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Caucasus Report: September 28, 2000

28 September 2000, Volume 3, Number 38

One Year After Invading Chechnya, What Has Moscow Achieved? On 1 October 1999, after three and a half weeks of heavy air raids, the Russian army invaded Chechnya for the second time in five years. Moscow's proclaimed intention in doing so was to neutralize the Chechen fighters led by field commander Shamil Basaev who had attacked neighboring Daghestan two months earlier.

Over the following twelve months, Russian forces succeeded in establishing tenuous control over most of Chechen territory during the daylight hours, killing thousands of civilians, and impelling 120,000 more to flee to Ingushetia. From the beginning of last fall's campaign, Russian military commanders offered upbeat predictions, which they repeatedly revised, of how long it would take to wipe out Chechen resistance completely (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 5, 4 February 2000) But they did not target Basaev and his men, although that group was badly weakened and lost numerous fighters when it blundered into a minefield retreating from Grozny in February. Basaev and fellow field commander Khattab remain at liberty, even though foreign experts with first-hand experience of the situation in Chechnya say that the Russians know perfectly well where those field commanders' bases are.

Since the early summer, there have been only a handful of large-scale clashes, which have given way to an uneasy stalemate in which Russian troops are dying only at an average of 7-10 per week, mostly as a result of ambushes and lowscale guerrilla warfare. But the Russian military has failed to achieve its stated objective of breaking the morale of the Chechen fighters. Indeed, in an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" last week, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov said that the Chechens are prepared to continue fighting "for a day, a month, a year, for 10 years if necessary."

Moreover, while refraining from the kind of onslaught that would be needed to wipe out the Chechen resistance, Moscow has also ruled out negotiations with Maskhadov on ending the conflict, claiming that it no longer recognizes him as the legitimate president and that the only subject on which it would hold talks with him is the timeframe for his unconditional surrender.

Nor have Russia's efforts to install a pro-Moscow Chechen leadership that would restore some semblance of order and rally the population proven any more successful. In early June, Russian President Vladimir Putin first imposed direct rule on Chechnya and then appointed as interim Chechen administration head Mufti Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, a former Maskhadov ally who had broken with the Chechen president last year. Kadyrov initially said his first priority was to end the fighting, and that if necessary he was ready to begin negotiations with Maskhadov in order to do so. But within weeks, possibly under pressure from Moscow, he went back on that statement, calling instead for Maskhadov to capitulate, to "apologize" to the Chechen people for precipitating the war, and to go into exile.

Assessing Kadyrov's performance after his first hundred days in office, Russian journalists have noted that he failed to deliver on his promises to induce influential Chechen field commanders to lay down their arms. But in the eyes of the Chechen population, a more grievous failing -- although one which it is not fair to blame entirely on Kadyrov -- is the minimal progress made towards reconstructing the republic's devastated infrastructure. In an interview earlier this week with AFP, Kadyrov blamed that failure on the Russian government's reluctance to release the necessary funds. He also warned that the gratuitous brutality with which Russian troops treat Chechen civilians are counter-productive and could ultimately trigger new fighting.

In that interview, Kadyrov pinpointed a key reason for his own ineffectiveness: the extreme restrictions on his powers. And Kadyrov's authority has been challenged, and undermined, by former Grozny mayor Beslan Gantemirov. Gantemirov was released last November from a Moscow prison and returned to Chechnya to lead a personal militia that fought alongside the Russian troops. He was subsequently tapped as Kadyrov's deputy, but refused to acknowledge Kadyrov's dismissals of several of his own allies from key administrative positions. Gantemirov was formally relieved of his position three weeks ago (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 37, 15 September 2000). But he has since made clear that he will not leave Chechnya for good (as Moscow was clearly hoping he would do) but will continue his efforts "to curb Kadyrov's power and authority." For good measure, he has accused Kadyrov of conniving with the Chechen fighters.

