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RFE/RL Newsline, Vol. 5, No. 204, 01-10-26

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: Newsline Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>

RFE/RL NEWSLINE

Vol. 5, No. 204, 26 October 2001


CONTENTS

[A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

  • [01] ARMENIAN PRESIDENT HAILS ECONOMIC UPSWING...
  • [02] ...SAYS OPPOSITION CRITICISM FUELS AZERBAIJANI THREATS
  • [03] ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ENDS WORKING VISIT TO THE U.S.
  • [04] AZERBAIJAN WELCOMES ANTICIPATED WAIVER OF SECTION 907
  • [05] AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT AGAIN CHIDES OSCE OVER KARABAKH
  • [06] AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL BRANDS COUNCIL OF EUROPE STATEMENT ON POLITICAL PRISONERS 'SUBJECTIVE'
  • [07] ABKHAZ PRESIDENT APPEALS TO PUTIN NOT TO WITHDRAW RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS...
  • [08] ...AS CIS OFFICIAL DISCUSSES WITHDRAWAL WITH GEORGIAN PRESIDENT
  • [09] GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTER CLAIMS TO HAVE PREVENTED 'BLOODSHED'
  • [10] ARMENIA, GEORGIA DISCUSS MILITARY COOPERATION
  • [11] KAZAKHSTAN MARKS REPUBLIC DAY
  • [12] KYRGYZ SECURITY COUNCIL FOCUSES ON ENERGY SECTOR
  • [13] KYRGYZ ISLAMISTS CALL FOR PROTESTS AGAINST U.S. BOMBING OF AFGHANISTAN
  • [14] UZBEKISTAN, UN AGREE ON TRANSPORT OF HUMANITARIAN AID TO AFGHANISTAN

  • [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

  • [15] ROBERTSON HAILS ACTION AGAINST TERRORISTS IN BOSNIA
  • [16] PARLIAMENTARY DELAYS CONTINUE IN MACEDONIA
  • [17] MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT APPEALS TO BUSH
  • [18] MACEDONIAN ARMY DEMOBILIZING RESERVISTS
  • [19] MONTENEGRO TO TAKE PART IN BELGRADE TALKS AFTER ALL
  • [20] HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: SERBIAN WAR CRIMES IN KOSOVA WERE 'SYSTEMATIC'
  • [21] STILL NO DECISION ON SERB PARTICIPATION IN KOSOVA VOTE
  • [22] HAGUE AGAIN QUESTIONS CROATIAN GENERAL
  • [23] CROATIA PLEDGES SUPPORT FOR BOSNIAN TV
  • [24] CROATIA CANCELS TALKS WITH ITALY
  • [25] BALKAN STABILITY PACT CONFERENCE TO END IN BUCHAREST
  • [26] ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS TREATY WITH RUSSIA IN OFFING
  • [27] ROMANIAN PREMIER SAYS HE WILL PROPOSE TO BUDAPEST A 'PACKAGE DEAL' ON STATUS LAW
  • [28] MOLDOVAN COMMUNIST IDEOLOGUE ATTACKS PREMIER
  • [29] BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT AMENDS MEDIA LAW

  • [C] END NOTE

  • [30] CAUCASUS CONFLICTS ECLIPSED BY WORLD FOCUS ON AFGHANISTAN

  • [A] TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

    [01] ARMENIAN PRESIDENT HAILS ECONOMIC UPSWING...

    Armenia's GDP grew by 9.9 percent during the first nine months of 2001, thanks primarily to the economy's strong performance during the third quarter, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 25 October. "Armenia has never had such an indicator during the entire period of its independence," President Robert Kocharian told reporters after chairing a cabinet meeting in the absence of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian. "In my opinion, the growth rate will remain at the current level until the end of the year," he added. But Kocharian nonetheless expressed concern at the 17 percent shortfall in tax revenues during the third quarter and told the government to take measures to rectify both that shortfall and problems in the energy sector. LF

    [02] ...SAYS OPPOSITION CRITICISM FUELS AZERBAIJANI THREATS

    Kocharian also told journalists on 25 October that he endorses Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian's 24 October warning that a new attack on Nagorno- Karabakh by Azerbaijan "would mark the beginning of Azerbaijan's final defeat," according to Mediamax, as cited by Groong. Sarkisian was responding to Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's 23 October statement to OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Chairman Adrian Severin that unless the OSCE takes a more principled stand against Armenian intransigence over Nagorno- Karabakh, Baku will have no choice but to opt for a "military solution" to the conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2001). Kocharian argued that the ongoing campaign by three prominent Armenian opposition parties for his impeachment and resignation destabilizes the political situation in Armenia and serves only to encourage Azerbaijan to issue such threats. LF

    [03] ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ENDS WORKING VISIT TO THE U.S.

