Who Is Out To Discredit The Chechen Police, And Why?
It is not clear whether subsequent renewed rumors of the imminent dismissal of pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov, a move that would strengthen Kadyrov's position even further, were launched to counter those potentially damaging disclosures.
The influence Kadyrov wields, and the dread he inspires, derives in part from the high regard in which he is seen to be held by Russian President Vladimir Putin. But even more so it comes from the combined strength of the police and security agencies that, even if not formally directly subordinate to him, in effect function as his private army.
Kadyrov's Power Base
Estimates of the strength of those units vary: Kadyrov himself boasted last month that he has 17,000 men under his command. But not only do the Chechen police (nominally subordinate to Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov) and security forces serve as Kadyrov's power base: by virtue of his position and influence they function as a law unto themselves, on occasion committing serious crimes with total contempt for the law and order they should be seeking to enforce.
In extensive and meticulously documented reports, human rights watchdogs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have chronicled numerous cases of the arbitrary arrest and torture, and even the summary execution, by police of civilians suspected of sympathizing with the Chechen resistance.
Indeed, while several years ago most such crimes were perpetrated by the Russian forces deployed in Chechnya, today it is the Chechen police who are primarily responsible. Sporadic attempts over the past two years to curb such abuses by forbidding police to wear masks or drive unmarked vehicles or those with darkened windows have proven largely ineffective.
As a result of the symbiotic relationship between Kadyrov and the police and security forces, those bodies have to all intents and purposes been beyond criticism, at least from within Chechnya. President Putin too has expressed approval of the work of the Chechen Interior Ministry. He told journalists at his annual press conference in January 2006 that "it must be said that Chechnya's law enforcement bodies are taking firm control of the situation and assume more responsibility.... Knowing local customs and local conditions and reacting more subtly to processes in society, Chechnya's law enforcement system is becoming very effective, sometimes more effective than the federal forces.... I believe we can speak of the completion of the counterterrorism operation [in Chechnya] with the understanding that the Chechen law enforcement bodies are practically assuming the bulk of the responsibility for law and order."
Six months later, Putin issued instructions to the federal Interior Ministry to draft a timetable for the withdrawal of its troops from Chechnya over the next two years. Kadyrov perhaps construed that ruling as confirmation that the Chechen Interior Ministry is capable of maintaining order on its own.
True, Kadyrov himself has on occasion noted and condemned minor shortcomings in the work of the Chechen police, but there appears to have been no systematic attempt either to raise professionalism or to stamp out abuses. Over the past month, however, Kadyrov has taken a more critical line. Meeting on January 10 with Interior Ministry officials, he criticized the traffic police for negligence in failing routinely to flag down suspicious vehicles, including those without license plates, according to the government website chechnya.gov.ru on January 10.
Kadyrov repeated his criticisms of the traffic police at a high-level meeting in Grozny on January 19 to evaluate the work of the Chechen Interior Ministry in 2006. The generally upbeat account of the proceedings posted on chechnya.gov.ru included a wealth of statistical data, such as the quantity of weapons and explosives confiscated and the number of criminal investigations -- 497 -- opened in 2006 in connection with suspected participation in or assistance to the Chechen resistance. It also registered a steep decline both in the number of abductions and the percentage of such crimes solved.
But the official Chechen version of the proceedings failed to include trenchant criticism by Major General Mikhail Shepilov, deputy commander of the Joint Group of Forces in the North Caucasus. According to RIA Novosti, Shepilov noted specifically the "unjustifiably low" number of serious crimes solved; the high incidence of illegal possession of weaponry; and failure to crackdown on extortion, bribery, and other economic crimes. "The criminalization of the economy has a negative effect on the government's authority, including the police," he was quoted as saying. Like Kadyrov, Shepilov too noted the "unsatisfactory" performance of the traffic police. He attributed the various shortcomings he enumerated to the low level of professional training.
