Chechen Premier In Exile Denies Imputed Overtures To Pro-Moscow Leadership
By RFE/RL analyst Liz FullerRecent favorable comments by Chechen Republic-Ichkeria Prime Minister Akhmed Zakayev have been interpreted by the Chechen community in exile as unwarranted praise of pro-Moscow Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov and even as reflecting Zakayev's desire to reach some kind of accommodation with him. But in a May 20 interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, Zakayev denied any such intent and explained in detail his perception of the current situation in Chechnya.
As in an earlier interview with RFE/RL in November 2007, Zakayev defined the present situation as one of successful "decolonization," meaning that it is now Chechens, not Russians, who head the Chechen government. At the same time, Chechnya remains under military occupation. For that reason, Zakayev said, "our primary task is not a war with the [pro-Moscow Chechen] police or with local Chechen bureaucrats. Our primary task, and that of our military forces, is resistance to the Russian state and its ongoing policy of occupation. Besides that, we must preserve the legal foundation of our state in order to hand it on to the next generation of the Chechen people. It is these that are our immediate tasks, and not coming to power, being in power, or using that power to gain any particular advantages."
Zakayev made the same point at a conference in London on May 14 organized by the Royal United Services Institute. On that occasion, he explained that he and his comrades in arms "are not fighting against Ramzan Kadyrov, but against the occupying forces," according to the transcript of his presentation posted on May 19 on chechenews.com.
At the same time, in his May 20 interview with RFE/RL, Zakayev implicitly branded Kadyrov "a criminal" in light of his repeated calls to wipe out the remaining resistance forces and to punish those members of the civilian population who provide them with food and shelter. He also suggested that despite Kadyrov's efforts to ingratiate himself with the Russian leadership by calling for the annihilation of his fellow Chechens, "to the Russians he is first and foremost a man who fought against them," during the 1994-96 war. Zakayev predicted that for that reason, "they will kill him treacherously at the first opportunity."
At the May 14 conference in London, Zakayev similarly said he is convinced that "a magnificent funeral" is being prepared for Kadyrov. Curiously, he went on to predict that former Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Beslan Gantamirov is slated to succeed Kadyrov. Gantamirov left Chechnya in 2003 after a series of highly publicized altercations with Kadyrov's father, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov.
Zakayev further categorically rejected as untrue speculation that some kind of draft written agreement exists between himself and the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership, or that the recent visit to Grozny by renowned surgeon Khassan Baiev, who operated on resistance fighters, including field commander Shamil Basayev in the early days of the second war before fleeing Chechnya in 2000 and being granted political asylum in the United States, was undertaken at Zakayev's behest. Zakayev said he suspects those rumors originate with former Chechen Republic-Ichkeria (ChRI) Information Minister Movladi Udugov, who last fall persuaded then-ChRI President and resistance commander Doku Umarov to declare himself head of a virtual North Caucasus emirate that would subsume the ChRI.
Asked whether the resistance fighters still loyal to the government in exile, rather than to Umarov, might misinterpret his comments about Kadyrov, Zakayev said he does not think those comments were ambiguous and open to misinterpretation.
As to whether he would under any circumstances seek an accommodation with the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership, Zakayev dismissed as impermissible "any betrayal of the path we have followed over the past 10-15 years," and which has cost the lives of thousands of Chechens; he said that for him to return to Chechnya tomorrow would constitute such a betrayal. At the same time, he said that he considers it his duty to seek any possible political settlement of the Chechen conflict, and that the government and parliament in exile are working to that end.
Analysis: Prosecutor Pressures Nalchik Raid Victims' Lawyer
By RFE/RL analyst Liz FullerLarisa Dorogova, who represents the families of some of those killed during the multiple raids in October 2005 by young Islamic militants on police and security facilities in Nalchik, capital of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR), has appealed to KBR President Arsen Kanokov to intervene to put an end to the harassment she and her son have been subjected to in recent months by the KBR Prosecutor's Office, regnum.ru reported on May 14.