    Vartan Oskanian returned to Yerevan on 25 October after two days of talks in Washington with U.S. officials that focused on the U.S.-led antiterrorism campaign, the Karabakh conflict, the situation in the Caucasus, and the prospects for an improvement in Armenian-Turkish relations. Oskanian told journalists that Yerevan understands the reasons that led the U.S. Senate to allow President George W. Bush on 24 October to partially waiver Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act that bars direct U.S. government aid to Azerbaijan as long as that country maintains its blockade of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. "The Armenian government understands that the U.S. administration needs some flexibility in [dealing with] Azerbaijan for an effective fight against terrorism, just as the American government understands that Azerbaijan has not lifted the blockade and therefore cannot receive unlimited assistance from the U.S.," Oskanian said in a statement. He noted that Congress and the White House "did not cave in" to long-running Azerbaijani pressure to repeal Section 907 altogether. LF

    [04] AZERBAIJAN WELCOMES ANTICIPATED WAIVER OF SECTION 907

    U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage telephoned Azerbaijani President Aliev on 25 October to inform him of the Senate decision to empower President Bush to waive Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act, Turan and Interfax reported. Commenting on the Senate decision, Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Vilayat Quliev said it demonstrates Azerbaijan's importance to the international community and that Azerbaijan is "an equal ally of the U.S." in the antiterrorism coalition, Interfax reported. LF

    [05] AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT AGAIN CHIDES OSCE OVER KARABAKH

    Meeting in Baku on 25 October with recently appointed OSCE Minsk Group U.S. co-chairman Rudolf Perina, President Aliev again complained that the OSCE and the U.S. are not pursuing a settlement of the Karabakh conflict actively enough, Turan reported. Aliev expressed the hope that the 11 September terrorist attacks on the U.S. have made the nature of terrorism clearer to Washington, adding that "separatism is a source of terrorism." LF

    [06] AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL BRANDS COUNCIL OF EUROPE STATEMENT ON POLITICAL PRISONERS 'SUBJECTIVE'

    Presidential administration official Novruz Mamedov on 25 October rejected the conclusion of a Council of Europe team of experts that there are political prisoners in Azerbaijan, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2001). He argued that even within the Council of Europe there is no clearly accepted definition of what constitutes a political prisoner, but added that the Azerbaijani leadership is prepared to investigate the cases of specific prisoners if the Council of Europe makes such a request. Also on 25 October, Eldar Zeynalov, who is chairman of the unofficial Azerbaijani Center for Human Rights, estimated the total number of political prisoners in Azerbaijan at 700, Turan reported. LF

    [07] ABKHAZ PRESIDENT APPEALS TO PUTIN NOT TO WITHDRAW RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS...

    Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba addressed a written appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin on 25 October not to agree to the withdrawal, which Georgia has demanded, of the Russian peacekeepers deployed under CIS aegis in the region of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Ardzinba argued that the recent fighting in the Kodori gorge testifies to Tbilisi's determination to resort to force to resolve the Abkhaz conflict. He characterized the Russian peacekeeping force as "the principle guarantee of the nonresumption of hostilities," and said their withdrawal or replacement by other forces is "inadmissible." He appealed to Putin to ensure that at the 30 November CIS summit participants vote to extend the peacekeepers' mandate and demand that Georgia comply with the conditions of the cease-fire agreement signed in Moscow in May 1994. LF

    [08] ...AS CIS OFFICIAL DISCUSSES WITHDRAWAL WITH GEORGIAN PRESIDENT

    CIS Executive Secretary Yurii Yarov met in Tbilisi on 25 October with Georgian Minister Without Portfolio Malkhaz Kakabadze and President Eduard Shevardnadze to discuss the CIS peacekeepers' withdrawal, Caucasus Press reported. Yarov told journalists that the CIS executive committee has not yet received from Tbilisi a formal request for the peacekeepers to be withdrawn. He said if such a request is received, the issue will be included in the agenda for the 30 November CIS summit, and predicted that participants would vote in favor. Yarov added, however, that he does not think the peacekeepers' departure would facilitate a solution to the conflict. Also on 25 October, Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Kakha Sikharulidze said his ministry has already drafted the procedure for the peacekeepers' withdrawal. LF

