Publication: Prism Volume: 4 Issue: 6

The Fortnight in Review

The past fortnight was a busy one for Russian foreign policy makers. On March 10, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin arrived in Washington for several days of talks on trade and on Russian-U.S. disagreements over Moscow’s cooperation with Iran. Then, on March 12, a spy scandal broke out between Russia and Norway following a decision by Oslo to declare five Russian diplomats persona non grata. Simultaneously, Russia’s Foreign Ministry found itself caught between Belgrade and the West in the deepening diplomatic conflict over Kosovo.

Both Ukraine and Russia, meanwhile, were forced to grapple with the legacy of Stalinism, as Crimean Tatars protested in Simferopol while Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov traveled to London. Both the Crimean Tatars and the Chechens were exiled from their homelands by Stalin in 1944.

In Tajikistan, finally, both the state leadership in Dushanbe and the Tajik Opposition maneuvered for advantage in the country’s emerging post-civil war environment. For a host of reasons, the opening of the political process in Tajikistan appears likely to increase the political influence of Leninabad region — Tajikistan’s most developed — but one which was marginalized during the civil war.

Chernomyrdin in Washington

Chernomyrdin’s visit to the U.S. occurred under the auspices of the "Gore-Chernomyrdin commission," a body created in 1993 to boost economic cooperation between the two countries. The commission, co-chaired by Chernomyrdin and the U.S. vice president, has also come to serve as a high-level forum for Russian-U.S. talks on a wide variety of other important bilateral and international issues. This latest session continued that pattern. On the economic side, the two countries announced three commercial deals: a multibillion dollar agreement between Conoco, Inc., and Russia’s LUKoil to develop oil and natural gas fields in Russia’s Timan-Pechora region; a five-year deal worth up to $200 million under which the American aircraft maker Boeing will purchase milled titanium products from a Russian concern; and a $62.5 million agreement that calls for ACGO Corporation to deliver and assemble agricultural equipment for Russia’s Chelyabinsk Oblast.

Of at least equal import were two political announcements. The first involved the creation of a new Russian-U.S. commission of experts that will discuss and monitor the export of sensitive nuclear and missile technologies. The new body is a direct outgrowth of U.S. efforts to stop the flow of Russian missile technology to Iran. A second major announcement involved a pledge by Chernomyrdin that the Kremlin will step up its efforts to win ratification by Russia’s parliament of the START II strategic arms reduction treaty. The treaty was ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1996, but strong opposition to the document exists in the Russian State Duma. The failure by the Duma to ratify has complicated the scheduling of the next Russian-U.S. summit, which had been tentatively planned for this spring, and has put off discussion of a follow-up START III treaty that would lower Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals beyond START II levels.

Despite the headlines, the significance of the latest Russian-U.S. announcements remains in doubt. The trade and economic talks, for example, left a number of key issues unresolved. The same is true of the political announcements. Moscow has repeatedly denied leaking missile technology to Iran, and the new commission — as well as a recent tightening by Russia of its export control regulations — will make a difference only if the Russian authorities move beyond pronouncements to a real crack down on clandestine dealings with Iran. The same is true of START II. Despite its professed support for the treaty, the Kremlin has thus far not committed itself fully to winning ratification. And there is little evidence that the parliament will be ready any time soon to approve the document.

Norway and Russia Lock Horns

The Russian-Norwegian spy scandal evoked memories of the Cold War and at least briefly put relations between the two countries in a deep freeze. The incident began on March 12, when the Norwegian government unexpectedly announced that it had declared five Russian diplomats — two of whom were at that moment in Norway — persona non grata. The five, reported to have been fingered by a Norwegian government official operating as a double agent, were accused of trying to recruit Norwegian citizens for Russian intelligence. Equally important, the spy scandal led Oslo to cancel at the eleventh hour a visit to Russia by Norway’s Prime Minister.

