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Caucasus Report: August 3, 2000

3 August 2000, Volume 3, Number 31

In Memoriam: Yusup Soslambekov. Of the quantities of journalistic and analytical materials devoted to Russia's 1994-1996 war in Chechnya, one of the most invaluable is Yusup Soslambekov's 100-page compendium "Chechnya -- The View From Inside."

Published in 1995, before the signing by then Russian Security Council secretary Aleksandr Lebed and then Chechen army chief of staff Aslan Maskhadov of the August 1996 ceasefire agreement and the subsequent Khasavyurt accord, Soslambekov's work comprises a chronological series of essays devoted to political developments in Chechnya from 1990-1994, together with a 1993 draft treaty on Chechen-Russian relations, and three successive peace plans drafted in 1995.

Those materials are important and useful for several reasons. Soslambekov was a key political actor in Chechnya in his own right as chairman of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Chechen parliament elected in October 1991. (Soslambekov split with then President Dzhokhar Dudaev in the early summer of 1993 after the latter used force to dissolve the parliament, of which Soslambekov was subsequently elected chairman.) Soslambekov participated in talks with Moscow in 1991-1993 and was acquainted with all the Chechen and Russian political figures who collectively contributed to the escalation in tensions that resulted in the Russian invasion in December 1994.

His insights into the evolving confrontation are fascinating: he reveals, for instance, that in the late summer of 1991 then Russian Supreme Soviet speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov wanted to install his handpicked team of Chechen leaders, but Russian President Boris Yeltsin preferred Dudaev. That choice proved fateful because, as Soslambekov writes "The methods chosen by Dudaev to attain real independence ran counter to common sense. Rather than taking as his guidelines the norms of international law, from day one of his term as president he chose the path of regulating relations with the Russian Federation." He attributes Dudaev's initial popularity among the Chechen people to his honesty and the fact that he was a member neither of the former Communist Party nomenklatura nor the wealthy Chechen business community in Moscow.

Despite his avowed opposition to Dudaev, Soslambekov remained committed to achieving independence for Chechnya, but at the minimum cost in human life and suffering and with the maximum effort to reduce tensions between Chechnya and Moscow and to avoid destabilizing the neighboring North Caucasus republics. To that end, he drafted a treaty "On the basis of relations between the Chechen Republic and the Russian Federation," whereby Moscow recognized Chechnya's independence, but the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation was nonetheless preserved.

Soslambekov argued repeatedly that neither the Russians nor the Chechens could achieve a military victory in Chechnya. His draft proposals for resolving the conflict, based on the phased approach, all envisaged a cessation of hostilities, the creation of a provisional Chechen government, and the conduct of a referendum in which the republic's population would be invited to choose between independence for Chechnya; a confederation with Russia; "associated membership" of the Russian Federation; and the same degree of sovereignty within the Russian Federation as enjoyed by the Republic of Tatarstan.

Soslambekov's proposed model for an independent democratic Chechen state is Switzerland: he pointed to similarities in mentality and traditions between two small and fiercely independent mountain peoples. He offered concise, but valuable comments on the relevance of such factors as Chechnya's teyp (clan) system, Islam in Chechnya, and the illicit export of oil.

However apposite and rational they may have been, Soslambekov's proposals were routinely ignored by a Russian leadership that proceeded to launch a new war last summer. The similarities between the present situation and that in 1995 are depressing: the Chechen president is branded as a criminal and thus not considered a valid partner for negotiations; the military situation is close to a stalemate; and the Chechen administration installed by Moscow has only minimal control over events on the ground.

As Maskhadov's designated envoy for liaison with the Russian leadership, Soslambekov was ideally qualified to craft a new peace settlement had Moscow demonstrated any interest in doing so. But he was gunned down on a Moscow street on 18 July, and died nine days later, without regaining consciousness, at the age of 44. (Liz Fuller)

New Armenian Center-Left Alignment In The Making. The People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) is conducting talks with the opposition Right and Accord bloc over the formation of a center-left alliance that would mark the HZhK's final break with its center-right partner in the current majority Miasnutiun bloc, the Republican People's Party.

"Yes, that process can be considered to be under way," Right and Accord leader Artashes Geghamian told RFE/RL on 1 August, commenting on reports that growing disaffection with government policies is impelling the HZhK to gravitate towards his leftist nationalist bloc. The HZhK was founded by late parliament speaker Karen Demirchian and is currently led by his son, Stepan.

"We periodically meet with Mr. Demirchian and exchange views on major issues," Geghamian told RFE/RL, adding that the positions of the two political organizations coincide on "many issues." Right and Accord, which controls eight seats in the 131-member parliament, has been fiercely opposed to the government's economic policy that is largely in line with the recommendations of Western lending institutions.

Serious differences within Miasnutiun first came to light last May when Demirchian's party objected to the appointment of HHK chairman Andranik Markarian as prime minister. But despite those objections, the HZhK chose to join Markarian's cabinet at the time. However, its opposition to government plans to privatize Armenia's electricity distribution networks appears to have rekindled the discord.

The HZhK's 24 parliament mandates are significant for the government's ability to push its bills through the National Assembly, and a HZhK decision to team up with an opposition party or parties would result in a far-reaching realignment of Armenia's political scene. Some reports have said that other leftist groups have also shown an interest in joining the would-be alliance. A senior source in the Armenian Communist Party, which is also represented in Markarian's cabinet, said the new bloc will be set up "probably in September" and that the Communists, too, may join it.

