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Caucasus Report: April 13, 1999

13 April 1999, Volume 2, Number 15

New Armenian Government Anticipated After Elections. Political analysts and the media may differ in their predictions of the likely winner of the 30 May parliamentary elections, but one thing they agree on is that Prime Minister Armen Darpinian and his cabinet will resign whatever the outcome of the vote. With less than two months to go before the elections, the Armenian government can therefore be considered to be paralyzed. Each minister is now concerned with his own political future. As for Darpinian, observers say, he is simply waiting for the inevitable.

In these circumstances, one can no longer expect his government to implement any programs or achieve any tangible results. Also paralyzed is the entire government bureaucracy, which anticipates sweeping changes in the highest echelons of the Armenian state. And there is little doubt that this uncertainty can only have negative consequences for the floundering Armenian economy.

The uncertainty is aggravated by the fact that it is now easier to predict the winner of the elections than to name the composition of the next cabinet. Even assuming that the Miasnutyun alliance of Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and former Communist party leader Karen Demirchian wins a majority in the next National Assembly, it is far from clear whom the alliance will nominate as prime minister. Demirchian is unlikely to get the job and is widely believed to be seeking the post of parliament speaker. Sarkisian is even less likely to be prime minister.

The reality is that in Armenia, the defense minister is more influential than the head of the government. The same holds true for the post of interior and national security minister. It is thus logical to suggest that the next premier not be either of those two. More significant than his name will be the composition and nature of the next cabinet.

Most Armenian governments since 1990 have been dominated by "technocrats," as opposed to "pure politicians" representing a particular party. Having no political responsibility and full control over the situation in the country, Armenian technocratic cabinets, including Darpinian's, have proved largely ineffective in the economic sphere.

Those administrations that can boast some achievements were more politically oriented. Hrant Bagratian and Robert Kocharian, for example, enjoyed considerable support from the parliament majority. Darpinian, by contrast, bore no political responsibility and therefore did not receive any meaningful support from the Yerkrapah majority in the National Assembly. Major government initiatives were usually pushed through the legislature after personal interference from President Kocharian. That period is coming to a close.

One thing clear about the next cabinet is that it will be more politicized and more able to get things done. But that increased political responsibility will also mean greater popular expectations, something which no government in Armenia has lived up to since the fall of Communism. (Vahan Hovannisian)

Has Chechnya's President Acquired A New Ally? In early February, under pressure from political rivals, President Aslan Maskhadov suspended the powers of the parliament and announced the introduction of Islamic law in Chechnya. His opponents, in turn, created a state shura (council), headed by former acting Premier Shamil Basaev, whose members made clear their intention of assuming supreme power and reducing the president to a mere figurehead.

Since then, several Russian observers have suggested that Maskhadov has forfeited control over most of his rebellious republic, and that the sole reason that Basaev and his colleagues have not moved decisively to oust Maskhadov is that they see no advantage to be gained from doing so at this juncture. Maskhadov, for his part, has repeatedly criticized Basaev and his associates, specifically former Vice President Vakha Arsanov and former acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, for their imputed alignment with radical Islamist sects in Saudi Arabia.

Despite the antagonism between Maskhadov and the members of the rival shura, however, Maskhadov travelled to Yandarbiev's stronghold, Starie Atagi, on 10 April to address a mass rally and receive oaths of loyalty from local administrators and imams as well as from some 4,000 members of rural self-defense units. In his speech to those assembled, Maskhadov affirmed that "a secular, democratic or any other form of government invented by man does not suit Chechnya," and pledged not to deviate from the objective of transforming Chechnya into an independent Islamic state. Maskhadov also called on his fellow Chechens to opt for unity and national forgiveness, arguing that Chechnya "has too many external enemies to seek enemies within its own people."