Fighter To Police Officer
Shepilov singled out for special censure collusion between the police and Chechen resistance fighters, but the published summary of his remarks gave no indication how widespread such collaboration is. The covert assistance provided by some members of the police force to the resistance is the inevitable corollary of the wholesale induction into the police force of resistance fighters who have surrendered their arms, including some beneficiaries of the 2003 amnesty.
The rationale for coopting former resistance fighters into the police is twofold: to provide them with an alternative source of income, and to preclude their recruitment by any potential rival to Kadyrov, such as former Grozny Mayor Bislan Gantamirov, who is believed to be biding his time at the Russian military base in Mozdok, ready to serve as Chechnya's next pro-Moscow strongman in the event that Kadyrov dies an untimely death.
But some former resistance fighters-turned-policemen take advantage of the freedom of maneuver their new employment offers to aid and abet their former comrades in arms. The extent and impact of such connivance is impossible to quantify, but in an interview with Chechenpress in August 2006, London-based Chechen Republic Ichkeria Foreign Minister Akhmed Zakayev said "thousands" of nominally pro-Moscow armed Chechens freely volunteer such help, which is invaluable in enabling the resistance to continue operating.
Within days of Shepilov's negative evaluation of the Chechen police, Joel Simon, who is executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, told a press conference in Moscow on January 23 that he had been informed by an unnamed Russian Foreign Ministry official that the Prosecutor-General's Office was probing the possible participation of police from Chechnya in the October 7 murder in Moscow of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who for years investigated and reported on human rights abuses by federal and local forces in Chechnya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus.
The Russian Foreign Ministry immediately issued a denial; Kadyrov's office similarly released a statement in which he ruled out any Chechen involvement in Politkovskaya's killing. But Kadyrov has nonetheless set in motion a "purge" of the Chechen police, according to the weekly "Kommersant-Vlast" on January 29.
Meanwhile, Russian media embarked upon a new round of speculation that Kadyrov's nominal superior, administration head Alkhanov, is about to be dismissed. Speculation that Alkhanov would be shunted sideways as soon as Kadyrov turned 30 -- the minimum age for the job -- began almost immediately after Alkhanov was elected to succeed the late Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov in August 2004.
But the current rumors identify as Alkhanov's probable successor not Ramzan Kadyrov, but Labor and Social Security Minister Magomed Zakhayev, 57, a trained lawyer who served as deputy prime minister under the elder Kadyrov.
Alkhanov, who celebrated his 50th birthday earlier in January, both fuelled speculation and added to the confusion by informing journalists in Rostov-na-Donu on January 24 that he has no intention of seeking a second term after his current term expires in 2008. Some Russian media inferred from that pronouncement that he would step down earlier, a possibility his press service swiftly denied. Presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak likewise told journalists that Alkhanov's transfer to another post is not currently under discussion, kommersant.ru reported on January 26.
It is of course impossible to determine with any certainty whether or not a direct correlation exists between the federal Interior Ministry's overall negative evaluation of the work of the Chechen police, the allegations of their involvement in Politkovskaya's death, and the renewed speculation about Alkhanov's imminent appointment to a new post.
One alternative explanation for Shepilov's criticism could be that the Interior Ministry is out to delay a withdrawal of its troops from Chechnya because the financial interests of senior personnel engaged in the illicit sale of Chechen oil are at stake. Moreover, observers both in Moscow and abroad have long suspected that a powerful faction or factions within the Russian leadership regard Ramzan Kadyrov as a loose cannon and a potential liability, and therefore seek to delay if not thwart his appointment as Chechen leader.
Are Georgia, Abkhazia Pursuing Diverging Agendas?
But those talks have effectively been deadlocked for the past six months, since the deployment of Georgian Interior Ministry forces in late July to the Kodori Gorge with the stated aim of apprehending Emzar Kvitsiani, a maverick former local official said to have declared his open opposition to the Georgian authorities.
The Abkhaz leadership has pegged its renewed participation in those talks to a Georgian withdrawal from Kodori. For its part, Tbilisi appears more concerned to secure the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers currently deployed in both the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflict zones and their replacement by an international peacekeeping contingent.