That agency opened a criminal case against Dorogova earlier this year for allegedly using foul language and threatening to kill a prison warder who refused her access to one of her clients.
On May 9, Dorogova's 20-year-old son Khadjimurat was snatched on the street by four men in civilian clothes. The men forced him into a car, and drove around the city for seven hours before finally releasing him, threatening him and questioning him nonstop about his mother's professional activities, Dorogova told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service on May 14.
Even before the October 13, 2005, Nalchik raid, Dorogova had periodically defended young men allegedly hounded, detained, and beaten by police simply because they were practicing Muslims. In the wake of that raid, experts suggested that systematic harassment by police at the instigation of then-KBR Interior Minister Khachim Shogenov impelled many young believers to join the ranks of the North Caucasus resistance.
Immediately after the attack, Dorogova agreed to represent some of the accused, but in November 2005 she was barred from doing so. She continued, nonetheless, to represent the families of some of the young men killed in the fighting who appealed to then-Russian President Vladimir Putin, to the Russian Constitutional Court, and to Kanokov to hand over their sons' bodies for burial. That request was refused on the grounds that Russian legislation stipulates that the bodies of "terrorists" be interred in unmarked graves.
Dorogova protested that that provision did not apply insofar as the young men in question -- at least some of them innocent passersby -- had not been formally tried and found guilty of terrorism. Witnesses claim to have seen one of the young men purportedly killed during the fighting, Boris Dzagalov, alive on October 14, according to kavkaz-uzel.ru on February 16, 2006. In a photograph taken of him in the Nalchik morgue, his right eye and most of the upper right side of his face have been obliterated (see http://www.islamcom.ru/material.php?id=227).
The families of the deceased then appealed to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, which in mid-2007 informed Dorogova that the bodies were cremated one year earlier, in June 2006. Meeting personally with the bereaved relatives in September 2006, Kanokov declared that if he had the authority to release the bodies, he would have done so. In November 2007, the Nalchik City Court ruled that the official who ordered the cremation acted unlawfully, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported on November 14.
Continuing Legal Battle
A total of 59 young men were arrested and charged with terrorism, banditry, armed insurrection, and murder in connection with their alleged participation in the October 2005 attacks. The preliminary hearings in that case began in October 2007 behind closed doors in a specially built courthouse in Nalchik; since then, one of the 59 defendants has died, apparently of natural causes.
At the outset, five of the defendants submitted written statements claiming that testimony they gave while under investigation was extracted as a result of, or under the threat of, torture, and that they signed that incriminating testimony in the absence of a lawyer. They therefore formally demanded that their testimony be excluded from the prosecution's case. Dorogova agreed to represent three of those five who planned to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
In January 2008, the KBR Supreme Court ordered an investigation into the torture allegations, but on March 20, the Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor's Office rejected the defendants' demand. In January 2008, however, the Prosecutor's Office also ruled in response to an appeal by the widows of some of the alleged militants killed in October 2005 that police were acting unlawfully in repeatedly summoning them for questioning and mandatory fingerprinting, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported on January 31.
Dorogova lodged a formal protest with KBR Prosecutor Oleg Zharikov after prison officials refused her access on January 31 to one of her clients, Zaur Tokhov. Tokhov told the court when the hearings resumed on February 5 that prison officials had attempted to strangle him.
The Prosecutor's Office subsequently overturned two refusals by the Nalchik City Court to take legal action against Dorogova in connection with the alleged contretemps that followed the refusal to allow her to meet in detention with Tokhov, and on April 16, the KBR Bar Association opened disciplinary proceedings against Dorogova with the aim of stripping her of the right to practice, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported.
The relatives of the slain men responded with an appeal on Dorogova's behalf to Kanokov, according to regnum.ru on April 21. They attributed the move to strip Dorogova of the right to practice law to her stated readiness to raise their case with the European Court of Human Rights, and warned Kanokov that sidelining her would result in a reversion to the "atmosphere of lawlessness and terror" that triggered the October 2005 violence.
