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Caucasus Report: August 31, 2000

31 August 2000, Volume 3, Number 35

ARMENIAN, GREEK ARMY CHIEFS VOW TO BOOST 'STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP.' Armenia and Greece have fleshed out their military cooperation by agreeing to plans for continuing training of Armenian military personnel, implementing joint projects in the defense industry and stepping up participation in the NATO Partnership for Peace program. At the end of four days of talks in Yerevan, the chiefs of staff of the two countries' armed forces said on 31 August that they agreed to boost what Armenian President Robert Kocharian has referred to as a "strategic partnership."

"I am pleased to announce that we achieved complete mutual understanding on all issues discussed and ascertained the areas of military cooperation between Armenia and Greece," General Mikael Harutiunian told a joint news conference." It is no secret for you that Armenia has been pursuing a consistent policy of military cooperation with Greece. Greece is Armenia's second most important military partner," he said. Harutiunian's Greek counterpart, General Manousos Paraioudakis, agreed, telling reporters: "Today I can confirm that our relations are developing in a way that was envisaged by our political leaders. I am confident that they will develop even faster after my visit."

The first-ever official visit by a Greek army chief of staff highlighted the close relationship the two states have maintained since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Bilateral military ties are one of its most important components.

Strained relations with Turkey, their common neighbor, are seen as a major factor making Armenia and Greece gravitate together despite their geographical remoteness. Together with Iran, they also form a loose economic grouping, working on a number of far-reaching projects in the energy, transport and telecommunication sectors.

Dozens of Armenian officers have studied in Greek military academies over the past several years, and the two army chiefs said on 31 August that those training programs will continue. Paraioudakis attended the official opening that day of a center for Greek language studies in Yerevan's biggest military college. Knowledge of the Greek language is intended to facilitate the continued training of Armenian cadets in Greece.

Paraioudakis donated a batch of uniforms, medical equipment and medicines to the Armenian armed forces. Officials would not disclose the total amount of what they describe as "humanitarian aid." The Greek military has also pledged to assist in the formation of a special Armenian army battalion that could take part in international peace-keeping operations in the future. "Greece has a lot of experience with the training of peace-keeping forces and we would be happy to share it with Armenian armed forces," Paraioudakis said.

Official sources claimed that the Greeks have expressed an interest in Armenia's military-industrial complex. Agreement was reached on the setting up of a working group that will look into the possibility of joint projects in the defense industry.

The two chiefs of staff also discussed ways of enhancing Armenia's participation in the NATO Partnership for Peace program. Officials in Yerevan hope that, as a member of the Alliance, Greece may serve as a bridge between Armenia and NATO. Harutiunian insisted that despite its military alliance with Russia, Armenia is interested in closer cooperation with NATO. "That doesn't mean that we will only be cooperating with the armed forces of the Russian Federation and the CIS as a whole. We would at the same time like to have equally close relations with NATO member states and especially Greece," he said.

Neighboring Azerbaijan and Georgia have so far been more active in their contacts with the Alliance, viewing it as a potential counterweight to Russian influence in the region. NATO Secretary-General George Robertson is due in Armenia in September during his tour of the South Caucasian states. (Emil Danielyan)

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT DENIES RIFT IN RULING PARTY. In his traditional Monday radio broadcast on 28 August, President Eduard Shevardnadze sought to quash rumors of infighting within the Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK), the party he created in late 1993 to serve as his personal power base and which has an overall majority in parliament. But Shevardnadze's disclaimer may well fail to allay concerns that a split within that party may be imminent.

From its inception, the SMK has been an alliance of extremely disparate elements -- the Greens, originally headed by now parliamentary speaker Zurab Zhvania, former regional Communist Party functionaries whose links with Shevardnadze date back to the latter's tenure as Georgian CP First Secretary in the 1970s and early 1980s, bureaucrats-turned-businessmen and youthful and ambitious scions of the former Communist intelligentsia -- all of whom chose to hitch their respective wagons to Shevardnadze's political star. Not surprisingly, those disparate elements have not always seen eye-to-eye, particularly with regard to economic policy. And those policy differences were paralleled by personal animosities, for example between Zhvania, who symbolizes the young progressive wing of the SMK, and Niko Lekishvili, who served as Minister of State from 1995-1998, who is identified with the former CP "old guard" (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 1, No. 27, 2 September 1998).

It is those two men who now figure as the protagonists in the anticipated struggle within the SMK. In early July, Lekishvili publicly announced his intention to step down from the post of leader of the majority parliament faction in response to repeated press allegations of corruption over a period of four years (among other epithets, he has been dubbed "an oligarch," and "Georgia's Don Corleone").

At that time, Lekishvili made it clear that he hoped that the SMK would issue a statement of solidarity in his support. But no such backing from within the party materialized. That failure apparently fueled the perception that Lekishvili and Zhvania view each other as rivals for the post of president in 2005, when Shevardnadze's second term expires. Shevardnadze himself said last week that he considered Lekishvili's stated intention to leave the post of faction head ill-advised. The Georgian president described Lekishvili as "an experienced politician," adding that "the parliament and the majority need him very much."

