Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 103

During a meeting on Friday (May 24) at Spaso House, the U.S. ambassador to Russia’s residence in Moscow, U.S. President George Bush said that the U.S. counterterrorism operation in Afghanistan should serve as an example to Russia in carrying out its military campaign in Chechnya. “The experience in Afghanistan has taught us all that there are lessons to be learned about how to protect one’s homeland and, at the same time, be respectful on the battlefield, and that lesson applies to Chechnya,” Bush said. “The war on terror can be won and, at the same time, we have proven it’s possible to respect the rights of the people in the territories, to respect the rights of the minorities” (Washington Post, May 26). In the wake of these comments, the weekly newspaper Moskovskie Novosti yesterday quoted an unnamed source as saying that the U.S. administration is prepared to spend at least US$1 billion a year on a so-called “stabilization fund for the Caucasus,” which will aid Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia. Such a program would appear to dovetail with Putin’s thinking. Indeed, the Russian president twice over the last week stressed the importance of creating conditions that would attract investment into the Caucasus. During a meeting in Sochi with the heads of the Southern federal district, Putin said the restoration of Chechnya’s economy was the key to stabilizing the situation in southern Russia.

While Russia’s interest in foreign investment requires no explanation, why does the United States want to put money into the unstable Caucasus region? According to Moskovskie Novosti’s source, Washington is concerned about security for the entire Caspian Sea region, which includes the North Caucasus, because it wants to ensure that the routes for future oil shipments from the Caspian Sea are safeguarded. This explains why Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia are among the target regions for the proposed Caucasus stabilization fund. What is Washington planning to demand from Moscow in exchange for this aid? According to Moskovskie Novosti, the American side is pushing above all to re-establish democratic procedures in Chechnya, which would allow the republic to pass a new constitution and set up new governing structures. The American side would appear to assume that supporters of Aslan Maskhadov, the Chechen rebel leader and separatist president, would participate in these processes.

Moskovskie Novosti stated that the details of the plan for Chechnya’s development would probably not be discussed directly by the Russian and U.S. presidents, but instead worked out by “other organizations”–specifically, the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya, co-chaired by Zbigniew Brzezinski. According to the paper, the ACPC organized a confidential meeting in Switzerland last summer between Maskhadov’s representative, Ilyas Akhmadov, and other rebel officials, on the one hand, and a group of deputies from Russia’s State Duma (see the Monitor, September 4, 2001). According to the paper, the ACPC is now in the process of organizing a second such meeting, which may also take place in Switzerland (Moskovskie Novosti, May 27).