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Caucasus Report: July 1, 1998

1 July 1998, Volume 1, Number 18

Chechen President Fighting To Survive? On 21 June, Chechen Security Minister Lechi Khultygov was shot dead during a confrontation in central Grozny with supporters of maverick field commander Salman Raduev intent on storming the local television headquarters. Two days later, despite vociferous protests from the Chechen parliament, President Aslan Maskhadov declared a state of emergency and a night time curfew, purportedly with the aim of cracking down on criminal gangs. Russian commentators, however, hypothesize that the emergency measures (increased police and security patrols and restrictions on the use of private transport), which reportedly are only being systematically implemented in Grozny, are aimed at forestalling a possible putsch against Maskhadov. The latter's position is perceived to have weakened to the point that he is little more than a figurehead who controls only Grozny and a handful of villages in Vedeno raion to the southeast.

"Segodnya"'s Yevgenii Krutikov identifies the four main players within the Chechen leadership as Maskhadov, acting Prime Minister Shamil Basaev, Raduev, and Foreign Minister Movladi Udugov. But whereas last year Basaev was perceived as being at odds with Maskhadov, and Raduev was believed to be close to former acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, now the two former rivals are believed to be aligned against Udugov's radical Islamic faction. The avowed aim of Udugov's "Islamic Path" party founded last summer is the creation of an Islamic state in the North Caucasus. Udugov's faction also includes Yandarbiev, Vice President Vakha Arsanov and the Jordanian field commander Khottab, who is said to maintain a string of terrorist training camps financed by Saudi Arabia and whom Russian commentators identify as being instrumental in destabilizing the internal political situation in Dagestan.

Raduev is reputed to resent Khottab, but it is not clear whether Raduev's aversion to Udugov and Khottab is strong enough to impel him to conclude a tactical alliance with Basaev, or whether indeed Basaev would agree to such an alliance, given Raduev's notorious unpredictability. Similarly unclear is whether Basaev could make common cause with Udugov, given Basaev's commitment to creating an independent state in the North Caucasus. For the moment, Basaev is more likely to continue backing Maskhadov, rather than risk abetting the advent to power in Chechnya of more radical forces that could seek to provoke an armed showdown with Moscow.

The Russian leadership, for its part, is falling over backwards to help Maskhadov, demonstratively declining to make an issue of his declaration of a state of emergency. Under the Russian Federation Constitution, such measures are the sole prerogative of the Russian president. (Liz Fuller)

Georgia Ponders Threats To Statehood, Stability. In his closing address to the spring session of the Georgian parliament last week, speaker Zurab Zhvania warned that the country is headed for "catastrophe" in the shape of new ethno-territorial conflicts, RFE/RL's Tbilisi bureau reported. Zhvania, who has consistently been far more outspoken in his condemnation of Russia's "subversive" policy towards Georgia than has President Eduard Shevardnadze, charged that Moscow is actively encouraging separatist tendencies among the ethnic Armenian population of several districts in southern Georgia and in the west Georgian district of Mingrelia.

Other Georgian politicians, however, see a more immediate danger to political stability in the emergence of a coalition of disparate opposition forces headed by Adjar Supreme Council chairman Aslan Abashidze. The Socialist Party headed by former Georgian parliament speaker Vakhtang Rcheulishvili, and Shalva Natelashvili's Labor Party have expressed their support for Abashidze, and the United Communist Party of Georgia may likewise join an Abashidze-led opposition alliance. At a congress last week in Batumi of his "Revival" party, which constitutes the second largest faction within the Georgian parliament, Abashidze slammed the Georgian leadership, and Shevardnadze personally, for their inability to lead the country out of political and economic crisis. He also implicated Zhvania in the failed 9 February attempt to assassinate Shevardnadze. The Revival faction reaffirmed its ongoing boycott of Georgian parliament sessions on the grounds that the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK) faction has no interest in constructive cooperation. SMK faction head Giorgi Baramidze, for his part, rejected Abashidze's criticisms, accusing him of siding with pro-Russian forces opposed to Shevardnadze's pro-western orientation.

As for Shevardnadze, in his traditional weekly radio broadcast on 29 June he identified corruption and the "clan" system as capable of ruining the country and undermining its independence. (It was Shevardnadze's purported success in combatting corruption that secured his election as Georgian Communist Party First Secretary in 1972.) Shevardnadze has already agreed to some of the opposition's demands, including amending the country's constitution to pave the way for substantive changes in the structure and functions of the cabinet of ministers. Parliament may shortly reconvene in a special session to discuss the proposed changes. (Liz Fuller)

The Armenian Left: Parties And Possible Alliances. The Armenian left comprises numerous disparate and sometimes mutually hostile groups, all trying to find their place in the newly forming political order. After several years' virtual exclusion from mainstream politics, the Armenian left is facing new challenges stemming from the radical changes in the domestic political landscape in recent months. With more opportunities in place for power competition, the leftist heavyweights pin their hopes on free and fair parliamentary elections, while the more numerous smaller parties want to increase their clout by forming alliances.

Out of 69 political parties formally registered in Armenia, at least one-third fall into the classical "left-wing" category. But only two of those, the Dashnak party (HHD) and the Communists, are among the country's leading political forces. The Dashnaks are a key ally to President Robert Kocharian and are represented in the executive, while the Communists have secured a stable 10 percent minimum in all elections since 1995. Another potentially powerful group is the People's Party, recently founded by former Armenian Communist Party First Secretary Karen Demirchian, who came in second in last spring's presidential election with 38 percent of the vote. It is too early to say whether Demirchian's new party will have a socialist orientation, although Demirchian's frequent references to "social justice" and state support for industry indicate that it might.

Most of the remaining small parties are grouped around the Union of Socialist Forces, led by Ashot Manucharian, a former member of the Karabakh Committee. A representative of the Progressive United Communist Party, which split from the mainstream Communists late last year, told RFE/RL on 25 June that a new alliance, involving "big" parties, is needed if the left is to make substantive gains in the elections. This statement throws into doubt the future of the Socialist union, paving the way for new groupings.

Whatever the composition of pro-socialist alliances and their goals, they are viewed with hostility by the mainstream Communist Party. Its leader, Sergei Badalian, told RFE/RL that they are directed against his party. Badalian believes that no Socialist alliance can succeed unless it aligns with his party. "There can be no socialism without Communists," he said. Badalian is also convinced that leftist ideas enjoy the support of the overwhelming majority of the population. And were the elections to be truly democratic, the left would grab "80 to 90 percent" of the vote. "Our people have always aspired to social justice," he explained.

The question arises whether Armenians necessarily identify "social justice" with "socialism." The former idea is quite popular these days among Armenia's center-right forces as well. This reflects the fact that in Armenia, the distinction between the political right and left is still blurred, and political alliances have so far tended to cut across ideological lines. (Ruzanna Khachatrian)