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Caucasus Report: December 29, 2000

29 December 2000, Volume 3, Number 50

Nemtsov Unveils New Chechen Peace Plan. Speaking at a press conference on 28 December at Interfax's Moscow head office, Duma deputy (Union of Rightist Forces) and former Russian Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov gave details of his five-point proposal for ending the Chechen conflict. It comprises an official rejection by Moscow of the principle of the right of national self-deternmination; the appointment of a governor-general who would be responsible for both civic and economic problems and the military and security sphere in Chechnya; talks with Chechen fighters aimed at ending hostilities; the abolition of the institution of the presidency in Chechnya; and the repatriation of and assistance to internally displaced persons.

Nemtsov said that at their 26 December meeting, Russian President Vladimir Putin had responded "positively, on the whole," to those proposals. (According to Interfax, Nemtsov had outlined them to Putin in early December. Nemtsov told journalists at that time that "the president understands quite well that it is impossible to resolve the situation ... with the aid of weapons alone and that there is a need for a political decision.") Nemtsov added that he estimates it would take no less than three--five years to implement them. If those measures prove ineffective, Nemtsov continued, then Chechnya should be divided into a lowland zone that would be incorporated into Stavropol Krai, and a highland zone that should be cordoned off.

At least two of the Nemtsov's five points may, however, prove problematic. Nemtsov had argued that the appointment of a "governor-general" with responsibility for all spheres of activity in Chechnya is essential because at present "a whole number of people are responsible for Chechnya -- [interim administration head Akhmed-hadji] Kadyrov, [Grozny mayor Beslan] Gantemirov, Russian presidential representative to the South Russia federal district Viktor] Kazantsev, [Minister for Chechen Affairs Vladimir] yelagin, [Russian defense Minister Igor] Sergeev, [Russian Interior Minister Vladimir] Rushailo, and [Russian Army Chief of General Staff Anatolii] Kvashnin -- and as everyone knows, too many cooks spoil the broth."

Moreover, in an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 26 December, Nemtsov made it very clear that he does not consider Kadyrov an appropriate person to head the Chechen administration. Affirming that Kadyrov is viewed as Moscow's henchman, Nemtsov proposed Colonel-General Gennadii Troshev, the commander of the Russian forces in the North Caucasus, for the post of governor-general. Troshev's name had been mentioned as a likely candidate for that post in October, but he disclaimed any interest in it (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 3, No. 41, 20 October 2000). And Minister for Chechen Reconstruction Yelagin pinpointed a major flaw in the governor-general model, namely that "no governor-general would ever be able to control the military," according to "Vremya novostei" on 29 December.

But Putin, commenting on 25 December on Nemtsov's talks two days earlier with deputies to the Chechen parliament elected in 1997, made it clear that he wishes to see Kadyrov remain in his present post until such time as it proves possible to hold new presidential elections in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2000). That statement is an implicit rejection of Nemtsov's argument that the presidential system in Checchnya is incompatible with the peaceful co-existence of the various teyps (clans). (Liz Fuller)

Georgia, Azerbaijan Propose Strategic Quid Pro Quo. Over the past week, senior officials in Georgia and Azerbaijan have reportedly presented visiting senior Russian government officials with compromise proposals aimed at securing a solution on their own terms to unresolved ethno-territorial conflicts in return for concessions to the Russian military. Those proposals, if genuine, present Moscow with a difficult choice, insofar as they would entail giving up leverage over the countries concerned in return for a strategic military and geo-political advantage for a period of 15-20 years. It is, however, possible that in both cases, the proposed compromise was intended not as a bona fide offer but as a signal of frustration with the international community's perceived disinclination to attend to Georgian and Azerbaijani interests.

During the fifth round of Russian-Georgian talks on the closure of Russia's four military bases in Georgia, President Eduard Shevardnadze told Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov that Tbilisi would agree to Moscow keeping its Georgian bases in Akhalkalaki and Batumi for a further 15 years in return for Russian help in resolving the Abkhaz conflict. But if Russia declined that offer, Shevardnadze warned, Tbilisi's position on the closure of the two Russian bases "will become tougher, and we will demand that they are withdrawn immediately," Caucasus Press quoted him as saying. Under the agreement signed between Georgia and Russia on the sidelines of the November 1999 OSCE summit in Istanbul, Tbilisi and Moscow are to negotiate a date for the closure of the Akhalkalaki and Batumi bases after the closure of the Russian bases in Vaziani and Gudauta, which must be completed by 30 June 2001.

Klebanov agreed that it would be "desirable" to extend the Russian military presence in Georgia for a further 15 years, but added that Russia "does not link the problem of the bases with the problem of Abkhazia, as Russia is interested in [restoring] Georgia's territorial integrity."

A Russian Foreign Ministry official, however, categorically rejected as "incorrect" any linkage between the Russian withdrawal and a settlement of the Abkhaz conflict. Aleksandr Yakovenko pointed out that the November 1999 agreement on the closure of Russia's bases in Georgia makes no mention of any linkage with Abkhazia. The sole connection between the two issues, according to Yakovenko, is that the stalemate in Abkhazia constitutes an obstacle to the implementation by both sides of their commitments under the 1999 agreement. Yakovenko added that Moscow has never made any formal commitment to solve the Abkhaz conflict, although it has "expressed readinesss to help the sides to the conflict work out solutions to the problems dividing them within the framework of Georgia's territorial integrity."

No Abkhaz official has yet commented publicly on the implications of Shevardnadze's proposal.