After a meeting with Shevardnadze on 23 August, Lekishvili publicly announced that he had reconsidered and would stay on as parliamentary faction leader. But at the same time, Lekishvili reportedly made certain unspecified demands for increased authority. Those demands, together with "personnel issues and strategy of conduct," were discussed at a closed session of the faction's ruling council on 24 August. Caucasus Press subsequently reported that it was decided to create the new post of faction organizational secretary, to which parliament deputy Giorgi Baramidze, a Zhvania ally, will be appointed. (Liz Fuller)

SOSLAMBEKOV'S BEQUEST: A CHALLENGE AND A LAMENT. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 11 August published an article submitted by Confederation of Peoples of the Caucasus chairman Yusup Soslambekov shortly before he was gunned down in Moscow in July. The article comprises an assessment of the current political situation in Chechnya and a draft plan for ending the conflict. It is, at the same time, a challenge to Vladimir Putin, whose election as Russian president Soslambekov terms a chance to "begin again with a clean sheet" and "to restore by peaceful means a healthy climate and harmony in Russian-Chechen relations."

Soslambekov argued that the Chechens are not by nature "extremists and terrorists" but simply victims of separate struggles for power within their own leadership and that of the Russians -- struggles which precipitated the 1994-1996 war. Over the past few years, he suggested, the Chechens have come to believe that their leader must be "a stern and fearless fighter." That belief, in turn, has given rise to an erroneous understanding of the nature of authority, and facilitated the monopolization of Chechen domestic politics by former field commanders with no previous political or administrative experience. Russia's indifference to that process, and the failure in 1997 to unite behind a presidential candidate who could have extricated Chechnya from crisis, Soslambekov said, excluded from Chechen politics "experienced politicians capable of making full use of the potential of the Chechen people," among which category he clearly included himself.

The dominance of, and ensuing infighting between, the former field commanders had a negative impact on the psychology of the population at large, he continued, in particular on the younger generation, which has developed what Soslambekov termed a false understanding of national and spiritual values. But, as indicated above, Soslambekov saw Putin's advent to power as offering a way out of what for both sides is a no-win situation -- assuming, he added, that Moscow is prepared to abandon its reliance on "puppets whom it passes off as universally accepted leaders" -- a clear allusion to interim administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov.

Soslambekov appealed to both sides in his capacity as chairman of the CPC to cease hostilities and embark on peace negotiations with no preconditions. He stressed that the constitutions of the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic Ichkeria must serve as the legal foundation for the peace process, and proposed the following framework:

-- Moscow must recognize as negotiating partner "the legitimate organs of power headed by the elected president and parliament of the Chechen Republic." (It is not clear whether Soslambekov is referring here to the Chechen parliament elected in 1993, of which he was chairman, or its successor elected in 1997. Thirty-one of the 51 deputies to that legislature convened late last month in southern Chechnya to discuss assisting the Russian leadership in arranging peace talks with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov.)

-- President Putin should impose a moratorium on military activities for the duration of peace talks, while the federal troops should continue to occupy their present positions.

-- The actual peace talks should proceed in two stages. The first stage should address practical issues such as the creation of an efficient police and legal system in Chechnya, drafting measures to prevent crime and terrorism, coordinating the arrest by joint Russian-Chechen special detachments of persons who engaged in murders and abductions, the repatriation and rehabilitation of Chechen displaced persons, and "rebuilding an atmosphere of respect and benevolence towards the Chechens in all parts of the Russian Federation."

-- Also during this first stage, an interim coalition government should be formed comprising influential political figures, and from which no one should be excluded on the grounds of his present position. An interim parliament should similarly be elected on the majoritarian principle, for a period of two years.

-- Only at the second stage of talks should the issue of Chechnya's status vis-a-vis Moscow be addressed. Both the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic should create state commissions comprising representatives of the both legislature and the executive, and which would be tasked with preparing a draft treaty regulating Russian-Chechen relations. That treaty should be based on the "Treaty on Peace and the Principles of Mutual Relations between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic Ichkeria" signed by Maskhadov and then Russian President Boris Yeltsin on 12 May 1997. That latter accord obliges the signatories to abjure the use or threat of force in resolving contentious issues and to structure future relations "in accordance with the universally accepted principles and norms of international law."

The second stage also comprises the disarmament of the Chechen population (whether before or after the signing of the treaty on bilateral relations is not clear), the drafting and implementation of a program of reconstruction in Chechnya and the payment of compensation for losses and damage.

Soslambekov stressed the need for unanimity and cooperation between all ethnic groups and political parties throughout the North Caucasus which he termed a key precondition for establishing a lasting peace in Chechnya.

Soslambekov's proposals tally closely with those made by President Maskhadov four months ago, which Moscow neither accepted not rejected outright (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2000). But they do not provide a guarantee that those Chechen field commanders whom Moscow considers responsible for sparking the conflict by their attack on Daghestan (Shamil Basaev and Khattab) will not elude capture. Russian military commanders have repeatedly vowed not to end the fighting until those two men and their subordinates have been killed or captured. And President Putin's statements following the 8 August Moscow bombing also suggest that it is unlikely that the Russian leadership will agree to peace talks in the near future. (Liz Fuller)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "[The Chechens] are not masters in their own republic because the only thing they have not been prohibited from doing is breathing." -- Duma deputy for Chechnya Aslanbek Aslakhanov, quoted by Interfax on 30 August.

"Today I can't say anything negative [about the government]. I think that our cooperation has been positive, effective, and sincere. I have no reason to be unhappy." -- Armenian President Robert Kocharian (quoted by RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 24 August).

"Life always confronts [President Kocharian] with more and more challenges and he always comes out of hopeless situations well." -- "Hayots ashkhar" on 31 August, in an editorial pegged to Kocharian's 46th birthday.

"In our society there is a small number of people who understand that a nation must have a state, and that there can be no nation without a state. The number of those who support this idea is increasing all the time, which is gratifying." -- Former Armenian Premier (1994-1996) Hrant Bagratian, quoted by Snark on 24 August (courtesy of Groong).