Meanwhile, on March 26, Dorogova found a live cartridge in her mailbox together with a letter, allegedly from members of the Islamic resistance, threatening to kill her. The combined Kabarda, Balkar, and Karachai jamaat has denied having issued any such threat and praised Dorogova as a "devout Muslim" who is doing all in her power to "defend Muslims being held captive by unbelievers." Dorogova herself told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service that she suspects the power ministries ("siloviki") are behind the ongoing attempts to intimidate her.
In her appeal to Kanokov, Dorogova recalled his pledge following his appointment as president in September 2005 to crack down on endemic corruption within the law enforcement agencies and to protect human rights. She said she considers it pointless to appeal to the republican Prosecutor's Office, claiming that it was on orders from that agency that she was refused access to Tokhov in January, and that the move to strip her of the right to practice originated with First Deputy Prosecutor Alik Zhekeyev. She argued that she has not in any way broken the law in her professional activities, and concluded with the request that Kanokov take "urgent and effective action" to protect herself and her son, regnum.ru reported on May 14.
On May 14, the KBR Supreme Court embarked on the process of selecting jury members for the upcoming trial, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported, but only 145 of the 400 potential jurors showed up, of whom 67 immediately asked to be excused from jury service, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. A further 35 did so on May 15, and as of May 19, when other defense lawyers finished questioning them, only 31 potential jury members were still available.
Will Abkhazia, Georgia Resume Talks?On May 19, the Russian daily "Kommersant" reported that the governments of Georgia and the unrecognized republic of Abkhazia have reached agreement on the main points of a plan to resolve the conflict between them, for which de facto Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh would seek Russia's approval. But Bagapsh denied on his arrival in Moscow later on May 19 that any tentative agreements have been reached with the Georgian side, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported.
Two months earlier, in mid-March, "Kommersant" similarly reported that a tentative agreement had been hammered out on resolving the Transdniester conflict, and then on April 11, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and Transdniester leader Igor Smirnov met for the first time since 2001 to discuss arrangements for resuming talks on such a settlement.
According to "Kommersant," the draft peace plan was presented to the Abkhaz leadership on May 12 during a visit to Sukhum(i) by Georgia's ambassador to the UN, Irakli Alasania. The first step is reportedly the signing of a formal pact abjuring the use of force, which Georgia has previously consistently rejected.
But "Kommersant" noted that President Mikheil Saakashvili assured Russian journalists in Batumi on May 6 that he "would sign such an agreement tomorrow, provided there will be firm guarantees that Georgian displaced persons can return" to Abkhazia. Saakashvili reportedly added that Tbilisi is also ready to provide "any security guarantees" the Abkhaz leadership wants, including the withdrawal from the Kodori Gorge of the Georgian Interior Ministry forces deployed there in August 2006.
The Abkhaz have consistently pegged a resumption of talks to the withdrawal of those troops, whose presence in Kodori the Abkhaz claim contravenes the May 1994 UN-mediated cease-fire agreement between Abkhazia and Georgia. "Kommersant" reported that in acknowledgement of the Georgian renunciation of military force, the Abkhaz would in turn pledge not to prevent the return of Georgian displaced persons.
As indicated above, however, Bagapsh denied on May 19 that any agreement with Georgia has been reached. Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba similarly told RosBalt on May 21 that the talks with Alasania focused exclusively on security issues and the Kodori Gorge. Bagapsh met in Moscow on May 20 with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss how to defuse the tensions in Abkhaz-Georgian relations in line with recommendations contained in the most recent UN Security Council resolution, Interfax reported on May 20.
