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Caucasus Report: October 22, 1999

22 October 1999, Volume 2, Number 42

Will Moscow's Representative In Chechnya Condone A Russian Attack On Grozny? Speaking on Russian Television on 17 October, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin outlined the duties of Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Koshman, who two days earlier was identified as Russia's representative in the three districts of northern Chechnya under control of the Russian federal forces.

With Russian military commandants (all with the rank of major-general) already appointed in those districts to maintain public order, Koshman's responsibilites appear to be primarily organizational and economic. He is to provide for the functioning of schools and hospitals, and the payment of pensions, salaries and other social allowances. He will also be responsible for monitoring the use of all federal funds transferred to Chechnya. And, Putin added, Koshman is responsible for economic and social issues not only in the three "liberated" districts but throughout Chechnya.

Koshman had been responsible for social and economic issues in his previous Chechen tour of duty as a member of the puppet administration established in Grozny after the town fell to Russian troops in 1995. From April to November1996 he served as Chechen premier under Doku Zavgaev. During that time, however, by his own admission, Koshman had problems regulating the economic situation in Chechnya. In a lengthy interview with "Moskovskii komsomolets" in August 1996, Koshman complained that none of the 750 billion (undenominated) rubles earmarked for Chechnya in 1995-1996 had actually been sent to Grozny. That money, he explained, had simply been transferred from one Moscow ministry to another.

In that interview, Koshman disclosed that he had adopted in 1996 the approach that Moscow is now again using in Chechnya, namely, he had provided funding only for villages that supported the Moscow-backed Zavgaev leadership. "If a village stands for independence from Russia, why should Russia feed it?" he asked rhetorically. Asked by the interviewer whether such an approach did not risk splitting Chechnya into two factions, "us" and "them," Koshman replied that "'they' have virtually no followers."

But Koshman's most emotional statement in that 1996 interview concerned the second battle for Grozny, in which the Chechen forces succeded in regaining control of the capital a few weeks earlier. "The city has been destroyed yet again," he said, "a second Carthage. Why did they [i.e. the Chechen forces] have to enter Grozny? You want to fight the federal troops - here is an empty field, go and fight there. No, they went to the city again. How will people live there in winter, how will children go to school there? Funds are urgently needed in order to restore anything at all."

This time around, it is Russian aircraft, not the Chechens under Aslan Maskhadov, that have systematically targeted Grozny's infrastructure. That damage will be compounded if Russian forces launch a full-scale assault on the city. Whether Koshman will again argue that fighting should be confined to "an empty field," and if not, whether he will express similar indignation at the extent of the damage ("a third Carthage," perhaps?) remains to be seen. (Liz Fuller)

Azerbaijani Politicians Discuss Expediency Of Partisan War. The groundswell of popular resistance in Azerbaijan to the prospect of a negotiated solution to the Karabakh conflict that would entail significant concessions from Azerbaijan shows no signs of abating.

On 9 October, some 5,000 people congregated at a motor-racing track on the outskirts of Baku to condemn the Azerbaijani leadership's apparent willingness to make such concessions. Rally participants adopted a 16 point resolution calling inter alia for Armenia's immediate compliance with four UN Security Council resolutions of 1993 requiring the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territory; an undertaking by the OSCE Minsk Group to postpone the discussion of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic's future political status within Azerbaijan until after that withdrawal from the occupied territories; the repatriation of Azerbaijani refugees to Armenia, where a territorial autonomous formation should be created for them; stripping Russia, which is viewed as biassed towards Armenia, from its co-chairmanship of the OSCE Minsk group; debarring the Karabakh Armenians from participating in the peace talks; and formal international condemnation of Armenia as the "aggressor" in the conflict.

Three days later, the umbrella Movement for Democratic Elections and Electoral Reform decided to make plans for protest actions against a possible compromise settlement to the conflict in the runup to the November OSCE summit in Istanbul.

In addition, on 20 October the Democratic Congress that unites a dozen opposition parties agreed to create a working group to revive the National Resistance Movement created in May 1994 to protest the signing earlier that month of the so-called Bishkek Protocol. That document, which called for a ceasefire in Karabakh and the subsequent deployment of CIS observers, was mediated by the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly and signed by then Armenian parliament chairman Babken Ararktsian, Azerbaijan's first deputy parliament chairman Afiyaddin Djalilov, the chairman of the parliament of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Karen Baburian, and Russia's representative to the (then) CSCE Minsk Group, Vladimir Kazimirov.

The revived National Resistance Movement is intended to unite disparate political forces in a peaceful protest against the leadership's conciliatory Karabakh policy. But some Azerbaijani political figures are advocating the use of force instead to resolve the conflict. In mid-September, People's Party of Azerbaijan leader Panakh Guseinov advocated the creation of partisan forces, composed primarily of displaced persons from Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding occupied districts, under the command of professional military officers. Those units, Guseinov argued, should be given "complete freedom of action" by the Azerbaijani leadership to "liberate Karabakh," but in such a way that no direct chain of command, or indeed any connection at all, could be formally proven between the country's leaders and the partisan groups. (Many observers believe that the White Legion guerrillas in Abkhazia operate under precisely this model.) Guseinov predicted that no progress towards a mediated settlement of the Karabakh conflict is likely unless both Armenia and the international mediators are convinced of Azerbaijan's determination "to fight to the end."