The Georgian operation in Kodori in July failed to apprehend Kvitsiani, but Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili nonetheless hailed it as reinforcing Georgia's presence in the gorge, which straddles the territory of Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia. Saakashvili duly ordered the relocation to the village of Adjara in the upper, Georgian-controlled reaches of the gorge of the so-called Abkhaz government-in-exile, which comprises the Georgian members of the Abkhaz government in power on the eve of the 1992-93 civil war that culminated in the Georgian central authorities' loss of control over the region.
Over the past six months, the Georgian government has launched a high-profile program of upgrading roads and infrastructure in Kodori, a program that the Abkhaz leadership suspects is intended to facilitate and to mask a new Georgian military offensive.
The repercussions of the July deployment of Georgian forces to Kodori were analyzed in detail in a Russian-drafted UN Security Council resolution of October 13, 2006, and a January 11 letter to the Security Council from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Ever since the deployment of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) in 1993, the UN secretary-general has reported regularly -- four times a year -- to the Security Council on its activities and requested periodically that its mandate be extended. The Security Council then duly enacts a resolution extending UNOMIG's mandate, generally for a period of six months.
It further urged the Georgian side "to address seriously legitimate Abkhaz security concerns, to avoid steps that could be seen as threatening, and to refrain from militant rhetoric and provocative actions, especially in the Kodori valley."
It likewise urged the Abkhaz side "to address seriously" the need to expedite the dignified return of Georgian displaced persons to their abandoned homes in Abkhazia, particularly in the southernmost Gali district. Abkhaz officials have tentatively agreed to the return of displaced persons to Gali, but are reluctant to consider allowing them to resettle throughout the republic.
The October Security Council resolution did not, however, explicitly designate the Georgian troops currently in Kodori as in violation of the 1994 agreement, which is ambiguous and thus open to varying interpretations. That agreement stipulates that "under the supervision of representatives of the peacekeeping force of the Commonwealth of Independent States and United Nations observers, with the participation of representatives of the parties of the Kodori valley, the troops of the Republic of Georgia shall be withdrawn to their places of deployment beyond the frontiers of Abkhazia."
Whether that ruling applies to both Defense Ministry and Interior Ministry troops is thus open to interpretation. Georgia seemingly interprets it as condoning the presence of Interior Ministry forces in Kodori, while the Abkhaz argue that the agreement precludes the presence of either Defense Ministry or Interior Ministry forces there. The agreement further calls the withdrawal and disbanding of volunteer formations in Kodori consisting of "persons who came there from outside Abkhazia." Nor did the October 2006 resolution include a demand that the Abkhaz government in exile be withdrawn from the gorge, as Saakashvili claimed the Abkhaz authorities in Sukhum(i) had hoped.
The Abkhaz side nonetheless welcomed the October resolution as contributing to "defusing tensions in the region." Abkhaz Vice President Raul Khadjimba said "the UN Security Council has for the first time voiced its firm position regarding the conduct of the Georgian authorities." But Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba, who had hoped to attend the UN Security Council session but was refused a visa by the U.S. authorities, served notice that the Abkhaz authorities would continue to demand the withdrawal of Georgian troops from Kodori. The Abkhaz leadership subsequently made a resumption of talks with Tbilisi -- suspended in the wake of the Georgian incursion into Kodori -- contingent on such a withdrawal.
Ban's January 11 report to the Security Council, which covered the three months since the adoption of the October 13 resolution, touched upon and elucidated both the Abkhaz and the Georgian positions. He noted that "the Abkhaz leadership expects the implementation of the resolution to reverse the situation created in the Georgian-controlled upper Kodori valley as a result of the Georgian special operation in July 2006.... For its part, the Georgian government stresses that the police deployment in the upper Kodori valley and the presence there of the Government of the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia do not contravene the 1994 Moscow Agreement.... Moreover, the Georgian side believes that while this presence within the boundaries of Abkhazia...may be unacceptable to the Abkhaz side, it is necessary in order to forestall any recognition of Abkhazia, particularly in the context of ongoing status talks on Kosovo."