But "Hayots Ashkhar" on 2 August expresses skepticism that an alignment between the HZhK and "Right and Accord" would survive for long, given the serious differences in their political agendas. The paper suggests that Demirchian and Geghamian are prepared to use each other to attain their respective goals: the speakership of parliament and the premiership. But while Demirchian hopes to see President Kocharian ousted, Geghamian counts on Kocharian backing him as the next prime minister, "Hayots Ashkhar" writes. The paper concludes that Demirchian and Geghamian are unlikely to achieve anything more substantive than "drinking beer together in a cafe." (Ruzanna Khachatrian/Liz Fuller)

Has Russia Coopted Nadareishvili? In late September 1993, after a 13 month war, the Georgian army abandoned the Abkhaz capital, Sukhumi, precipitating the flight of an estimated 280,000 Georgian residents of Abkhazia, including the Georgian members of the republic's government and parliament. Those bodies still exist in Tbilisi: in addition, the 20 or so Georgian deputies to the Abkhaz parliament are ex officio deputies to the Georgian legislature.

The acknowledged leader and spokesman of the Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia is Tamaz Nadareishvili, a former KGB general and chairman of the so-called Abkhaz parliament in exile. Nadareishvili's interpretation of the conflict and his proposals for resolving it have, until very recently, been both radical and crystal clear. He has consistently blamed Russia for inciting the Abkhaz to take up arms and for providing them with the military and logistical help that tipped the balance in their favor in the 1992-1993 war. Moscow's rationale for doing so, Nadareishvili writes in his book "Genocide in Abkhazia" (Tbilisi, 1997), was "to tear Abkhazia away from Georgia" and incorporate it into the "Great Russian state."

As recently as May of this year, Nadareishvili threatened to resign from his post if the Georgian parliament failed to pass a resolution condemning the genocide of Georgians allegedly committed by the Abkhaz authorities and designating Abkhazia as a territory under Russian occupation. The only effective way of restoring Tbilisi's control over the breakaway region, Nadareishvili argues, is force, ideally in the form of a UN "peace enforcement" operation.

For some time, official Tbilisi appeared to consider Nadareishvili a useful component of its campaign to convince world public opinion of the iniquities of the present Abkhaz leadership. In January of last year, Nadareishvili travelled to New York where he pleaded at the UN the case for indicting Abkhaz leaders on charges of genocide and war crimes. In June 1999, he made a similar presentation at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Over the past couple of months, however, Nadareishvili has become increasingly critical of the Georgian leadership's insistence on continuing, with the help of the "Friends of the UN Secretary General for Georgia" states, to seek a peaceful political solution to the Abkhaz conflict. In late May, the entire Abkhazeti faction within the Georgian parliament demonstratively split from the Union of Citizens of Georgia majority faction to register its dissatisfaction with that policy (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," No. 22, 1 June 2000).

At the same time, Nadareishvili has been implicated (by a Union of Citizens of Georgia parliament deputy) in smuggling across the internal Georgian-Abkhaz border by virtue of his putative connections with the Georgian guerrilla bands active in southern Abkhazia. He rejected those accusations as a deliberate attempt to disredit him.

Nadareishvili reacted with predictable indignation to the signing on 11 July in Sukhumi under the UN aegis of a Georgian-Abkhaz joint protocol on stabilization measures. That document contained a specific pledge to abjure the propaganda of violence as a solution to the conflict.

In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 27 July, Nadareishvili makes clear his total disenchantment with the UN mediation effort. He implies that Russia, too, is not prepared to go beyond declarations of good intent. But instead of casting Russia in the role of demon, as he has hitherto done, Nadareishvili argued that Georgia and Russia are in the same predicament, facing the same separatist threat, which, he implies, derives from the "recarving of spheres of influence, the struggle for control of the Caucasus." He went on to suggest that it was Abkhazia that was the catalyst for a deterioration in relations between Russia and Georgia that, he implies, is disadvantageous to both countries. Russia, he continues, as Georgia's closest neighbor, should have a vested interest in Georgia remaining a unitary state that includes Abkhazia. "We are facing the same threat. It's time to stop mutual accusations," he concludes.

The logical corollary to that argument, although Nadaresihvili does not spell this out, is that if Russia can launch a military campaign to try to retain control of Chechnya, Georgia should have the option of doing the same with regard to Abkhazia. He simply affirms that "There should be no double standards in the approach to Chechnya and to Abkhazia."

The marked softening in Nadareishvili's rhetoric with regard to Russia would be of only marginal interest but for three factors. First, he can call on the support of tens of thousands of displaced persons, many of whom would be prepared to take up arms to secure their right to return home. Second, he is known to have political, possibly even presidential ambitions. And third, Russia is apparently again actively thwarting the UN mediation process. On 28 July, the Russian delegation to the UN Security Council refused to endorse a new UN-drafted document defining the division of powers between Tbilisi and the Abkhaz government that was intended to serve as a basis for a new round of talks on resolving the conflict. (Liz Fuller)

Quotation Of The Week. "This was really a choice between Russia and the West. This time it was in the West's favor. This has also been a sort of test, which has demonstrated that Russian influence is not unlimited here." -- Armenian political scientist Aghasi Yenokian, commenting to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 27 July on the previous day's approval by parliament of the privatization of four energy distribution networks.