But none of the Azerbaijani party leaders invited by the newspaper "Zerkalo" to comment on Guseinov's proposal endorsed it unconditionally. Geyrat Party secretary-general Ashraft Mehtiev said he approves the idea of a partisan war in principle, but fears that a guerrilla force operating in the occupied territories could end up trapped between Azerbaijani government troops and the enemy.

Social-Democratic Party of Azerbaijan co-chairman Zardusht Alizade similarly said that he approves the concept of waging a partisan war in principle. But he pointed out that it is difficult to do so in a region where there is no local population to provide support for the partisans, as is the case with the occupied districts adjacent to Karabakh. Moreover, many of the able-bodied displaced persons from those districts have already left Azerbaijan in search of employment in Russia. Finally, Alizade added that he doubts whether President Aliyev would condone the creation of a partisan force for fear that it might turn against him and help bring to power the "Yeraz" faction comprising those Azerbaijanis who fled Armenia between the late 1940s and 1988. One of the informal leaders of that faction, some of whose representatives occupy key positions in Aliev's administration, is Azerbaijan National Independence Party chairman Etibar Mamedov, Aliev's closest challenger in the 1998 presidential poll.

Musavat Party Secretary Arif Gadjiev, while agreeing that partisan warfare is "one of the most effective forms of engaging the enemy," implied that it should be resorted to only in the event of the resumption of full-fledged hostilities.

Fazail Agamaly, chairman of the pro-government Ana Vatan party, said he considers embarking on a partisan war inappropriate at a time when the direct talks between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents on a settlement of the conflict are continuing, but added that if those talks yield no results then such military action could prove expedient.

Alimamed Nuriev, secretary of the Supreme Council of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, argued that the key to liberating Karabakh is to create a competent national army, an undertaking which, he added, would entail cracking down on corruption and bribery within the military. Peace talks and partisan warfare, Nuriev reasoned, are "essential" to resolving the conflict, but can be effective only in conjunction with the formation of effective armed forces.

Taken en masse, the reactions cited above suggest that most Azerbaijani politicians have strong doubts whether the country could muster an effective partisan force to deploy against Armenian troops. None of them, however, mentioned the existence of a potential surrogate partisan force in the form of the Chechen militants. Prior to Moscow's most recent incursion into Chechnya, former Chechen Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov suggested that Chechen forces subordinate to field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab might embark on the "liberation" of occupied Muslim territories in the Caucasus, including Nagorno-Karabakh, as early as next year.

Granted, under pressure from the international community, and first and foremost the U.S., Heidar Aliyev and Robert Kocharian may sign a political solution to the Karabakh conflict while the Chechens are still fully engaged in repulsing a Russian advance south to Grozny. But on the other hand, the Chechens claim to be in a position to field up to 30,000 fighters, which should prove adequate to send a number of small and highly mobile detachments into Azerbaijan to operate within the occupied territories, and possibly even within Karabakh itself. Alternatively, if Basaev's men are forced to retreat to the south of Chechnya, it might prove expedient for some of them to retreat via Georgia to Azerbaijan and begin fighting on a second front there.

But pursuing a two-track approach -- by continuing peace talks but at the same time soliciting Chechen help to regain control of Karabakh by force -- could still prove risky for Aliev. If at some point he did agree to concessions on Karabakh which some or all opposition factions in Azerbaijan considered unacceptable, especially if, as seems increasingly likely, Aliyev simultaneously embarked on a course of rapprochement with Moscow, then one of those rival Azerbaijani factions might seek to enlist Chechen military help to overthrow him and launch a new "war of liberation." (Liz Fuller)

Baku Poll Suggests Opposition Widely Considered Ineffective. The most recent poll conducted in Baku last week by the staff of RFE/RL's bureau there indicated an increase (from 9.4 percent to approximately 16 percent) in the number of respondents who said that they support the Azerbaijani leadership's efforts to reach a Karabakh peace settlement with Armenia on the basis of concessions. The number of those who oppose any concessions fell from 48.8 percent to about 41.6 percent.

In the popularity stakes, President Heidar Aliyev continues to occupy first place, but with marginally less support (40 percent, down from 42.3 percent in September). Exiled former President Ayaz Mutalibov and Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar similarly continue to occupy the second and third places, both with less support than one month earlier (down from 17.5 percent to 13.9 percent and 16.9 percent to 10.6 percent respectively). Azerbaijan National Independence Party Etibar Mamedov moved up from fifth to fourth place, and from 8.7 percent to 9.4 percent, while exiled former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev fell from fourth place with 13.1 percent to sixth place with 7.8 percent. And former President and Azerbaijan Popular Front Party chairman Abulfaz Elchibey moved up from eighth place (5.6 percent) to fifth place (8.2 percent).

Asked to estimate the strength and influence of the opposition, 41.8 percent said they consider the opposition is weak and not in a position to exert a significant influence on political developments. A further 32.2 percent said that the opposition "exits only on the pages of the press," and is "almost invisible." Only 18.4 percent believed that the opposition is a serious political force capable of influencing political developments.

The October poll sample was larger than the previous months (250 respondents, compared with 160). (Liz Fuller)

Correction. In "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 2, No.41, 14 October 1999, Aleksandr Zdanovich was incorrectly identified as Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) director. He is a spokesman for that agency.

Quotations Of The Week. "We are against a big war in Chechnya. We don't want it, because it will harm the peaceful population and there will be casualties among the federal troops." -- Former Russian Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov, quoted by ITAR-TASS, 14 October.

"If there will not be a Chechen state, there will be no Russian state either." -- Chechen field commander Salman Raduev, quoted by Reuters, 14 October 1999.