According to a report published in "Zaman" on 26 December, Azerbaijan's Defense Minister Safar Abiev floated a similar suggestion during his talks in Baku on 25 December with his Russian counterpart Igor Sergeev. "Zaman" claimed that Moscow has proposed concluding with Baku an agreement whereby Russia would lease the Gabala radar-station from Azerbaijan on terms similar to its long-term lease of the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Gabala is a key component of the Russian missile defense system, and is capable of detecting launches in the Caucasus, the eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and central Asia. Its future status is to be determined by an agreement to be signed during Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Baku in early January. "Zaman" said Azerbaijan will accept that proposal on condition that Moscow agrees to "assist" in mediating a solution to the Karabakh conflict that will preserve Azerbaijan's territorial integrity.

There has been no comment on the "Zaman" report from the Armenian government. (Liz Fuller)

Some Azerbaijani Opposition Parties To Contest Repeat Elections. In the wake of the 5 November Azerbaijani parliamentary elections, six of the country's leading opposition parties (Musavat, Liberal, Democratic and Azerbaijan National Independence Parties and of both wings of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party) adopted a three-point declaration saying that they did not recognize the validity of the ballot and would not cooperate with the new legislature. The signatories demanded the annulment of the poll results and the holding of new elections.

Ten days later, the leaders of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP), Etibar Mamedov, and the "reformist" wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP), Ali Kerimov, signed a further cooperation agreement reaffirming their determination to work together for the cancellation of the election results and the holding of new elections. They also pledged to seek the consolidation of all democratic opposition forces.

But less than one month later, both Kerimov and Mamedov announced that candidates from their respective parties will contend the repeat elections on 7 January in 11 constituencies where the outcome of the 5 November vote was declared invalid. A total of 89 candidates have registered to contest those mandates: 29 from the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, which already has an overall majority in the new legislature, eight from AMIP, four from the AHCP and one each from the Alliance in the Name of Azerbaijan, the Yurddash, Democratic Prosperity, Social-Democratic and Ana Vatan parties and from the Nationalistic Movement. (The remaining 42 candidates are nominally independent.)

Both Kerimov and Mamedov emphasized that their parties had left it up to individual members to decide whether or not to participate in the repeat vote. And both men sought to deflect criticism that such participation is a violation of the cooperation agreement signed in early November. Kerimov stressed that representatives of the OSCE's office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe were eager that as many parties as possible should field candidates. (Azerbaijan's membership of the Council of Europe is perceived as contingent on the fairness and transparency of the repeat poll.)

But the leaders of several political parties that have decided to abide by their November decision not to recognize or participate in the work of the new parliament have condemned the participation of AMIP and the AHCP in the 7 January ballot as collaboration with the authorities and an "anti-national" move.

In the case of AMIP, which won only one mandate on 5 November, the 7 January repeat elections represent a crucial chance to increase its representation in the new parliament-- at the risk of fuelling the suspicions long held by many Azerbaijani voters and political observers that Mamedov has concluded a secret deal with the ruling authorities.

But whatever the outcome of the repeat ballot, the Azerbaijani opposition now appears irrevocably divided into two main camps, the pragmatists (AMIP and the reformist wing of the AHCP) and the "irreconcilable" opposition comprising the "conservative" wing of the AHCP together with the Musavat, Democratic, Liberal and Civic Solidarity Parties. (Liz Fuller)

Key Armenian Parliamentary Group Splits. Following months of uncertainty about its future, on 25 December nine deputies quit the Kayunutiun (Stability) faction. With 21 deputies, Kayunutiun had hitherto been the second largest parliament faction and was a key ally of the majority Miasnutiun bloc.

In a statement read to their fellow deputies, the nine departees explained that their decision was prompted by dissatisfaction with the performance of the two Kayunutiun ministers in Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's cabinet. (One of those ministers, Transport and Communications Minister Eduard Madatian, has been undergoing medical treatment in Moscow for the past three months and is rumored to risk dismissal and arrest on corruption charges on his return to Yerevan.)

But "Haykakan Zhamanak" suggested that the split was prompted by "personal disagreements" within Kayunutiun. It predicted that those deputies who quit the faction intend to form a new grouping named "Democrats," and that their ultimate objective is to form a new majority faction together with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and Orinats Yerkir parties.

The split leaves Miasnutiun and the "rump" Kayunutiun with a total of 62 deputies in the 131-seat parliament, or less than an absolute majority. (Liz Fuller)

Quotations Of The Week. "We need a political settlement. You must hold talks with those in authority. There is no point having partners who cannot take decisions." -- Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed, arguing in favor of talks with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov (quoted in the "Financial Times" on 20 December).

"President Putin announced at his recent meeting with the Russian top brass that the matter of the status of Chechnya worries him first and foremost from the point of view of preventing Chechnya from becoming a bridgehead for attacks against Russia. I can tell you that the status of Chechnya is not the ultimate goal for us either. For us, it means international guarantees of no more wars or so called counter-terrorist operations... Chechens do not want Chechnya to become a bridgehead for shootouts or bridgeheads for attacks against Russia... Negotiations are needed; this war ought to be stopped. It is at the negotiating table that we will discuss what Russia wants and what Chechnya wants." -- President Maskhadov, quoted in "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 16 December. "There is a politically impotent government and a politically irresponsible parliament, as a result of which we have legal chaos, turmoil, corruption and a total absence of normal, consistent policy." -- Former Armenian Foreign Minister Alexander Arzoumanian, speaking at a congress of the Armenian Pan-National Movement (quoted by RFE/RL's Armenian Service, 22 December).