Russian authorities voiced the expected protestations of innocence, but seemed especially angered both by the severity of the actions taken by Oslo and by the fact that they caused cancellation of the Prime Minister’s visit. On March 17, Russia’s Foreign Ministry announced a retaliatory measure: two Norwegian diplomats were expelled from Russia. Norway protested the expulsions, and there were rumblings from each side that suggested additional repercussions might develop. For the time being, however, Norwegian government officials appeared willing to put the incident behind them and to seek a normalization of relations with Russia.

Maneuvering Over Kosovo

As the crisis involving the Yugoslav region of Kosovo deepened in recent weeks, Russia placed itself in at least partial opposition to the Western members of the so-called "contact group" — the six-nation body that oversees developments in the former Yugoslavia. On March 9, Moscow offered only partial support for a series of mild sanctions leveled against Belgrade by the United States, France, Germany, Britain, and Italy — the Western contact group members. In subsequent statements on the Kosovo crisis, and during a March 17-18 visit to Belgrade by Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, Moscow continued to describe Kosovo as a domestic problem that should be resolved by Yugoslav authorities alone. That stance, which included an announcement that Moscow itself wanted no mediating role in the crisis, was designed to head off Western involvement in the crisis and the possibility of additional sanctions against Belgrade. A sharper clash between Moscow and the West — and particularly between Moscow and Washington — appeared possible, however, as the U.S. intensified its criticism of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Moscow has long been a backer of Milosevic and of his hardline Serb allies.

Crimea’s Tatars Demand the Vote

Crimean Tatars demonstrated in Simferopol and warned that they would obstruct Ukraine’s upcoming general election unless measures were taken to give them the vote. The Tatars complain that, of the 167,500 Crimean Tatars aged over 18 currently settled in Crimea, only 58 percent have managed to qualify for Ukrainian citizenship. The rest have no right to vote.

The Crimean Tatars are considered the indigenous population of Crimea. They ruled the peninsula until it was declared part of the Russian empire by Catherine the Great in 1783. In May 1944, on Stalin’s orders, all the Crimean Tatar men, women and children were taken from their homes and deported by freight train to Uzbekistan. Of 188,000 deportees, 40 percent died in transit or during the first, difficult years of exile. Their lands were given to Russian and Ukrainian settlers. The other "punished peoples" — Chechens, Ingush, Balkars and others — were rehabilitated after Stalin’s death and allowed to return home in the 1950s, but the Tatars were permitted to return to Crimea only in 1990.

In the early 1990s, the Tatars moved back to Crimea in large numbers. They returned not only to poverty but also to find that many of them had missed the chance for Ukrainian citizenship. When Ukraine became independent in 1991, it offered automatic citizenship to all those legally resident in the country at the time, provided only that they were not citizens of another state. Tatars who returned to Crimea after 1991 had to go through the more cumbersome method of naturalization.

This might not have been a problem except that Ukrainian law outlaws dual citizenship. In the early 1990s, Ukraine and most other post-Soviet states reacted to Russia’s persistent efforts to persuade them to sign dual citizenship agreements by adopting legislation specifically barring it. To qualify for naturalization, Tatars accordingly had to prove they were not citizens of their country of previous residence. The authorities in Uzbekistan charge $100 for a certificate to this effect — far more than most Tatar returnees can afford to pay. Consequently, many Tatar returnees are still without Ukrainian citizenship or the right to vote. International organizations warn that the harsh conditions in which many Crimean Tatars live are creating a danger that younger Tatars may become radicalized and be tempted to seek desperate solutions to alleviate their plight.

Chechen President in London

Stalin’s crimes formed the backdrop, too, when President Aslan Maskhadov of Chechnya paid an unofficial but high-profile five-day visit to London. Chechnya was never part of Russia and will never give up its claim to independence, Maskhadov asserted. The territory of the Chechens was incorporated into the Russian empire only in 1859, after half a century of almost continuous warfare. In February 1944, Stalin had the entire Chechen population — some 350,000 people — deported to Siberia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Some 25 percent died in cattle trucks and labor camps during their exile. After Stalin’s death, the Chechens fared only slightly better than the Crimean Tatars: they were allowed to return to the North Caucasus in 1956 but they were forced to settle in the lowlands rather than the mountains from which they originally came.