That resolution, adopted on April 15, stresses the need to observe the 1994 cease-fire, and to "finalize without delay the document on the non-use of violence"; reaffirms the right of all displaced persons to return to Abkhazia; calls on both sides to increase bilateral contacts; and advocates taking as a basis for talks on resolving the conflict not just the UN-drafted "Basic Principles for the Distribution of Competencies between Tbilisi and Sukhumi," which the Abkhaz have rejected, but also "additional ideas that the sides would be willing to offer."
Addressing the Russian State Duma's Committee for CIS Affairs and Compatriots Abroad on May 20, Lavrov again called on Georgia to sign the proposed nonaggression pact "without any preconditions," apsny.ru reported.
But Georgia's ambassador to Moscow, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, told a press conference on May 20 that Georgia will not embark on any talks with Abkhazia until Russia rescinds then-President Vladimir Putin's April directive calling on Russian government bodies to intensify economic and other contacts with the unrecognized republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, according to RBK as reposted on May 21 by apsny.ru.
Armenian Coalition Partner Lambastes Former President
By RFE/RL analyst Liz FullerAddressing on May 21 a congress in Yerevan of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) whose governing bureau he heads, Hrant Markarian argued that the street protests in Yerevan in the wake of the disputed February 19 presidential election were part of a Western plot to stage a "colored revolution" as in Georgia or Ukraine, and that the police crackdown on supporters of former President and defeated presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian was therefore fully justified, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported.
"What happened in the country [in the wake of the election] was an attempt at a colored revolution," Markarian said in a speech to hundreds of congress delegates, many from HHD structures in the worldwide Armenian diaspora. "Under our noses there was formed an organized mechanism or, as they like to say, a network similar to [the ones created in] other states: Georgia, Serbia, Ukraine. It was formed with foreign orders and funding," and with the express objective of bringing Ter-Petrossian to power, Markarian alleged.
He further defended the HHD's decision to remain part of a government which its presidential candidate strongly criticized during the election campaign. Markarian cited the need to help the administration of new President Serzh Sarkisian cope with the external challenges facing Armenia. "As long as that danger is there, our being in the coalition is justified," he argued.
Markarian laid the blame for the violent clashes in Yerevan on March 1-2 between Ter-Petrossian supporters and police and security forces squarely on Ter-Petrossian, who as president in late 1994 banned the HHD and had dozens of its members, including Markarian, arrested on tenuous charges of involvement in a terrorist organization, the existence of which was never proved. Markarian spent three years in jail before being released in early 1997.
Commenting on Ter-Petrossian's election campaign speeches, Markarian claimed that "he didn't come to wage a program-based and ideological struggle.... Rallying the headless opposition masses around him, he created an atmosphere in which ethical norms of struggle gave way to destruction, slander, hatred, and demagoguery." Markarian implied that Ter-Petrossian's animadversions contributed to the poor election showing of HHD presidential candidate Vahan Hovannisian, who polled fourth with a little over 6 percent of the vote.
Chairing a session on May 21 of the working group of senior law enforcement officials and parliament members tasked with ensuring the Armenian authorities implement the demands listed in a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) resolution adopted in April, Sarkisian insisted that none of the Ter-Petrossian supporters taken into custody during and after the March 1 violence should be jailed simply on the basis of their political convictions, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. "It is important that we be guided by criminal law and that there be no political decisions," Sarkisian said, adding that "no one who committed a serious crime must remain unpunished."
The PACE resolution called for the "urgent release of the persons detained on seemingly artificial and politically motivated charges" in the wake of the Yerevan violence, but only a few of the up to 100 detainees have been released to date. Council of Europe Deputy Secretary-General Maud de Boer-Buquicchio told RFE/RL on May 20 after talks in Yerevan with top Armenian officials that she is "still waiting" for the "good news" that the others have been freed.
On May 19, one Yerevan court prolonged by a further two months the pretrial detention of Nor Zhamanakner (New Times) party leader Aram Karapetian, who was hospitalized last week with serious heart problems, while a second court began the trial of Vartan Djahangirian, who was shot and seriously wounded at the time of his arrest on February 23. Djahangirian's brother Gagik, a former deputy prosecutor-general, publicly pledged his support for Ter-Petrossian and endorsed the latter's claims that the February 19 election was rigged to prevent a Ter-Petrossian victory.