Yandarbiev, who was present at the meeting, endorsed Maskhadov's call for unity and publicly embraced him. Whether that gesture signifies that Yandarbiev now sides with the embattled president or whether by contrast Maskhadov had no other option but to venture on to territory controlled by his rivals to perform there the role they had dictated to him in advance, is not clear. (Liz Fuller)

CIS Summit Sets Abkhaz Ultimatum. Among the various documents discussed and endorsed at the CIS summit in Moscow on 2 April, one of the most contentious, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," was the draft ruling on additional measures to resolve the Abkhaz conflict. The text of that draft has not yet been published, but its main points are clear from references by Georgian officials. The draft requires the Georgian and Abkhaz leaderships to agree within one month on the text of two documents that have served as the basis for negotiations over the past several months: an "Agreement on Peace and Guarantees for Preempting Armed Clashes," and a "Protocol on the Return of Refugees [sic] to the Gali Raion and Measures to Restore the Economy."

Agreement on the texts of those two documents is a necessary precondition for the extension--for a further six months--of the mandate of the CIS peacekeeping force that has been deployed along the internal border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia since July 1994. If Abkhazia fails to agree to the two draft documents Tbilisi will raise with the UN the possibility of the latter mounting a "peace enforcement" operation in Abkhazia, Caucasus Press quoted Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze as saying on 5 April.

The draft ruling also contains a proposal for the creation in Gali of an interim Abkhaz-Georgian administration in which Russia, the UN, and the countries that form the "UN Secretary-General's Friends of Georgia" grouping (the U.S., France, Germany, and the UK) would be represented.

Abkhaz Prosecutor-General Anri Djergenia, who is also Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba's envoy to the ongoing negotiations with Georgia, criticized the summit document as failing to take into account the Abkhaz position. He argued specifically that the proposal to create a joint Abkhaz-Georgian administration in Gali constituted interference into Abkhazia's internal affairs.

The Abkhaz parliament similarly adopted a statement on 9 April terming the CIS summit document invalid and condemning what it termed Russia's "one-sided" support of the Georgian position. To date, there has been no public statement from Tbilisi on the possible date of new talks with Abkhaz representatives on the two draft documents. (Liz Fuller)

Georgia, Russia Close To Agreement On Financial Aid For South Ossetia? The sporadic reprisals by Georgian guerrillas against Abkhaz police and civilians, and the high profile of both Moscow and the UN in mediating between Tbilisi and Sukhumi, ensure a steady stream of media reports on the situation in Abkhazia. By contrast, information on efforts to resolve a second deadlocked conflict, between the central Georgian government and the unrecognized self-proclaimed Republic of South Ossetia, is rare and fragmentary.

Since the summer of 1992, a mixed Russian-Georgian-Ossetian peacekeeping force has presided over an uneasy peace in the region, which until now, despite an agreement concluded in 1992 between Moscow and Tbilisi, has been financed exclusively from the Russian federal budget. That may soon change, however: the Georgian daily newspaper "Alia" reported on 13 April that Russia and Georgia will sign an agreement on 1 June on joint measures to rehabilitate the economy of South Ossetia. (Irakli Machavariani, who is President Shevardnadze's advisor on South Ossetia and represents the Georgian government at negotiations with Russia and South Ossetia on the region's future, told Caucasus Press in mid-March that the 1999 Georgian budget allocates 500,000 lari, or approximately $270,000, for South Ossetia.)

Tbilisi's willingness to provide funding for South Ossetia may, however, fall victim to the South Ossetian leadership's determination to conduct elections to a new parliament on 12 May. Four of the total 33 mandates are reserved for ethnic Georgian candidates, and the minority Georgian population is being actively encouraged to vote in that poll, which Machavariani, however, insists is illegal given that South Ossetia's political status vis-a-vis the central Georgian government has still not been determined. Georgia, South Ossetia, and Russia have each drafted their own proposals on the future relations between Tbilisi and South Ossetia. As in the case of Abkhazia, Tbilisi is prepared to offer only broad autonomy within a federal Georgian state, while South Ossetia is holding out for recognition as an independent state. (Liz Fuller)

Quotation Of The Week. "Soon we'll create a new UN, where Russia and America will both take a back seat. We'll give Siberia to the Chinese, the Far East to the Japanese, Karelia to Finland, and then we'll create a confederation with the Cossacks." -- Former Chechen acting Premier Shamil Basaev, interviewed by "Moskovskie novosti," 7 April 1999.