The twin aims of Maskhadov’s visit to London were to campaign for international recognition for Chechen independence and to attract foreign investment to Chechnya. Maskhadov opened the London headquarters of the "Caucasus Common Market," a company set up last year with British and Chechen participation. Chechnya is offering to lease its fuel and energy enterprises and the Chechen section of the pipeline by which Caspian oil is pumped across Chechen territory to Russia’s Black Sea coast. For Chechnya, the new company also has a political aim: not just to attract foreign investment but to persuade foreign businessmen to conduct their relations with Chechnya as a sovereign state, thereby prodding the international community into recognizing Chechen independence.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, President Boris Yeltsin on March 10 gave a preview of what he said was Russia’s new nationalities policy at a meeting with North Caucasus elders and regional leaders. Chechnya boycotted the meeting. Many observers expressed skepticism about the meetings’ effectiveness — if only because the institution of elders no longer wields much influence in the North Caucasus. Yeltsin expressed satisfaction with the exchange of views and promised to hold such meetings once a year — implicitly bearing out predictions that the meeting would not produce concrete results.

Postwar Era, Political Process Open in Tajikistan

The state leadership in Dushanbe and the United Tajik Opposition (UTO) seem determined, each for its own reasons, to avoid any return to the use of force in settling their differences. Those differences remain substantial. They center on the distribution of power after the civil war in a country divided over political, religious and economic issues. And those unresolved issues, in turn, find expression in cleavages along regional and ethnic lines.

The events of this past fortnight highlighted two contradictory processes. Indications that the struggle is moving from the military into the political arena were accompanied by signs that the government may go to the brink in order to retain a disproportionate share of power in the post-war reorganization of the country.

Turajonzoda in Government at Last

On March 10, President Imomali Rahmonov appointed UTO’s first deputy chairman Akbar Turajonzoda to the post of First Deputy Prime Minister. The appointment had been due since last year under the agreement which gives UTO 30 percent of the posts in a transitional government. Dushanbe nevertheless delayed the appointment as long as it could, hoping to extract concessions from UTO under the threat of blocking Turajonzoda’s return to the country. Turajonzoda, who spent five years in political exile abroad, is UTO’s most sophisticated negotiator and political strategist. He will undoubtedly demonstrate his skill in leading the UTO minority in the transitional government. Turajonzoda’s official responsibility will be supervision of Tajikistan’s "relations with CIS countries." His real power in that post will depend on whether or not it encompasses Tajikistan’s bilateral relations with Russia. Rahmonov’s public remarks failed to clarify this crucial point.

What Type of State?

Following his return to the country, Turajonzoda has called for the revival of Tajikistan’s statehood and of Islam in Tajik society. He regards the two tasks as interrelated because Islam can hold together the country’s disparate regions and ethnic groups. Turajonzoda proposes a referendum on a constitutional amendment to replace the term "secular government" with "popular government." The proposed rewording would allow secular and religious parties to compete on equal terms, once the parties are re-legalized and elections are called. Rahmonov and his officials lost no time in ruling out such an amendment; but this is not necessarily their last word on the issue.

The UTO has demonstrated moderation in its approach to relations between Islam and the state. During the five years of civil war it has neither called for the establishment of an Islamic government, nor attempted to impose Sharia or other fundamentalist Islamic norms in areas of the country controlled by UTO forces. Moreover, UTO would like to enter into a political alliance with the secular National Revival Bloc (see below) on the basis of regional, not religious interests. Within the transitional government, UTO’s policy — as Turajonzoda defined it upon returning to Dushanbe — will seek to establish good and "balanced" relations with Uzbekistan and other Central Asian countries, with Iran, and with Russia (in that order), "so that Tajikistan does not becomes anyone’s protectorate."