Ban concluded that "some progress has been achieved towards implementation" of the October Security Council resolution. At the same time, he wrote that ongoing efforts to resolve the conflict "are still burdened by the fundamental differences between the two sides." He noted in that context that "the sides' focus seems to have shifted towards enlisting more active external support, rather than addressing each other's concerns and pursuing their political objectives through mutual accommodation," adding that "I continue to believe that there can be no lasting settlement without a determined effort by both sides to seek, through genuine negotiations and in deeds, to establish a different kind of relationship between them."
Official reactions to Ban's letter in both Georgia and Abkhazia tended to substantiate his observation that both sides are currently seeking to mobilize support by playing up the opposing side's apparent obstructionism. The Georgian Foreign Ministry affirmed unequivocally in a January 18 statement that Georgia is complying fully with the October Security Council resolution, and implicitly rejects any insinuations to the contrary. Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Merab Antadze similarly told a government session in Tbilisi on January 24 that "we are strictly implementing all the resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council," Caucasus Press reported, and he dismissed as groundless Russian and Abkhaz allegations that Georgia is not doing so.
The Abkhaz Foreign Ministry for its part released a statement on January 19 affirming that "the actions of the Georgian authorities do not correspond to the spirit or the letter of the Moscow Cease-fire agreement of May 14 1994.... The Georgian side attempts constantly to give its own interpretation of the Moscow agreement." The Abkhaz statement further accused Georgia of seeking to "destabilize the situation" and "fuel tensions," and of ignoring the appeal contained in the October Security Council resolution to desist from "provocative acts."
In short, both sides seek to stake out the moral high ground. But Georgia's efforts to portray the Abkhaz as Moscow's willing instrument, intent on deadlocking the peace process as part of a broader strategy to undercut Georgia's nascent statehood, fail to take into consideration what the October 13 Security Council resolution refers to as Abkhazia's "legitimate security concerns."
And those concerns can only be compounded by Georgia's single-minded and not entirely realistic campaign to expedite the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers. The UN too is reluctant to countenance the Russians' withdrawal from Abkhazia, for several reasons. First, UNOMIG personnel are unarmed and rely on the Russian contingent for protection. Second, the Russians demonstrated in 1998 their ability to thwart a Georgian guerrilla offensive. Third, Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh has warned that in the event of the Russian peacekeepers' withdrawal, he would deploy troops to the internal border with Georgia, a move that could trigger both a new exodus from Abkhazia of those Georgians who have returned there, and a reciprocal troop deployment by Georgia. And fourth, it is by no means clear which international organization might be both able and willing to deploy a replacement peacekeeping force to avert the risk of an Abkhaz-Georgian standoff along the River Inguri that forms the internal border.
A further negative factor is Georgia's predilection for formulating successive peace proposals in terms of "autonomy," a concept whose semantic connotations in the former USSR are overwhelmingly negative.
The so-called autonomous Soviet socialist republics and oblasts of the USSR may have been entitled to their own governments and legislatures, but those bodies were wholly under the control of the union republic of which the ASSR or AO in question was a constituent part.
As for the Abkhaz leadership, its use of harsh rhetoric (whether in deference to Moscow or in a bid to convey its fears and frustration to the international community) could similarly prove counterproductive. It is, moreover, possible that Abkhazia's insistence on a complete Georgian withdrawal from Kodori is a convenient pretext for freezing further negotiations until after UN Envoy Martti Ahtisaari unveils his proposal for Kosovo's final status, and/or until after the local and parliamentary elections in Abkhazia scheduled for February 11 and March 4, respectively.
Azerbaijan Signals New Determination For Defense Reform
Consequently, despite a pronounced and dramatic spike in the defense budget, which is projected to surpass $1 billion this year, the Azerbaijani military remains hostage to earlier sporadic, haphazard, and incomplete efforts at modernization and reform.
Yet there are recent signs that the Azerbaijani government has finally resolved to implement an assertive and ambitious effort aimed at forging a new and robust military.
