycott of the commision's work as an attempt to sabotage preparations for the November parliamentary poll. The previous day, parliamentary speaker Murtuz Alesqerov had branded the opposition's refusal to participate in the work of the CEC "irresponsible and incompetent" and threatened that the parliament would amend the Law on the Central Electoral Commission to empower it to adopt decisions by a simple majority, rather than a two-thirds majority as at present.

But the opposition remains adamant. On 20 July 12 political parties (the Azerbaijan Popular Front, the Azerbaijan National Independence Party, the Musavat Party, the Democratic Party, the Civil Solidarity Party, Vahdat (Unity), the Social-Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, the Namus (Honor) Party, Ahrar, the Popular Party, the Progress Party and the Freedom Party) adopted a joint statement condemning Alesqerov's stated intention to amend the Law on the Central Electoral Commission. The statement affirmed that if the parliament does amend that law, and if it refuses to amend the law on the elections, they will boycott the November ballot. (Liz Fuller)

Quotations Of The Week. "Solving such problems, as those we face in the North Caucasus, we have to be patient and act very cautiously. Each mistake costs too much. One thing is clear for me and for the people I met in Chechnya: if Russia granted Chechnya sovereignty, the republic would not be independent. Chechnya would be the target of the expansion of extremist forces. Russia must take efforts to prevent such a situation, because if that happens, Chechnya will serve as the base for attacks to be launched on Russia. If we abandon the Chechen campaign, we will confront this problem.

That is why we have to solve the Chechen problem no matter how difficult it is. It will take time. We have to admit that during the last ten years, people in Chechnya lived under conditions of violence. The settlement of this problem requires not only combat operations, but also a full-fledged social rehabilitation, the establishment of efficient political processes and the distribution of resources." -- Russian President Vladimir Putin, interviewed in "Izvestiya," 14 July.

"The Chechen war campaign consists of officers who appropriate cash belonging to privates killed in action, sergeants who shoot their comrades in arms in the back in order to sell their rifles, and staff officers who sit in the trenches and then receive battle decorations by virtue of good connections." -- "Delovoi Ural" (Chelyabinsk), 20 June.

"Things are quiet now, but wait a month or two. You'll see what we can do." -- A young Chechen radical Islamist commander, quoted by "Time," 24-30 July edition.