Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 224

Chechen deputy premier Akhmed Zakaev is visiting the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. According to official accounts, Zakaev is on a private visit and has no plans to meet with Georgian leaders. But a Russian daily reports that Zakaev, in fact, is in Georgia to lobby for the building of a highway between Grozny and Tbilisi. (Kommersant-daily, November 27)

Construction work on the highway began back in 1991, following an agreement between the late presidents Zviad Gamsakhurdia and Djohar Dudaev. After an interruption, work resumed in 1996, and some 25 of the 38 kilometers of highway leading to the Georgian border have so far been completed. The Chechen side is ready to finish construction in two to three months, but needs a guarantee that the road will be opened and that Georgia will allow it pass through its territory. "This road has strategic importance for Chechnya. When it is built, we shall at last be able to link up with the outside world without having to go through Russia," Isa Bizhaev, an economic adviser to the Chechen president, told the Monitor.

Zakaev is proposing that an agreement be drawn up, not between Grozny and Tbilisi, but between the adjoining districts of Chechnya and Georgia. This would give Russia no reason to object. Bizhaev told the Monitor that Grozny intends to use this tactic to conclude agreements with other Caucasus republics. "Zakaev should hold negotiations to create a single energy system with Georgia, and to begin construction of a railroad from Chechnya to Georgia," Bizhaev told the Monitor. "During [Chechen president] Aslan Maskhadov’s recent visit to Baku, talks were held on using the Chechen oil refineries to refine some of the Caspian Sea oil."

So far, most of Grozny’s projects remain on paper, since they require substantial investment. For example, the idea of building a railroad from Chechnya to Georgia was shelved during Soviet times because of the high cost involved. However, Grozny is operating on several fronts at once. On the one hand, it is trying to reduce its dependence on Russia by concluding concrete agreements with the South Caucasus republics. On the other, it is trying to put pressure on the Kremlin by holding talks even on projects that are unrealizable at the present time.

Chechnya is also keeping up contacts with countries farther afield. As the Monitor reported on November 4, Grozny has signed a protocol of intent with a group of British businessmen and politicians on the possibility of leasing the Chechen sector of the oil pipeline and its oil complex to an international consortium. Bizhaev told the Monitor that Ramazan Zakaev, President Maskhadov’s adviser on oil industry issues, has been sent to London to pursue these negotiations. He will attend a conference of international oil company representatives on the issue of oil fields and oil transportation routes in the former Soviet Union.

Tension in Southern Dagestan on Eve of Lezgin Congress.