Kadyrov may still have Putin's support: Chechnya's envoy to the Russian presidential administration, Shamil Beno, said recently that "as long as the firm tandem Putin-Kadyrov exists, there is hope for extracting Chechnya from crisis." Kadyrov also appears to have an ally in retired Interior Ministry General Aslanbek Aslakhanov, who was elected last month to represent Chechnya in the Russian State Duma. Viktor Kazantsev, presidential representative to the South Russia federal district, said in mid-August that the system of inter-action between the interim administration and the federal center would be radically revised "in the near future" in order to give the former greater powers. But no such changes have been announced to date. Instead, Kazantsev convened a meeting in Moscow earlier this week at which he tried to persuade Moscow-based Chechen politicians to throw their weight behind Kadyrov and join a new temporary Chechen legislative assembly.

In short, one year after the beginning of the second Chechen war, it is still not clear either what Moscow intended to achieve by starting it or how it envisages ending it. These uncertainties could prompt Gantemirov to try to oust Kadyrov -- possibly with the backing of Russian circles who have a vested interest in the war dragging on indefinitely. (Liz Fuller)

Armenia Seeks New Approaches To Resolving Karabakh Conflict... Addressing the UN General Assembly in New York on 18 September, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian noted that the Declaration adopted at the UN Millennium Summit earlier in September stressed the right to self-determination of peoples who remain under colonial domination and foreign occupation. He said that both those categories applied to the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh following the 1923 decision of the Soviet leadership to transfer the region from Armenian to Azerbaijani jurisdiction.

Oskanian again affirmed Armenia's commitment to trying to find a lasting solution to the conflict that would provide "peace and security" for the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. Acknowledging the ongoing mediation effort by the OSCE Minsk Group, he added that Armenia is ready to maintain direct contacts with Azerbaijan in order to search for a compromise solution. But echoing Armenian President Robert Kocharian's address to the Millennium Summit, Oskanian said the Armenian leadership believes that direct negotiations between the Azerbaijani leadership and that the unrecognized enclave would be "more productive, as it is the people of Karabakh who will ultimately determine their own destiny and future."

Referring to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's observation that today more wars are being fought within states than between states, Oskanian commented that "no attempt is being made to address this new challenge in a more effective, meaningful and realistic way."

He went on to reason that "each conflict must ultimately be addressed on its own terms, and through the actions and the accomodations of its own peoples and its political leaders." "Generic standard-issue formulas," Oskanian said, are not ideally suited to promoting a settlement. The international community, for its part, should provide not only support and incentives, but "intellectutal conceptual models for exploring appropriate and suitable arrangements in the resolution of seemingly intractable conflicts." He argued that in constructing such model frameworks, "we should think along the lines of form follows function. The function of the probable solutions that must emerge and the broad outline of an eventual peace agreement must rely, we believe, on devices or principles that are tailor-made, highly specific and perhaps even unique." (Liz Fuller)

...While Azerbaijan Continues To Play By The Book. In his speech to the UN General Assembly two days later, Azerbaijan's Ambassador to the UN Eldar Kuliev showed little enthusiasm for the innovative approach proposed by Oskanian. Kuliev instead appealed to the UN "to take all necessary measures to implement the resolutions of the UN Security Council on Nagorno-Karabakh." In 1993, the Council had passed four resolutions calling for the immediate withdrawal by Armenian forces of areas of Azerbaijan they had occupied contiguous to Nagorno-Karabakh. The wording of those resolutions does not always differentiate clearly between the Armenian armed forces and the so-called Nagorno-Karabakh Defense Army, thus implicitly holding the Armenian leadership in Yerevan responsible for the actions of the Karabakh armed forces.

Kuliev also again accused Armenia of "aggression" against Azerbaijan, characterizing that aggression as the main destabilizing factor in the South Caucasus.

