Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 2 Issue: 40

In a path-breaking article appearing in the no. 44 (October 30) issue of the weekly Moskovskie Novosti, a leading journalist and specialist on the North Caucasus region, Sanobar Shermatova, wrote that the Kremlin now appears to be pursuing “a plan for peaceful regulation [in Chechnya] prepared by an analytical group of the FSB.” According to this plan, “the same scenario has been prepared as was previously put into effect in Tajikistan.” The author of the “Tajikistan scenario,” she intimated, was Evgenii Primakov, at the time the Russian foreign minister and a man with a strong background in the Russian security services. Is Primakov now directing his attention to helping resolve the Chechen conflict? A recent interview with him appearing in the no. 43 (November 1) issue of the newspaper Vek suggested that he might be.

Shermatova began her essay by noting several important recent developments regarding Chechnya: The pro-Moscow head of administration in that republic, Akhmad Kadyrov, appeared to have been given a “carte-blanche” by President Putin at their meeting in Moscow on October 15; the prime minister of Chechnya, Stanislav Il’yasov, on the other hand, is clearly being squeezed out of power, and there are reports that he will soon be transferred to work in the EES [the Russian electricity monopoly]; there are also reports that an ethnic Chechen will be named head of the republican MVD and, perhaps, even of the Chechen FSB; and, finally, Kadyrov has announced that he intends to run for republican president in future Chechen elections. “All of these events,” Shermatova summed up, “testify to the presence of a certain scenario according to which the army will be reduced to a subsidiary position, while the plenitude of power will belong to the present head of administration [in Chechnya].”

How is such a scenario to be combined with negotiations with the Chechen separatists? “In the first place,” Shermatova remarked, “this concerns the selection of a chief negotiator. Akhmed Zakaev has been designated, and Moscow has welcomed that appointment. During the course of intra-Tajik regulation, the opposition was represented by Abdullo Nuri, a man enjoying unquestionable authority in the republic but a weak politician. He was an excellent public orator and a person inclined to compromises, knowing how to maneuver, but not being capable of fathoming political intrigues.”

If Akhmed Zakaev, President Maskhadov’s designated negotiator, represents the Abdullo Nuri of Chechnya, then Akhmad Kadyrov, Shermatova suggested, appears to be the republic’s Emomali Rakhmonov: “Moscow in all ways strengthened the power of President Emomali Rakhmonov, as a result of which Rakhmonov won the presidential elections which took place following the return of the opposition [from Afghanistan to Tajikistan]. The guarantor of stability in the republic remained the 201st Russian Division. It is well known that in Chechnya the army is to be quartered in military bases in five population points.”

Shermatova then proceeded to predict what the proposals made by Moscow to the separatists under Maskhadov might look like: namely, “a coalition government with a certain quota of positions reserved for the rebels (the Tajik opposition, for example, received a third of the posts in the government). There will be a transitional period, and then elections to a parliament, in which representatives of the rebels will also participate. There will be an adoption of a constitution and presidential elections with the obligatory participation of candidates from the opposition.”

On the subject of Moscow’s current demands that the Chechen separatists disarm, Shermatova observed: “Of course, it was earlier maintained that rebels with arms would not be admitted from Afghanistan, where they had been based, back home to Tajikistan. But a weapon is a guarantee of security, and de facto detachments of rebels did not put down their arms but were instead legalized and entered as individual units into the power structures.” While in the case of Tajikistan, the rebels had come back home, there could, Shermatova noted, be “other variants” in Chechnya. “Hardly,” she commented, “could such figures as Khattab and Shamil Basaev be granted immunity.”

Noting that the UN, as well as several states, had played a role in the regulation of the conflict in Tajikistan, serving as guarantors of the peace agreement, Shermatova predicted that the situation with regard to Chechnya would be different: “Moscow and Grozny, according to the information of Moskovskie Novosti, will also sign a special agreement according to which Chechnya will receive maximal independence [samostoyatel’nost’]. But there are differences. Russia does not intend to admit other states as intermediaries in a peaceful regulation, something its officials have repeatedly said. However, in any case, there will need to be guarantees that the sides will observe the obligations taken upon themselves. Such a guarantor, as has become known to Moskovskie Novosti, might be an international organization which will be permitted to have a permanent representation on the territory of Chechnya.” As we shall see, Shermatova seems to be referring here to the Council of Europe.

Remarking that the earlier plan of intra-Tajik regulation “was conceived and brilliantly carried out by Russian diplomacy,” Shermatova wonders whether a similar plan could succeed in Chechnya, “which has a mass of specific characteristics.” She also asks: “Will diplomats be found who will be up to the task of regulating one of the most bloody conflicts of the past decade?”

While one could easily add a host of other questions to Shermatova’s two, it seems likely that she has successfully fathomed the thinking lying beneath the current strategy of the Kremlin and of the FSB toward regulating the conflict in Chechnya.

Two related developments are worthy of mention. On October 24, the pro-Moscow Chechen administration under Akhmad Kadyrov “announced the creation of a Consultative Council for the head of administration of Chechnya. The new structure will be called upon to carry out the functions of a legislative organ of power, something which so far has been absent in Chechnya, and to prepare upcoming elections to the parliament and presidency of the republic.” According to an aide of Kadyrov, Khasan Taimaskhanov: “The chief goal of the Consultative Council is to draft a constitution for the republic and to prepare the ground for the conducting of elections to a legislative assembly.” All strata of the Chechen populace will be represented in the Council, which, however, is to have “an exclusively advisory character” (Kommersant, October 25).

A second development likely related to the “Tajikistan scenario” was an announcement on October 29 made by Alvaro Gil-Robles, Commissar for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, that the Council “is prepared to help Russia in establishing democracy and peace on the territory of the Chechen Republic.” At the end of November, he announced, a seminar will be held in Strasbourg devoted to the observing of human rights, including those on the territory of Chechnya. The chairman of the international committee of the Russian State Duma, Dmitry Rogozin, was quoted as commenting: “If the seminar is not politicized, it could positively contribute to the pacification of the situation in the North Caucasus.” Similar questions, Rogozin revealed, would also be discussed at a conference, organized by the Russian State Duma, on November 23. Gil-Robles has said that he will try to attend that session. The Duma conference will be devoted to an analysis of the “constitutional process” within the Chechen Republic (Interfax-AVN, October 29). It seems likely, therefore, that the “international organization” mentioned by Shermatova in her piece is the Council of Europe, a body in which, it should be noted, the United States of America does not have membership.