Meanwhile, a third attempt by opposition Zharangutiun party leader Raffi Hovannisian (no relation to Vahan) to bring the two camps together for dialogue fell flat, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on May 20. Hovannisian sent written invitations the previous day to President Sarkisian, Ter-Petrossian, and the leaders of the three junior partners in the ruling coalition to participate in a roundtable discussion of a reform program drafted by Zharangutiun, but none of the invitees showed up.
The four-page program details measures to preclude fraud in future elections and advocates a sweeping reform of the judicial and law enforcement systems. Hovannisian offered twice before to bring Sarkisian and Ter-Petrossian together for talks.
Russian-Armenian Gas Talks Inconclusive
By Emil Danielian and Liz FullerThe Armenian government and Russia's Gazprom energy giant have failed to reach a final agreement on the price of Russian natural gas for Armenia, which is due to rise significantly next year.
The issue dominated talks in Yerevan on May 19 between President Serzh Sarkisian and Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian (no relation to Serzh), and visiting Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller. Both Tigran Sarkisian and Energy Minister Armen Movsisian refused to comment on the talks when approached by RFE/RL on May 20.
In January 2006, Gazprom nearly doubled the price of the gas it supplied Armenia, from $54 to $110 per thousand cubic meters. However, the cost for Armenian corporate and individual consumers remained virtually unchanged until this month due to a controversial April 2006 agreement that left more Armenian energy assets under Russian ownership. In particular, Gazprom consolidated its controlling stake in Armenia's gas-distribution network and paid $249 million for an incomplete but modern thermal power plant located in the central town of Hrazdan.
By contrast, Gazprom raised the gas price for Georgia and Azerbaijan from $60 to $110 in early 2006, and again in November of that year to $230 per thousand cubic meters as of January 2007.
The Armenian government has since used the money from the sale of the Hrazdan facility to subsidize gas prices, but admitted last month that those funds are almost exhausted and that subsidies would end as of May 1. This resulted in a 50 percent increase in the retail price of gas supplied to Armenian households and business entities. With another Gazprom price hike planned for January 2009, they will likely go up further.
Karen Karapetian, chairman of the board of the Armenian natural-gas distribution company ArmRosGazprom, was quoted by Noyan Tapan on April 16 as downplaying the impact of the price hike on consumers. He said the 89,000 households that currently use up to 300 cubic meters per month will only pay an additional 700 drams ($2.20), while those consuming between 300-500 cubic meters will pay an additional 1,000-1,100 drams. The tariff for commercial consumers will remain unchanged at $159 per thousand cubic meters (compared with $257-$283 in neighboring Georgia.)
Gazprom said last week that by 2011, Armenia will have to pay for Russian gas at world prices that are currently above $200 per thousand cubic meters. According to the press offices of the Armenian president and prime minister, Miller reaffirmed this during his meetings in Yerevan. President Sarkisian's office said the two sides have agreed that the gas price will be raised to that level "step by step." In doing that, it said, they will take into account the fact that Gazprom now owns 72 percent of ArmRosGazprom.
A separate statement by the Armenian government said the first increase will come into effect on January 1, 2009. It said Miller and Prime Minister Sarkisian agreed that the extent of that price rise will be determined by Gazprom and the Armenian side through further negotiations that will be held within the "shortest possible period." "The parties expressed confidence that a final decision on the issue under discussion will be taken soon," the statement added.
The increased cost of natural gas has added to inflationary pressures on the Armenian economy mainly resulting from rising international prices of fuel, wheat, and other imported foodstuffs. Russian gas has become the No. 1 source of winter heating for the population. It is also widely used, in liquefied and pressurized forms, by public transport and private cars.