Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 2 Issue: 7

On February 5, Boris Nemtsov, leader of the Union of Right Forces faction in the State Duma and a Duma deputy speaker, had a meeting with President Putin during which he presented his new plan for regulating the conflict in Chechnya. The following day, 6 February, Rosinformtsentr, an official Russian government body, published the text of Nemtsov’s plan, along with a truculent commentary.

Nemtsov’s plan begins by advocating that a new, eighth federal presidential district be created on the territory of Chechnya, for a period of from three to five years. It is to be headed by “a representative of the president having the full powers of a governor general and combining the full plenitude of administrative, financial, political and military power in the republic.” The plan underscores that this new official “should not be a Chechen by nationality,” though “participation of representatives of the indigenous nationality at the level of individual population points is not only possible, but also necessary.”

In an interview with Ekho Moskvy radio, Nemtsov explained the thinking behind this recommendation: “There is,” he noted, “chaos in Chechnya. Nine citizens are in charge, and nine departments are responsible for Chechnya-that means that no one is responsible. That is why the first part of our plan is to set up an eighth federal district… and to appoint a governor general to be in charge of the district, preferably a civilian and preferably not a Chechen” (BBC Monitoring, February 6). In comments made to the newspaper Segodnya, Nemtsov indicated the kind of candidate he had in mind, “We shall have to find another [Anatoly] Chubais,” he said (Segodnya, February 7).

The second point of Nemtsov’s plan concerns “the conducting of negotiations by the governor general with representatives of the Chechen people, including Aslan Maskhadov.” The subject of these negotiations should be, “the conditions for disarming the illegal [Chechen] military formations, the establishment of legality and order in the republic, and a resolution of the future administrative organization of Chechnya.”

Noting that there would likely be “significant violations of human rights” during the transitional period (which is to extend from February 2001 to January 2003), Nemtsov’s plan calls for the presence in the republic, during this period, of representatives of international human rights organizations. In its commentary on the plan, Rosinformtsentr is unable to conceal its contempt for the idea of involving foreigners in the process of Chechen regulation.

Point three of Nemtsov’s plan concerns the adoption of “a complex of necessary measures to change the system of administering the republic and of transforming it from a presidential to a parliamentary republic, no later than by the end of 2002.” Chechnya is to lose its presidency, becoming a parliamentary republic. Free elections to this new parliament are to be conducted before the end of 2002. Another point stressed by the plan: “The resolution of the future status of the republic must be taken only after a repudiation of the principle of the right to self-determination.” Taking such a step would bring Chechnya into conformity with the 1993 Russian Constitution.

This third point of Nemtsov’s plan may elicit criticism in the West. It is unclear why it is Nemtsov, rather than the Chechen people in a referendum, who should decide that Chechnya ought to become a parliamentary rather than a presidential republic. The idea behind Nemtsov’s recommendation appears to be that the division of Chechens into “clans” would represent the formative principle of the new Chechen parliament. But as the former speaker of the Russian parliament, Ruslan Khasbulatov, an ethnic Chechen, recently underlined, the institution of the Chechen clans has been significantly breaking down over recent decades. Nemtsov could be suspected of attempting to pursue a “divide and rule” strategy, substituting a weak, fractious Chechen parliament for a presidency which, while also weak, nonetheless, at least potentially, offers the prospect of much-needed order and cohesion to the republic.

Part four of Nemtsov’s plan stipulates “the adoption during the Third Quarter of 2001 of a state program for aid for refugees and forced migrants from Chechnya.” In its commentary, Rosinformtsentr points out that this decision has already been adopted by the pro-Moscow administration of Akhmad Kadyrov. One wonders why both Nemtsov and the Kadyrov leadership want a six-month delay before addressing what is a most serious refugee problem.

During the two-year transition period advocated by Nemtsov, there is also to be “a system of targeted social aid” directed at the Chechen populace and an attempt to stimulate investment in Chechnya from other regions of Russia. Education in the republic is to be given a high priority; the plan advocates major financial outlays for restoring secondary education in Chechnya and for resurrecting the main university in Djohar.

But what if the new governor general of Chechnya is unable to dampen the current rebellion? Nemtsov’s plan stresses that, if the rebellion has not abated by January 1, 2003, then, as point 5.1 stipulates, “The territory of Chechnya is to be divided into mountain and plains sections. The latter section will become a part of Stavropol Krai… The remaining mountain part is declared a ‘rebellious’ territory. The inhabitants of Chechnya can then make a free choice concerning their place of residence.”