Rahmonov Launches Presidential Party

Rahmonov announced on March 10 that he is joining the People’s Democratic Party "in order to strengthen its political and ideological work." With Rahmonov in attendance, the PDP’s Executive Committee scheduled a party congress for April. According to a spokesman, the party’s core presently consists of economic officials. The party will stand for strengthening the secular state, an "evolutionary approach" to market reforms, lending those reforms a "social character," and development of "various forms of ownership." These are post-Soviet code words for retention of a strong state sector. The upcoming congress is likely to elect Rahmonov as party leader.

The President’s step in effect refloats the PDP, which was set up in 1993 to provide a minimal appearance of pluralism after Rahmonov’s Kulob clan had prevailed in the civil war. The party has since been dormant, in a rubber-stamp parliament. With the national reconciliation process now underway, Tajikistan is headed for parliamentary elections. Rahmonov’s step in joining the PDP suggests that he has slated it for the role of presidential party and, implicitly, the main "secular" political force in the planned elections. The date of Rahmonov’s announcement coincided, significantly, with Turajonzoda’s entry into the transitional government, foreshadowing the electoral confrontation which is supposed to replace the military one.

Leninabad Region Likely to Hold Balance of Power

Casting about for a counterweight to UTO, Rahmonov appealed to the secularized Leninabad region for support. Addressing a rally in Hujand, the main city in that region and second-largest in the country, Rahmonov urged support for his policies of secularism and retention of the formula "secular state" in the constitution. But only days later in Dushanbe, the Supreme Court handed down six death sentences and nine prison sentences against a secular opposition group from Leninabad region. Moreover, the court announced that five other members of the group had died during the arrest. The group was pronounced guilty of high treason and terrorist acts, including an assassination attempt against Rahmonov in 1997 in Hujand. The authorities identified the principal defendant as Abdulhafiz Abdullajonov, brother of former Prime Minister Abdumalik Abdullajonov. Rahmonov has the right to commute the sentences, and his decision will carry important political implications.

Leninabad region, situated in northwestern Tajikistan, is the country’s most populous, most developed economically, and most secularized. Much of its population is ethnically Uzbek. The region supplied most Party and government cadres in Soviet Tajikistan, but lost its clout in 1993 when Moscow installed Rahmonov’s Kulob clan from southern Tajikistan in power in Dushanbe. That narrowly-based clan from a backward region holds a disproportionate share of government posts and economic spoils to the detriment of Leninabad. As a result, that region became a center of secular opposition to the Dushanbe government.

The ex-Prime Minister Abdullajonov ran for president in 1994 against Rahmonov, lost the race, and went into exile at first in Moscow and later in Uzbekistan. While abroad he set up a National Revival Bloc, representing Leninabad interests and acting as a secular opposition to the Dushanbe authorities. In 1996 and 1997, NRB supporters staged mass demonstrations in Leninabad region against the central government. The UTO, whose power base is in eastern Tajikistan, has sought in vain to include Abdullajonov and his NRB in the negotiations toward a political settlement of the war and national reconciliation. But Dushanbe has thus far insisted that those negotiations and the power-sharing agreements be handled as a bilateral matter between itself and the UTO.

Neighboring Uzbekistan favors the inclusion of Leninabad representatives in the Tajik government. Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov recently pointed out that a settlement that involves only two sides — the Dushanbe government and UTO — to the exclusion of Leninabad "would not bring any stability to the country."

Rahmonov’s belated appeal for Leninabad support may herald a willingness to negotiate a deal with the region’s representatives well ahead of the planned elections. If so, the overture may usher in a competitive bidding by the presidential camp and by UTO for Leninabad support. The rigidly secular government of Uzbekistan, which hopes to gain political influence in post-war Tajikistan, will probably urge Leninabad’s representatives to side with Rahmonov against UTO. One way or the other, the opening of the political process in Tajikistan increases the political weight of Leninabad region, making it a potential arbiter between the two sides that fought each other in the civil war.


"The Fortnight in Review" is prepared by Senior Analysts Elizabeth Teague (Russia), Stephen Foye (Security and Foreign Policy), and Vladimir Socor (Non-Russian republics).

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