Publication: Prism Volume: 1 Issue: 18

Political Deadlock Continues in Chechnya

Two Guerrilla Theaters.

Chechnya. In Chechnya, the political deadlock continuedwhile severe, if sporadic, clashes continued. President Dudaev’ssupporters continued to demonstrate undiminished confidence, bothpolitically and militarily. The week opened with the eruptionof intense fighting on Dagestan’s side of the Chechnya-Dagestanborder, where at least six Russian soldiers were killed and morewere injured when their unit was attacked while searching forfive Russian officers including a Colonel who had just been capturedby the resistance. The Russians remain in captivity. Russianlosses continued thereafter, including six more killed on August30 alone. The count of "unauthorized"Chechen guns handedover to the joint commissions reached to 905, out of the estimated65,000 such guns in Chechen hands (excluding resupplies).

Russian president Boris Yeltsin’s newly appointed special representativefor Chechnya, Oleg Lobov, remarked that disarmament will takeyears to complete if it continues at its present pace. As thearmistice agreement’s disarmament provisions are linked to theRussian troops’ withdrawal from forward positions, but the troopsdid not withdraw in accordance with the bargain. Chechen confidenceshowed again when Dudaev’s delegates, fighters, and indeed ordinaryChechens persisted in demanding the troops’ withdrawal.

Virtual deadlock continued also on the exchange of prisoners,with the Russians demanding a "one-for-one" and theChechens an "all for all"exchange. Each side openlydistrusted the other’s count of the prisoners it held, with theChechens charging additionally that the Russians were refusingto recognize their local civilian detainees as prisoners eligiblefor exchange.

Although the sides appear to seriously consider holding electionson November 5, almost insuperable obstacles remain in the pathtoward that objective, not least of which is Moscow’s reluctanceto conduct elections before ethnic Russian refugees return toChechnya. But as was noted at Security Council deliberations inMoscow, the refugees cannot return before reconstruction, andreconstruction is in turn unaffordable at current federal fundinglevels. Some senior Russian officials broached publicly the possibilitythat Chechnya’s oil export revenue–which is currently negligible–beused for financing the post-war reconstruction. Russia’s DeputyPrime Minister Oleg Soskovets admitted that the cost to Moscowwould amount to 10 to 12 trillion rubles, an unverifiable andvery possibly arbitrary estimate but in any case far higher thanhad previously been suggested.

Political planning in Moscow seemed equally uncertain. From Grozny,Jokhar Dudaev’s chief negotiator, Hojakhmed Yarikhanov, challengedBoris Yeltsin to meet with Dudaev in search of a political solution. Yeltsin reacted by, for the first time, indicating at a SecurityCouncil meeting that he would not negotiate with Dudaev but woulddo so with any other Chechen leaders, evidently including thosenot recognized by Moscow thus far. Lobov took a conciliatorystep further by refusing to rule out negotiations with Dudaev,providing that were necessary for the sake of achieving progresson disarmament. Even the erratic Dudaev is capable of rationaldecisions, Lobov said..

Tajikistan. In Tajikistan, the approach of another roundof government-opposition negotiations ushered in the usual intensificationof opposition incursions. Russian commanders on the scene suggested that the opposition was trying to "soften up" the governmentin order to wring concessions at the negotiating table. Resistanceoperations remained sporadic, but their scope and reach extendedtoward the country’s interior. A resistance detachment mountedraids in an area some 100 kilometers east of Dushanbe. Russiancommanders reported with concern that the "internal underground"had concentrated some 2,500 fighters in Garm region. And in Badakhshanregion, resistance units under commander Majnun also increasedpressure on Tajik government and Russian border troops.

Against this background of bolder, if still low-intensity, resistanceoperations, the fifth round of inter-Tajik negotiations whichhave already been delayed from August to September seemed jeopardizedby the Dushanbe government’s backtracking from earlier understandings.Thegovernment eschewed a detalied discussion of constitutional arrangements,and frustrated the planned exchange of prisoners by apparentlyunderstating the number of hose it held and overstating thoseheld by the opposition.

Two Separatist Challenges

The parallel developments under way for some time in Abkhaziaand Transdniester acquired full clarity during this week. Bothbreakaway republics conditioned their reintegration with Georgiaand Moldova, respectively, on recognition of virtually full-fledgedstatehood for thernselves and on the creation in each case ofa treaty-based union of two coequal states. And also in each case,Russian policy sought a compromise along federal, not confederallines, under Russian and international guarantees which wouldpreseve Russian influence locally and would qualify for internationalacceptance by bowing at least in appearance to the principle ofinviolability of the countries’ borders.

Authoritarianism on the March?

In several parts of the former Soviet space, heads of state tooksteps to consolidate, increase, or gain an almost unchecked personalpower. In Minsk, president Alyaksandr Lukashenka accused strikingsubway workers of being in the pay of Western intellligence andof the Polish Solidarity union, invited Russian troops back in,and called for Belarus-Russia unification. In Kazakhstan, presidentNursultan Nazarbaev won with a score of 90% the referendum onthe country’s new constitution, vastly increasing his powers andcorrespondingly reducing those of the legislature. If these twopresidents’ authoritarian inclinations had long been in evidence,those of the Moldovan president came as a surprise. Mircea Snegurlaunched a personal party, demanded revision of the constitutionto maximize his power, and escalated pressures and intimidationagainst the parliament and government. In contrast to this trend,Georgian head of state Eduard Shevardnadze and the parliamentaryopposition managed after long debates to agree on a constitutionwhich attempts to balance the executive and the legislative power.An assassination attempt by an as yet unidentified group failedto seriously harm Shevardnadze.

Central Asia Seeks Outlets to Rest of the World.

The week witnessed a continuation of recent efforts bythe Turkic countries of Central Asia to pool their efforts toovercome their geographic isolation and their precarious communicationswith the rest of the world. At a summit in Kyrgyzstan’s capitalBishkek, the presidents of Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Central Asia’sfour Turkic countries discussed plans to develop internationaltrade, transport links, overland and air routes, and telecomunicationsand banking services, and reviewed the options for building pipelinesto export their oil and gas to international markets.

Turkey and Azerbaijan, followed cautiously by Kazakhstan, ledin the search for pipeline routes which would bypass Russianterritory. The Turkic states also discussed ideas for creatingthe region’s first security structures in the post-Soviet era.Some of the summit’s issues–a trans-Asian highway from Turkeyto Kazakhstan, one from Kyrgyzstan via China and the Karakorummountains into Pakistan–were also discussed in Bishkek and Almatywith Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto who proposed extendingthat highway to Karachi and offered port facilities there. Thisweek’s 1000th anniversary celebrations of the Turkic epos Manasalso provided an occasion to review and map further progress inintra-regional cultural ties.