    [09] GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTER CLAIMS TO HAVE PREVENTED 'BLOODSHED'

    Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on 24 October, Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze said that the Georgian police are so outraged at the constant allegations of corruption leveled against them that he was barely able to restrain his men from taking to the streets in protest, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. Targamadze said that had the police done so, "there would have been bloodshed." He did not elaborate, but commentators the following day condemned his statement. An NGO that fights for the rights of former political prisoners said that statement was inappropriate in a democratic civil society, while Elena Tevdoradze, the chairwoman of the parliament's Commission on Human Rights, termed it reminiscent of 1937, the year of one of Stalin's most egregious purges. Also on 25 October, the daily "Rezonansi" quoted the general director of the independent TV station Rustavi-2, Nika Tabatadze, as saying that Targamadze threatened in a telephone call to send his men to "destroy" the company. Targamadze later told a second Rustavi-2 journalist he intended that statement as "a joke." LF

    [10] ARMENIA, GEORGIA DISCUSS MILITARY COOPERATION

    The defense ministers of Armenia and Georgia, Serzh Sarkisian and Davit Tevzadze, told journalists in Tbilisi on 25 October that the two countries will draft a plan for defense cooperation, beginning with an exchange of views on training and military reform, according to Prime News, as cited by Groong. Tevzadze pointed out that bilateral military cooperation between the two states will not be directed against any third country, and will contribute to regional security. LF

    [11] KAZAKHSTAN MARKS REPUBLIC DAY

    The 11th anniversary of the Kazakh parliament's declaration of state sovereignty within the USSR was celebrated in the former and current capitals and in administrative centers on 25 October. Addressing a crowd on Astana's central square, President Nursultan Nazarbaev noted that the economy is flourishing, the political situation is stable, and the population is becoming increasingly prosperous, Interfax reported. But teachers and doctors in Almaty clearly do not agree with that latter assertion: on 24 October they submitted an appeal to the office of the Almaty mayor demanding a salary increase and amendments to the policy on social support for their professions, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. LF

    [12] KYRGYZ SECURITY COUNCIL FOCUSES ON ENERGY SECTOR

    Addressing a session of the Security Council on 25 October, President Askar Akaev argued that the country should be in a position to increase annual hydroelectric output by approximately 1 billion kilowatt-hours, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. He said Kyrgyzstan should be in a position to provide itself with electric power without relying on its neighbors, a clear allusion to the country's vulnerability to cutoffs of gas from neighboring Uzbekistan that have paralyzed gas-fuelled power stations. Akaev also criticized the government for failing to accumulate sufficient stocks of coal, oil, and other fuel in preparation for the coming winter. LF

    [13] KYRGYZ ISLAMISTS CALL FOR PROTESTS AGAINST U.S. BOMBING OF AFGHANISTAN

    Members of the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir party are distributing leaflets in Kyrgyzstan calling for protests against the U.S.-led antiterrorist campaign against Afghanistan, Interfax reported on 25 October, quoting Interior Ministry spokesman Omurbek Egemberdiev. LF

    [14] UZBEKISTAN, UN AGREE ON TRANSPORT OF HUMANITARIAN AID TO AFGHANISTAN

    Following talks in Tashkent on 24 October with President Islam Karimov, UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Kenzo Oshima told journalists the following day that the Uzbek leadership has granted permission for the use of airport and port facilities in Termez on the Uzbek-Afghan border to facilitate the transport of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, Reuters and Interfax reported. The border bridge at Termez has been closed since 1997, and Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov said earlier this week it will not be reopened (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 2001). LF

    [B] SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE

    [15] ROBERTSON HAILS ACTION AGAINST TERRORISTS IN BOSNIA

    NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson said in Brussels on 26 October that action by SFOR troops in Bosnia has helped uncover part of the Al-Qaeda network, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2001). He noted that "there have been a number of arrests and detentions and deportations in Bosnia-Herzegovina carried out by the NATO-led Stabilization Force, SFOR. The action taken by SFOR has disrupted a number of terrorist networks, not all of them Al-Qaeda networks. They show the effectiveness of our operation in seeking out and cracking down on terrorism." He added that NATO's successes were "achieved through excellent cooperation with other agencies. We also welcome and have been impressed by the actions of the government authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The threat, however, has not gone. These networks have been disrupted, not eliminated. Investigations are continuing. Our work is therefore not finished." PM

    [16] PARLIAMENTARY DELAYS CONTINUE IN MACEDONIA

    Parliamentary speaker Stojan Andov, whom critics consider a master of legalistic delay tactics, postponed a session of parliament scheduled for 26 October, saying that "there will be no session before Monday," dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2001, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report, " 7 September and 23 October 2001). The previous evening, EU security policy chief Javier Solana met in Skopje with leading ethnic Albanian politicians. He is expected to meet with Macedonian leaders on 26 October, which Andov suggested prompted him to postpone the legislative session. Reuters reported that ethnic Albanians fear that Andov is preparing further delay tactics to prevent the full approval of the reform package included in the 13 August Ohrid agreement. PM

    [17] MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT APPEALS TO BUSH

    Boris Trajkovski wrote on 25 October to his U.S. counterpart George W. Bush requesting unspecified support in Trajkovski's efforts to rewrite the proposed changes to the preamble to the constitution as set down in the Ohrid agreement, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 August 2001). Trajkovski said that "if we don't apply this [revision], all of our hard work may fail and we would enter into an uncertain future. We cannot allow that to happen." Trajkovski wants to change the reference in the preamble to Macedonia being a state of "citizens" to being one "of the citizens of Macedonia, who pertain to the Macedonian people, Albanians, Turks, Roma, Vlachs, Serbs, Bosnians, and others." The president feels that Macedonians, whose national identity has been questioned by some of their neighbors, will not accept the preamble without a specific reference to their nationhood. Albanians say, however, that the new formulation will imply that non-Macedonians are second-class citizens. Former Yugoslav legislation distinguished between "nations" or "peoples" on one hand and "nationalities" or "minorities" on the other. PM

    [18] MACEDONIAN ARMY DEMOBILIZING RESERVISTS

    The Defense Ministry said in Skopje on 25 October that it is in the process of demobilizing 1,200 reservists, dpa reported. The ministry cited "improvements in the security situation" as the reason for its decision. PM

    [19] MONTENEGRO TO TAKE PART IN BELGRADE TALKS AFTER ALL

    Montenegro's governing Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) decided in Podgorica on 25 October that President Milo Djukanovic and an unspecified delegation will take part in talks in Belgrade on 26 October with Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica and the Serbian leadership, despite earlier suggestions that Djukanovic would not participate, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2001). A DPS spokesman said that the Montenegrins will use the opportunity to again make their case for redefining the Yugoslav federation as a loose confederation of two independent states. Predrag Bulatovic, who heads Montenegro's pro-Belgrade Socialist People's Party (SNP) hailed the decision, but added that he does not think the talks will lead anywhere. In Belgrade, officials of the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia welcomed the DPS's decision. PM

    [20] HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: SERBIAN WAR CRIMES IN KOSOVA WERE 'SYSTEMATIC'

    The NGO Human Rights Watch said in a statement on 25 October that Serbian war crimes in Kosova in 1999 were "directed from the top" and that some of those responsible "still hold important positions today," Reuters reported from Belgrade. They include Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, who has been indicted by The Hague-based tribunal, as well as army Chief of Staff General Nebojsa Pavkovic and police head Sreten Lukic. Both men were commanders in Kosova during the war. The NGO's report also referred to attacks on Serbs and other minorities by "elements" of the ethnic Albanian guerrillas. PM

    [21] STILL NO DECISION ON SERB PARTICIPATION IN KOSOVA VOTE

    On 25 October in Belgrade, Hans Haekkerup, who heads the UN's civilian administration in Kosova, discussed the possible participation of Serbs in the 17 November Kosova elections with Kostunica and other officials, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 October 2001). Kostunica's office said in a statement that there are considerable differences between Haekkerup and his interlocutors, but that efforts will be made in the coming days to overcome the problems. After Haekkerup arrived in Belgrade, dozens of relatives of Serbs missing in Kosova attacked his car, but no one was hurt. Meanwhile, in Prishtina, German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping and his French counterpart Alain Richard called on all citizens to take part in the vote, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. PM

    [22] HAGUE AGAIN QUESTIONS CROATIAN GENERAL

    In Zagreb on 25 October, officials of The Hague-based war crimes tribunal questioned General Petar Stipetic, who heads the General Staff, about the Croatian army's offensives in 1995, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Hague officials questioned him in March and have made clear that they regard him as a witness, not as a defendant. PM

    [23] CROATIA PLEDGES SUPPORT FOR BOSNIAN TV

    The government agreed to provide funds to construct transmitters on Croatian territory to relay programs of Bosnian federal television to areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina with a predominantly Croatian population, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Zagreb on 25 October. PM

    [24] CROATIA CANCELS TALKS WITH ITALY

    Deputy Foreign Minister Vesna Cvjetkovic-Kurelec said in Zagreb on 26 October that there will be no more talks with Italy about a partnership agreement following the Italian government's decision to grant a medal to the last World War II Italian government in what was then the Italian town of Zara, now Croatia's Zadar, dpa reported. The agreement has been under negotiation for nine years. Many Croats and Slovenes are suspicious of possible Italian irredentism toward Istria and the Dalmatian coast. Italians from those territories constitute a well-organized lobby in Italian politics. PM

    [25] BALKAN STABILITY PACT CONFERENCE TO END IN BUCHAREST

    International donors pledged $2.2 billion in funds primarily intended for mainly infrastructure projects at the Balkan Stability Pact conference in Bucharest on 25 October, international agencies reported. The conference was to end on 26 October. Bodo Hombach, the coordinator of the Balkan Stability Pact, said that in order for Europe to avoid being "Balkanized," the Balkans must be "Europeanized." He was echoed by EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten, who said, "Either we export stability to the Balkans and Southeast Europe, or it exports instability to the rest of Europe." MS

    [26] ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS TREATY WITH RUSSIA IN OFFING

    Ion Iliescu said on 25 October that there are no issues that cannot be solved relating to the negotiations on the basic treaty with Russia, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Iliescu also said the issue of the return of the Romanian state treasury that was sent to Moscow during World War I should not be addressed by this treaty. He said there are "more delicate problems" relating to the basic treaty signed with Ukraine as a result of the haste with which that document was signed, and that reopening a "dialogue" on the matter has been discussed with his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma. "We must find a way to jointly exploit resources in the Black Sea, cooperating for that purpose rather than competing with one another," Iliescu concluded. MS

    [27] ROMANIAN PREMIER SAYS HE WILL PROPOSE TO BUDAPEST A 'PACKAGE DEAL' ON STATUS LAW

    Adrian Nastase said on 26 October that the Venice Commission recommendations "by and large" confirmed that the Romanian positions on the Hungarian Status Law are just, and he emphasized that the commission concluded that the preservation of rights safeguarding national minorities' culture and identity can by no means be extended to the economic realm, Romanian radio reported. He said that he intends to propose to Hungary a "package formula" that will take into account "the basic philosophy" of the recommendations. The previous day, Nastase detailed his plan: the elimination from the Hungarian-Romanian accord of the stipulation limiting the number of Romanians who can work in Hungary to 8,000; involving Hungarian consulates in Romania in the issuance of ID cards attesting to membership of the Hungarian national minority on the basis of a recommendation from the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania; and allowing any Romanian citizen who wishes to study in Hungary at the state's expense to do so. MS

    [28] MOLDOVAN COMMUNIST IDEOLOGUE ATTACKS PREMIER

    Mark Tkachuk, a member of the parliament's Permanent Bureau, who is considered to be one of the chief ideologists of the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM), on 25 October demanded the dismissal of Vasile Tarlev as premier, Infotag reported. In an interview on the pro.md website, Tkachuk accused the cabinet of "sabotage" and of "deliberately flubbing negotiations with the Russian and Ukrainian premiers." He said the government is being manipulated by former President Petru Lucinschi, and is "a strong and clever enemy" of the PCM. He said Lucinschi built a "pyramid of power" over the years, and it would be "naive" to believe that structure could be dismantled in the eight months following the elections. MS

    [29] BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT AMENDS MEDIA LAW

    The parliament on 25 October amended the Media Law, replacing the current National Council on Radio and Television with an Electronic Media Council, BTA reported. The members of the new council are to be appointed within two weeks by the parliament and by President Petar Stoyanov. The council's prerogatives include the licensing of all radio and television stations broadcasting in Bulgaria and calling tenders for licensing of new broadcasting operations. MS

    [C] END NOTE

    [30] CAUCASUS CONFLICTS ECLIPSED BY WORLD FOCUS ON AFGHANISTAN

    By Richard Giragosian

    Overshadowed by ongoing U.S.-led military antiterrorism strikes against Afghanistan and the intense diplomatic consultations on cooperation between world powers to counter global terrorism, rising tensions in the South Caucasus threaten to create yet another front of instability where a new outbreak of hostilities would have significant implications extending beyond the regional borders. A new war in the Caucasus would not only threaten to destabilize the broader Caspian Basin, but could present a challenge to the emerging U.S.-Russian strategic partnership.

    Demonstrating the linkage of the conflicts in the Caucasus, the recent clashes in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia reportedly involve a force of several hundred made up of ethnic Georgians allied with Chechen rebels. Although geographically limited to the Kodori gorge of Abkhazia, the fighting has already claimed the lives of more than fifty ethnic Greek, Armenian, and Abkhaz villagers, as well as five United Nations observers.

    Although serious questions over the Russian and/or Georgian roles in this crisis remain unanswered, it seems evident that the situation may very well lead to a clash of interests among the various regional powers. One possible analysis points to an attempt by the Georgian leadership to utilize Chechen fighters and guerrillas recruited from the ranks of Georgian displaced persons from Abkhazia as part of a broad campaign to retake control over much of the breakaway region. However, such a scenario is a dangerous gambit for Georgia, as it already seems evident that the conflict has spiraled beyond the ability of the Georgian military to effectively contain the situation. The key question remains as to how these fighters were able to travel undetected for nearly 500 kilometers from their base in the Pankisi gorge, infiltrating Georgian territory prior to launching raids on Abkhaz villages.

    The Georgian government has long been criticized by Russia for being unwilling or unable to halt Chechen operations from its territory and this new outbreak may offer Russian hard-liners a fresh justification for intervening. In perhaps the most serious confrontation between Moscow and Tbilisi in several years, this Abkhaz crisis poses a serious test of the firmness of the newly revised Russian foreign policy and may test the very survival of the Georgian government. Although as of 18 October the fighting appeared to have abated, a Georgian military contingent remains in the upper reaches of the Kodori gorge and the Abkhaz anticipate that that force may launch a new attack. Meanwhile, further complicating the situation, Abkhaz leaders have added a new dimension to the conflict by calling for an association agreement with the Russian Federation.

    Responding to the Abkhaz crisis, on 12 October Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a backing-off policy, pledging noninterference in Georgia's "internal affairs" and offering to withdraw the 2,000 Russian troops deployed along the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia as part of the Commonwealth of Independent States' (CIS) peacekeeping mandate. Although seemingly a reflection of the overall new westward orientation of Russian foreign policy, it seems more likely to be central to a strategy exploiting the increasing vulnerability of the Georgian state. That interpretation is reinforced by the recent deployment of Russian troops along the Russian border with Georgia, a move cloaked in the veil of a defensive response, yet undoubtedly seen by Tbilisi as an exercise in intimidation.

    Meanwhile, the chances of a political settlement of the Karabakh conflict appear to be receding, while a resumption of hostilities appears increasingly possible. Driven by a series of aggressive statements by Azerbaijani officials and politicians threatening to retake Nagorno- Karabakh by force, tension has escalated in recent weeks as Armenia and Azerbaijan traded diplomatic barbs, with each branding the other as a terrorist state.

    Azerbaijan has sought to utilize the shifting geopolitical landscape by arguing that it has a right to embark on an "antiterror" campaign of its own directed at retaking control of Nagorno-Karabakh. For its part, Armenia has branded Azerbaijan as a haven for operatives for Osama Bin Laden, exaggerating the putative Azerbaijani connection to international terrorism. Such diplomacy, to the detriment of these states, has only tended to contribute to a "culture of conflict."

    Possibly the most disturbing factor of the developments of the last few weeks is that the geopolitical status quo in the South Caucasus is so tenuous that it can be destabilized by a mere handful of freebooters in the case of Georgia, and incautious militant rhetoric in Azerbaijan.

    That dangerous momentum toward conflict demonstrates the need for the new U.S.-Russian cooperative relationship to initiate a coordinated response to stabilize the Caucasus, at least by trying to kick start the stalled mediation efforts of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). As two of the three co-chairs of the OSCE's Minsk Group mediating the Karabakh conflict, Moscow and Washington should recognize the interrelationship and interdependence of instability on both sides of the Caspian Sea. Similarly, as members of the "Friends of Georgia" group, the U.S. and Russia could, and should, induce the UN Security Council to place Abkhazia higher on its list of priorities.

    Richard Giragosian is a Washington-based regional analyst and publisher of the monthly newsletter "TransCaucasus: A Chronology." (giragosi@email.msn.com)

    26-10-01


    Reprinted with permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
    URL: http://www.rferl.org


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