The first such sign was the decision to create a modern defense industry. Established back in 2005 by presidential decree, the new Defense Industries Ministry, headed by Yavar Jamalov, incorporated the State Departments for Military Industry and for Armaments and the Military Science Center, each of which was formerly a separate agency within the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry. It is endowed with between $60-70 million in state funding, and has emerged as an autonomous entity with a growing defense production capability. The new ministry is cooperating with the defense sectors of Ukraine and Pakistan.
Recent reports in both the Turkish and Azerbaijani press of the imminent appointment of a senior Turkish military officer to a post within the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry constitute further proof that Baku is getting serious about upgrading its armed forces.
According to the Turkish daily zaman.com on January 8, senior Turkish military leaders are said to have selected an unnamed Turkish Army general to assume the position of a deputy minister within the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, reportedly as the first part of a formal program to last through 2011. That Turkish general would reportedly be granted significant and sweeping powers and authority within the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, including direct and sole control over a team of lower-ranking Turkish military officers serving as military instructors and advisers.
The plan constitutes a restoration of a direct Turkish military role in Azerbaijan, marking a reversal of the deterioration in Azerbaijani-Turkish military ties over the past few years and a return of Turkish military advisers following their departure from Baku in 1995. It also serves to reaffirm Baku's strategic orientation towards Western security structures in general, and NATO in particular.
The Azerbaijani move seems patterned on the experience of Lithuania's defense reform, the successful implementation of which paved the way for that country's eventual accession to NATO.
Under the Lithuanian model, a retired U.S. officer, Colonel Ionas Kronkaytis, was appointed as chief of staff in 2002 and granted the authority to oversee and direct military reform through 2003.
The Azerbaijani plan is even more realistic, as it would be both bolstered by the country's earlier military relationship with Turkey and stands a greater chance of success, insofar as the ultimate objective is revamping the armed forces, rather than full NATO membership.
Possible Ministry Changes
But there is also a second significant aspect to such a scenario. The resumption of a Turkish role in reforming, and enhancing the professionalization of, the largely underdeveloped Azerbaijani armed forces could herald the departure of Azerbaijani Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiyev. The longest-serving defense minister in the entire Commonwealth of Independent States, Abiyev has been repeatedly subjected to criticism for his imputed tolerance of endemic corruption within the military.
And he owes his survival more to his personal loyalty to the president than to any credible military competence, given that his tenure as defense chief has been defined by a long period of neglect, underinvestment, and marginalization of the Azerbaijani armed forces. It is thus logical to assume that the onset of a new and sincere effort at defense reform under Turkish patronage will be followed by the dismissal of the current defense minister.
True, rumors of his impending dismissal have surfaced several times in the past, but it now seems inevitable that Abiyev will either soon retire, or possibly be shifted to another post. According to the online daily echo-az.com on December 28, Abiyev's successor will be a civilian, and the respective functions of the Defense Ministry and the General Staff will be clearly delineated.
On one level, Baku's renewed commitment to developing a more formidable military capability seem in accordance with its long record of aggressive and bellicose threats to resort to military action in the event that ongoing efforts to mediate a peaceful political solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict fail.
But that commitment should also be seen in the broader regional context, specifically, of a larger shift in the overall balance of power in the South Caucasus, as Georgia too seeks to raise the effectiveness of its armed forces to comply with NATO standards as part of its bid for NATO membership.
In the short term, however, the key question raised by Baku's new determination to enhance its military potential is the possible political impact of a powerful new military within the national context, as the Azerbaijani political elite has long equated domestic stability with the absence of any perceived threat emanating from its armed forces. In this respect, the Azerbaijani Army was long seen by former Azerbaijani strongman Heidar Aliyev as the sole viable threat to his authority.
It remains to be seen whether his son and successor, President Ilham Aliyev, has miscalculated in possibly giving the military both power and a platform, especially given the Turkish record of repeated military intervention in domestic politics since 1960.
The danger, however remote it may seem at present, of a new powerful politicization of a resurgent Azerbaijani military, has until now not been a factor when assessing the prospects for security and stability in Azerbaijan.