There has been some confusion in the Russian media concerning where the proposed border between “mountain” and “plains” Chechnya is to run. In an interview with Segodnya (February 7), Nemtsov specified that by the “plains part” he meant the territory of Chechnya lying north of the Terek River, lands which had in fact belonged to Stavropol Krai before 1957. At this point, it should be pointed out, the “Nemtsov plan” merges with the earlier “Emil Pain plan” discussed in a previous issue of this newsletter. Like Pain, Nemtsov advocates that “the armed forces and other federal power structures are to be withdrawn from the rebellious part [of Chechnya].” The border of mountain Chechnya with Dagestan, Ingushetia and Stavropol krai is to be “maximally strengthened.”

Like Emil Pain, Nemtsov contends that a fortified border regime could save the Russian Republic large sums of money. In his above-cited interview with Ekho Moskvy radio, Nemtsov affirmed that “the war in Chechnya costs approximately US$1 billion a year, or more than 2 percent of the entire Russian budget.” A fully equipped border regime, an addendum to Nemtsov’s plan argues, could be set up at a cost of US$1 million per kilometer; since the border of Russia with rebellious Chechnya would be 400 kilometers long, that would entail a one-time cost of US$400 million. The border would have to be manned by 10,000 border guards and soldiers, who would be paid UN peacekeeping wages. The estimated cost for this force would be US$96 million a year.

Evidence that the Nemtsov plan, if implemented, could have a chance of producing fruitful results, even during the 2001-2003 “transitional period,” is provided by the results of a recent poll taken by the Lam Center for Pluralism, a human rights organization based in Djohar and Nazran, Ingushetia, which works closely with the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (Dispatches from Chechnya, No. 7, January 19).

During December of 2000 and January of 2001, Lam polled 1,500 Chechens living in the regions of Djohar, Znamenskoe, Shali, Urus-Martan, Alkhan-Yurt and Komsomol’skoe. Eighty percent of the respondents were of the opinion that the current military conflict could be “resolved peacefully,” while almost eighty percent of those polled contended that it is President Maskhadov who “should represent Chechnya in its negotiations with Russia.”

Three-quarters of the individuals polled supported the idea of a compromise with the Russian Federation. Of those willing to compromise, “80 percent suggested that Chechnya could become a subject of the Federation while retaining some sort of special status, 10 percent (primarily residents of Znamenskoe) suggested that Chechnya become one of Russia’s [autonomous] republics, and 10 percent suggested that Chechnya form a confederation with Russia.” One-quarter of respondents wanted Chechnya to be an independent state. “This view is held primarily by residents of the regions which have suffered the most damage during the war.”

The Lam report went on to note that 75 percent of the respondents to the poll “support a referendum to be held to determine what the status of the republic should be,” while those who advocate full independence do not favor a referendum. Strikingly, almost 90 percent of respondents “think that the government of Chechnya should be secular.” Almost 90 percent “think free and fair elections could be held as soon as the military conflict ceases.”

What political leaders do the Chechens contacted by the survey support? Of those who support a specific leader, “31.2 percent would vote for Ruslan Khasbulatov, 23.9 percent support Aslambek Aslakhanov, 20.4 percent would re-elect Aslan Maskhadov [and] 18 percent would vote for Malik Saidullaev.” No other Chechen leader garnered more than 4 percent support. Significantly, the current pro-Moscow leaders of Chechnya, Kadyrov and Gantamirov, received zero support in the poll. (It might also be noted that, in a recent interview, President Aslan Maskhadov singled out Khasbulatov and Aslakhanov as two politicians who seek “a peaceful variant for the resolution of the conflict.” He dismissed Kadyrov and Gantamirov, on the other hand, as hirelings “who sing in a common choir with Yastrzhembsky” (Kommersant, January 27).

To conclude, while one can, and indeed should, object to certain points in the Nemtsov plan, it clearly represents a major improvement over the bloody and chaotic “Kadyrov-Putin plan,” which constitutes a dead-end both for Chechnya and for the Russian Federation. Unfortunately, more destruction and human loss will probably prove necessary before the plan is able to get a hearing.