Kuliev's approach echoed remarks made one week earlier in Washington by Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev. Aliyev repeated earlier claims, which many observers consider exaggerated, that Armenia has occupied 20 percent of Azerbaijan's total territory, compelling one million people to flee their homes. (U.S. diplomats, for example, believe more accurate figures are 15 percent and 800,000 refugees and displaced persons). Aliyev also accused Armenia of aggression against Azerbaijan and argued that a concerted effort by the OSCE Minsk Group could yield a peace settlement not only in Nagorno-Karabakh but also in Chechnya and Abkhazia. He did not, however, explain how one peace settlement could lead to others. And the OSCE Minsk Group has recently indicated that, rather than propose yet another draft peace plan, it considers that Aliyev and Kocharian should reach an agreement between themselves, which the OSCE will then endorse and help to implement. (Liz Fuller)

Normalization Of Armenian-Turkish Relations At Risk. Armenia stands no chance of normalizing its relations with Turkey if it continues to lobby for international recognition that the 1915 deaths of more than million Armenian subjects of the Ottoman Empire constituted genocide, a former Turkish foreign minister said on 27 September.

Ambassador Ilter Turkmen said Yerevan's support for a genocide recognition bill under consideration by a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives will "exacerbate" the already strained rapport with Turkey. "There is a feeling in Turkey that this initiative in the House has gained momentum after some official statements by Armenian leaders, especially by President Kocharian at the United Nations [summit earlier this month]," Turkmen told RFE/RL. He spoke on the sidelines of an international conference on prospects for regional peace cooperation held in Yerevan by the Armenian Center for National and International Studies, a local independent think-tank. A retired career diplomat, Turkmen headed the Turkish foreign ministry between 1982 and 1984 and currently works as adjunct professor at Istanbul's Galatasaray University.

"If Armenia persists with trying to have Turkey condemned by the international public opinion, there will be no way out," he said. The authorities in Ankara warned of a major deterioration in close U.S.-Turkish relationship following last week's approval by a House subcommittee of a draft resolution amounting to an official American recognition of the Armenian Genocide. The full House International Relations Committee is due to discuss the bill on 28 September.

Turkmen stressed that the Turks will never agree to recognizing the mass killings as "genocide" because that would go against their "national consciousness." "You are convinced that this happened, whereas in Turkey people are convinced that something else happened," he went on. "It's very difficult to come to a clear judgement of history. History is written differently in different countries."

"History always has a positive aspect. So why don't we don't work on the positive aspect. We have so many things in common," Turkmen argued, pointing to the fact that "Armenians contributed immensely to the Ottoman Empire." Armenian officials believe that a full reconciliation is impossible without the two peoples addressing their troubled past. Turkmen said joint studies of the bloodiest period of Ottoman history are welcome as long as they "do not come to a verdict." "You can discuss the past but with the aim of achieving a reconciliation."

Armenia's previous leadership preferred not to raise the genocide issue in its dealings with Turkey. Critics say that policy did not pay off, with Ankara continuing to make the normalization of bilateral ties contingent on the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

But Turkmen countered that Turkish-Armenian relations cannot be considered non-existent. "I came here yesterday from Istanbul on board an Armenian Airlines plane. It was full of people, including businessmen, both Turkish and Armenian. There is a considerable amount of trade going on between us," he said.

Asked whether there is any chance of Turkey establishing diplomatic relations with Armenia before a Karabakh settlement, the ex-minister replied: "It depends on what you will do with the Azeris." "I don't know if the [Turkish] government will consider having a more structured relationship with Armenia before a settlement in Karabakh. It also depends on the Azeris. We have taken a [pro-Azerbaijani] position. It is very difficult to change a position." (Emil Danielyan)

Quotations Of The Week. "We want to extract Chechnya from this poker-game. It must cease being a joker and a news-maker." -- Shamil Beno, Kadyrov's representative to the Russian presidential staff, quoted by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 20 September.

"It is time the federal government stopped playing games and made up its mind what we want in Chechnya. If putting an end to terrorism and separatism is what we want, if we want to restore Chechnya and make it a part of Russia again, we should do everything possible to take the anti-terrorist operation through to its logical conclusion. Everyhting here will depend on who is in charge of that operation. We should stop all these games with parliamentary hearings and democratic games with so-called 'human rights.' I know that all this is necessary, but not where there's a war going on. Democracy and human rights are not relevant in a war." -- Beslan Gantemirov, in an interview published in "Vremya novostei" on 26 September.

"I would have been much stronger if the president of the republic had stood by me." -- Armenian parliament speaker Armen Khachatrian, speaking the 26 September parliament vote on his proffered resignation. (Quoted by RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau).