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Separatism, Islam and Oil

Separatism, Islam and oil are the words that are most frequently used when the situation in the Caucasus is described.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta (18/03/98) carried an article by Yusup Soslambekov, president of the Confederation of the Peoples of the Caucasus, which described the situation in the Caucasus and pointed to the growing external pressure on the region.

The objective of the political-ideological and financial centres operating in Georgia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and some Western states is to reduce the strategic space of Russia. The goals of these organisations were openly put forth at the February 1997 international scientific shop conference in Georgia. It was held by the Caucasian bureau of the Vertik organisation, based in London and headed by Dennis Sammut, an ex-member of a British special service, and the Istanbul branch of the Caucasian Common Market organisation, which also has its headquarters in London and is advised by Zbigniew Bzhezinski, Henry Kissinger and Margaret Thatcher. Other organisers of the conference were Georgian MPs from the ruling party and the London Institute of War and Peace.

A British diplomat said off the record that Russia had actually pulled out of the North Caucasus, which is becoming a vital region for the West, for several reasons. The forthcoming dissolution of Russia, which will mark the final end of the Cold War, will begin in the outskirts (the diplomat clearly meant the North Caucasus).

The official representatives of the North Caucasus and the leaders of the regional socio-political movements are encouraged to think that the vector of interests of the Caucasian people has moved to the West and that only Western countries, rather than Russia, are their potential allies. The goal of such ideological acts is to ensure a political reorientation of the Caucasus to the West, create a new line-up of forces and find alternative partners for the settlement of complicated ethno-political and confessional conflicts.

The former British Ambassador to Albania said at the above conference that all deliberations about the revival of a strong Russia in the framework of the international community as a result of the policy carried out by the Russian federal power in the Caucasus are beneath criticism. A state that does not have clearly marked borders, with a deficient constitution, without a national idea, and an absolute world debtor cannot be strong and would never be strong, he said.

The foreign policy strategy of some Western countries and Turkey in the North Caucasus is complemented with internal actions. The factor of Wahhabism in Islam and socio-political life in the North Caucasus is actively used for this purpose. The green light to this political and ideological campaign was given after the 1995 Russian visit of Aga Khan IV, the head of Ismailites, who held talks with a number of Russian officials. In the past few years, the Islamic centres in the Middle East trained over 4,000 young Wahhabis from the North Caucasian ethnic groups. According to some information, the funds came from Saudi Arabia. These efforts bore their fruit.

When one looks at the forms of Islamic self-organisation in Russia, and especially in the North Caucasus, one sees above all the internal Islamic conflict, which is being fanned and is taking ever more aggressive forms. The levels and forms of this conflict differ from one region to another.

The authors of the report, "The Fourth Rome, or the Second Horde?" (S. Kurginyan, M. Mamikonyan and M. Podkopayeva) point out that in Chechnya this conflict took the form of confrontation between political blocs in the republican leadership. Relatively speaking, the Wahhabite bloc consists of Movladi Udugov, Vakha Arsanov and Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, while the "traditionalist" bloc is made up of Aslan Maskhadov, Akhmed Zakayev, and mufti Akhmed Kadyrov of the Moslem Board of Chechnya.

Udugov, head of the Islamic Nation, proclaimed during its creation in the summer of 1997 that "it is for the first time since Imam Shamil that Chechnya and Daghestan are uniting into one state." No wonder that Daghestan shared with Chechnya the problems of that religious-political path. The Wahhabite-tarekat confrontation, which developed at the level of clan-power blocs in Chechnya, was promptly exported to Daghestan, where it took the form of an ethnic-religious split.

Daghestan inherited the provocative nature of religious clashes, hidden in political lining. To begin with, the export of an aggressive, conflict-prone Wahhabism to Daghestan and the establishment of Khattab, the Jordanian instructor in Wahhabism who later moved to Chechnya, there was initially ambiguous. Foreign interests and money can be seen in Khattab's shadow. Besides, that "teacher" of the Afghan mujaheddin is a symbol of ruthlessness to the defeated. He initiated the creation of a Chechen-Daghestani "Islamic battalion," made up of those who agreed to give up traditional Islam for Wahhabism. It is clear that he is not, and will never, play the role of a religious leader in Chechnya and Daghestan, but will train his "students," doomed to internecine strife and provocations, in the art of terrorism. The Arab mass media claim that he "graduated" 300 such students in October 1997, who took part in the December 22, 1997 attack on Buinaksk and the armed clashes between the Wahhabis and tarekatists in the Buinaksk Region, where most Wahhabite villages are situated, in 1998.

The subsequent developments became more and more intensive, with fighting in Daghestan in the autumn of 1999 and explosions in Buinaksk, Moscow and Volgodonsk.

Like all conflicts in the Caucasus, the Wahhabite-tarekatist conflict in Chechnya and Daghestan is linked with oil rivalry, in which Daghestan is involved.

The summer of 1997 was spent in deliberations according to which Chechnya, which was talking very harshly to Moscow, should remember that the pipeline could by built in Daghestan and thus bypass Chechnya. In September, the then Vice Premier Boris Nemtsov announced that this was not a mere possibility, but that the corresponding decision had already been made at the highest level. This could not have been an unpremeditated statement, the more so that Nemtsov subsequently had several meetings with Geidar Aliyev to discuss the problem.

It became clear two weeks later that Gadzhi Makhachev, Director General of the Dagneft joint stock oil company, suggested his own version of building a bypass line. He believed that not just Chechnya, but also the turbulent Khasavyurt Region of Daghestan, should be bypassed. He stressed that the construction of the pipeline there would aggravate the conflict between Grozny and the Akkin Chechens. Makhachev further said that his route would be 30km shorter and that he had coordinated the construction with the US Redd.

Makhachev is also the leader of the Avar Front named after Imam Shamil, which is traditionally incorporated into the bloc that advocates the idea of unitary Daghestan, while the Turkic people of Daghestan have always supported a federation. The latter is especially important, because Makhachev promised to protect the pipeline independently, meaning with the help of the Front.

In mid-December 1997, Udugov led a Chechen delegation to Daghestan, where the Chechen and Daghestani leaders discussed the drafting of a friendship and cooperation treaty in the settlement of Novolakskoye. Five months before that, in July 1997, Movladi Udugov, the advocate of the Chechen Wahhabite group and a personal friend of the late Fattikh, the spiritual leader of the Daghestani Wahhabis, proclaimed the goal of uniting Chechnya and Daghestan into a single state. The idea was not discussed in Novolakskoye. Moreover, the Daghestani delegation said the treaty itself could be signed only after the visit of Boris Yeltsin to Chechnya.

Five days later, on December 22, Wahhabis made a show of attacking Buinaksk. A few days after that, they killed several people and kidnapped several Daghestani officials in Kaspiisk and Kyzyl-Yurt. This spread instability to the central part of Daghestan and eliminated the idea of any northern oil routes.

The reaction of Makhachev, the head of Dagneft and the Imam Shamil Front, was more than strong. He said at the December 27, 1997 meeting that the Daghestani law-enforcement agencies could not reply to the Chechen challenge, while the Front's units took part in fighting the Chechens. And he called on the people to create armed self-defence groups.

At the same time Maskhadov began a reshuffle of the government, which was dismissed by the end of the year to be re-formed once more, this time "under" Shamil Basayev. The reshuffle began with an event, which is justly considered to be crucial. In October 1997, Maskhadov restructured the Yuzhnaya Petrochemical Company into four concerns, dismissing its president Khozh-Akhmet Yarikhanov. Yarikhanov is known to belong to the clan of "veteran Dudayevites," who had been close Dudayev associates since 1991.      His dismissal, as well as the dismissals of other economics ministers of Chechnya, removed control over oil from the so-called Dudayevites (including the myalkhi teip and the clan of the Albakov brothers).

Going back to the Big Game theme in the Caucasus, one should take note of the fact that the development of events in that region is not only closely followed but also participated in by the secret services of the player countries.

Dudayev is considered to have come to power in 1991 together with the Albakov brothers, who controlled the oil business, and with the "old" myalkhi, orstkhoi-tsechoi, and kurchaloi teips.

Besides, the "Dudayev" period had all the hallmarks of a pro-German policy.  This is evidenced by close ties with the Chechen émigré centre in Munich, the presence of a Chechen diaspora in the FRG in 1992 at a world congress of the vainakhs in Grozny, and Dudayev's own oil companion in Germany, Kress Company, which financed the time spent abroad by Dudayev's eldest son Avlur. And. such a detail as the spiritual leadership of the Dudayev family, which belongs to the Vis-Khadzhi vird, by a sheikh who was an ethnic German.

This period also saw the highly significant murder in London of the Utsiyev brothers (clan opponents of the Albakovs) whilst they were conducting business negotiations with Joseph Ripp (president of the Investors Corporation of America) for 250 million pounds sterling for Chechnya to reconstruct the oil fields.

Now, the pro-British vector of Chechen policy, in disfavour during Dudayev's day, emerged in the "post-Dudayev" period, that is the period of Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, and took its final shape by the end of that period, when Aslan Maskhadov won the presidential election in Chechnya.

This "Chechen volte-face" began in the autumn of 1996 when a Chechen-Japanese company, Caucasian Common Market AO, was set up in Tokyo and when at the same time the Yandarbiyev government announced plans for oil transit across Ukraine and Poland.

In addition to the Japanese companies Itochu, Mitsubishi, and Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi, Turkey, South Korea, Poland and Ukraine, the consortium also included Saudi Arabia in the person of multi-millionaire Hashoggi.

As the year 1997 began and with it the "Maskhadov period," Britain took a firm place in the "Tokyo initiative."

The way the Caucasian Common Market came into being was described by the magazine Kommersant Vlast (24.11.98). In April 1997, the Caucasian-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KATPP) was registered in Washington. It was headed by a man little known in the world business - Khozh-Akhmet Nukhayev - former first Vice Premier in the Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev government. Jacques Attali, former head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and now head of its group of experts, became the chamber's visiting card.

Megapolis-Express carried a series of articles on organised criminal groups. One of the articles was devoted to a Chechen grouping (02.02.99) under the by-line of Tatiana Borovik. In this article Nukhayev was described as one of the "mobsters" nicknamed Khozha and as the richest Chechen.

A dissident, an organiser of a clandestine student group, a fiery fighter for Ichkeria's independence who suffered at KGB hands - he was thrown into cellars for clandestine propaganda - this is how he speaks of himself.

The files of law enforcement bodies draw up a different profile. In the 70s Khozha, as a future nationality cadre, was studying in the law department of Moscow State University. In parallel he engaged in black marketeering and drug pushing, for which he was expelled from the university and given his first prison term.

In the 80s, he served a term for fraud and robberies. But his actual distinction did not come until 1991. The Moskvoretsky district court passed then its first verdict on organised racketeering. The case involved three Caucasian co-operators, and one of the co-accused was Khozha. The militia incriminated the gang in a series of crimes. The largest sum - 63,000 roubles (as a yardstick it is worthwhile recalling that a Zhiguli Model 9 was sold on the black market for 10-12,000 roubles) was extorted by the racketeers from the head of the sausage department of a meat packing plant in the Moscow region. The court sentenced the three of them to eight years of imprisonment each. The prisoners who wished to serve their time closer to home were sent to their native regions. Khozha bought his freedom from local militia officials for 150,000 roubles.

The war called for his criminal links in Moscow. Khozha arranged regular supplies of arms to Chechnya and held leading positions in two governments - under Dudayev and under Yandarbiyev. When the war ended, he emigrated to Turkey. He lived in Istanbul for several years and often travelled across Europe. According to operational data, he was preparing the ground for receiving citizenship in Israel.

It remains a riddle why a man with such a biography was not shunned by Margaret Thatcher, Henry Kissinger, and leading Western businessmen. He also had a meeting with the famous Saudi Arabian billionaire Hashoggi. Influential persons regarded with envious favour all sorts of the "mobster's" ideas: to set up a Caucasian bank, a Caucasian common market, or a Caucasian investment trust.

KATPP began to pursue the Caucasian Common Market project and after two months produced a scheme on how to integrate Chechnya into the world financial system. On June 27 at the annual international forum Kranz-Montana in Switzerland the Caucasian Common Market project was endorsed. It found its sponsor in the person of Lord McAlpine, representing the Goldsmiths financial group, acting under the aegis of Margaret Thatcher, who, in her turn, is a political adviser to British Petroleum, a Caspian oil operator.

On October 13, 1997 Lord McAlpine, on the one hand, and Aslan Maskhadov and Khozh-Akhmet Nukhayev, on the other, signed a protocol of intent to set up in London - on terms of a long-term lease of the Chechen oil complex - an investment trust with no less than 3 billion dollars in charter capital to restore the oil complex and to finance the laying of new pipelines. And in February 1998 the Trans-Caucasian Energy Company set up by them suggested to Moscow its plan for transporting "big-time Caspian oil" to Western Europe along the Baku-Grozny-Rostov-Ukraine route and then through the Friendship oil pipeline. In March Maskhadov visited London and met Margaret Thatcher to agree some matters. In April he submitted the Caucasian Common Market (KOR) project to presidents of the North Caucasian republics.

The above-mentioned report by S.Kurginyan notes about the presentation of the KOR that "Mr. Nukhayev, who is not the least member of the country's criminal hierarchy, attends a gala dinner given in his honour by the family of one of the largest European millionaires, the late Sir James Goldsmith, one of the leaders of the Conservative Party during Thatcher's rule. The presentation is attended by new persons - co-founders of the Caucasian Common Market ZAO Tsezar Shevardnadze (the nephew of Eduard Shevardnadze) and Altai Khasanov (the nephew of Geidar Aliyev)".

Perhaps the Caucasian Investment Trust should also be considered as the "nephew" of the bigger Caspian consortium with the same participants. Only with a slight difference: that consortium has a substantial US share and some Russian share.

The list fails to mention one more "nephew" - Dodi al Fayed (the son of the sister of Hashoggi, Saudi multimillionaire, Chechen benefactor and Caucasian Common Market ZAO member). It is well known that Dodi died tragically with Princess Diana in the summer 1998. Yet he would have had the right to be put on the list, since, to judge from published data, Hashoggi's role in destroying the USSR by manipulating oil prices was immense. It is also said that Grozny above all owed its financial welfare during the war with Moscow to his fund "Medina".

And even the name of the late Princess Diana in this chain is significant and not accidental. It leads us to the next figure: Imran-Khan, a Pakistani political and Lahore leader, married to the daughter of Goldsmith. Earlier, Princess Diana visited the hospitals he patronised in Lahore and was his guest, and now Imran-Khan has made trips to Chechnya. The first time was in October 1997, unofficially, after Lord McAlpine, former treasurer of British Conservatives, and early in 1998, quite officially: at the request of a deputy of the British ambassador in Pakistan (?!!) he was asked to look after British citizens kidnapped in Chechnya and travelled to Grozny to elucidate the circumstances of their kidnapping.

In winding up the description of the British vector in Chechnya and the Chechen policy of Great Britain, it is important to indicate that the chain of figures taking its beginnings in London with the Goldsmiths, Lord McAlpine, Princess Diana and continued by Saudi Arabia in the person of Hashoggi and exported Wahhabism, ended with Pakistani Imran-Khan in London again. The plot, however, brought all the characters to Chechnya. The circle of persons and events is closed in precisely this way.

As for the German vector of Chechen policy as it now stands, it is best illustrated by the mishaps of Salman Raduyev. He was wounded in March 1996. After that he was taken to a hospital near Munich and Pullach, the headquarters of the German BND intelligence. It is further claimed that the entire operation was supervised by the BND department concerned with narcotic traffic-king and money laundering. Following complex plastic surgery, Raduyev was brought back to Chechnya through Russian territory.

In 1997 there was another attempt on his life, attributed to Vakha Arsanov, who is linked to the Wahhabi group in today's Chechnya. Whether it was Arsanov who was behind the shooting is not worth investigating now. On the other hand, it is worthwhile looking at the fact that it is Raduyev who is viewed by the Wahhabi armed community in Chechnya and Daghestan as one of their main opponents. It was Raduyev who called for banning Wahhabi activity in Chechnya.

The German-Caucasian Society functioning in Germany is concerned with promoting cultural ties with former Soviet republics. But it gained scandalous notoriety early this year when information filtered through the press that the society has a hand in training Chechen military engineers. The official story is that Chechens were taught outside Berlin how to defuse the numerous minefields left behind by federal forces as they departed from Chechnya. In February 1999 the Russian Foreign Ministry made a representation to the FRG embassy in Moscow over the reports that Chechens were being trained at courses in Germany to discover and defuse mines.

As official Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin said, the Russian side "heard with puzzlement and concern the given information that was confirmed by German official authorities." Rakhmanin noted that "it is legitimate to ask: why citizens of Russia, and besides natives of a region with an unstable political and extremely dangerous criminal situation, are taught a military occupation without agreement from the Russian side?" According to Rakhmanin, "it is an open secret that those learning the 'trade' of defusing mines also acquire, as a rule, knowledge of their functioning and installation". Proceeding from this, the diplomat said, "we cannot accept the justification of the FRG Foreign Ministry, which qualified this as rendering 'specialised humanitarian assistance' to Russian regions". The representation made to the FRG Embassy demanded that such practices be terminated. (Segodnya, 27.02.99).

Going back to the British vector in Chechen policy, one should pay attention to how events developed after Aslan Maskhadov returned from London in March 1998 and the first attempts were made to realise the KOR project.

On May 1, 1998, Valentin Vlasov, the Russian President's envoy to Chechnya, was kidnapped. In the subsequent months, in parallel with the efforts to liberate Vlasov, there developed another intrigue - around Kurdish leader Ocalan. There were a number of articles in the press, saying that there was a connection between Vlasov's release and Ocalan's arrest, with everything revolving on rival routes for transportation of Caspian oil.

One of the most plausible stories was published in the magazine Kommersant-Vlast (24.11.98).

On the night of November 12-13, Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan was detained in Italy, and Valentin Vlasov, an envoy of the Russian President, was released in Chechnya. The coincidence is not accidental.

At 22.00 hours local time on November 12 (in Moscow it was 01.00 on the morning of November 13), Abdullah Ocalan, leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), was detained in Rome's Fiumicino airport when passing through passport control after arriving in the Italian capital from Moscow on Aeroflot flight SU 584. He arrived in Rome under an assumed identity, but on a genuine passport issued by the Turkish consulate in Frankfurt in the name of Abdullah Sarikurt, one of the PKK members.

At first Ocalan decided that he had been detained because of the passport. But later, he said, "there followed a series of telephone calls, and I realised that problems with my free entry into Italy were different".

These calls set in motion another combination, this time in Russia's North Caucasus. In about an hour's time after Ocalan was detained at Fiumicino, a convoy consisting of several cars drove from Chechnya towards the Ingush border. One of them contained Valentin Vlasov, the Russian President's envoy to Chechnya, kidnapped on May 1. About an hour later he was handed over to Russian representatives on the border.

On the next morning both found themselves in hospital wards: Vlasov in Moscow, and Ocalan in Rome. One - for a medical check-up after six months of captivity, and the other - under actual arrest.

On the same morning Turkey's Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz received Russia's ambassador in Ankara at the latter's request. The ambassador handed in a message from Yevgeny Primakov, saying that Ocalan was not in Russia and Russia will not allow him to be active on its territory. Ankara expressed its satisfaction. And Gian Altan, Minister-Counsellor at Turkey's embassy in Moscow, said a bit later that "in the wake of the recent events Turkish-Russian friendship has grown stronger".

Discouraged, Ocalan later told Italian journalists: "I was forced to leave Moscow because I found myself at the focus of a dispute between the Duma and Premier Primakov. There was a risk that Russians would yield to the pressure of Turkey and the US".

Ankara and its backer Washington had begun a hue and cry against the Kurdish leader six weeks before. Early in October Turkey presented an ultimatum to Syria, which for many years harboured the main PKK bases and headquarters. Ankara demanded that Damascus should immediately stop its support for the Kurdist rebels and extradite their leader Abdullah Ocalan. Otherwise the Turks threatened to strike at supposed locations of Kurdish bases in Damascus and the Syria-controlled Lebanese Bekaa valley. The Turks' threat was reinforced by concentrating a many-thousand strong military contingent on the Syrian-Turkish border.

Damascus gave way. On October 20, in the Turkish town of Adana, a secret agreement was signed, under which Syria undertook to ban the PKK on its territory. But 11 days before that meeting, on October 9, Kurdish militants began moving their bases from Syria and Lebanon to Iraq and PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan flew to Larnaka (Cyprus) and from there to Moscow.

But the tumult continued. On October 20, Turkey's Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz said that Ocalan was in Russia. The next day spokesmen for Turkish secret services specified the address - in the town of Odintsovo outside Moscow, and the Turkish Premier asked Yevgeny Primakov to extradite Ocalan.

Moscow's reply was evasive: nobody named Ocalan had entered Russia. Perhaps the Kurdish leader had arrived under a different identity. And Moscow promised to look for him.

Meanwhile Ocalan wrote a letter to the State Duma and officially asked for political asylum in Russia. On November 4, the State Duma asked President Boris Yeltsin to grant political asylum in Russia to Kurdistan Workers' Party leader Abdullah Ocalan. The plea was supported by 298 deputies.

But on November 6 the US Administration addressed the Russian government with an urgent request to look for Ocalan and if he were in Russia to expel him.

At about the same time, when Ankara opened season on Ocalan, Moscow vigorously stepped up its attempts to free Valentin Vlasov from his captivity. The search for him was conducted in parallel by CIS executive secretary Boris Berezovsky, Russia's Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. And all of them were saying in chorus that Vlasov would be freed any day now.

On October 25 Chechen secret services launched a large-scale operation against kidnappers the main result of which was to have been the release of Vlasov. But two hours into the operation the general leading the operation, Shadid Bargishev, was killed. The operation fizzled out. 

On October 30, at a festival marking the opening of the new Ingush capital, Magas, an irritated Maskhadov spoke of "political forces" not interested in Vlasov's liberation. He was seconded by Ruslan Aushev. Both presidents hinted almost openly at Boris Berezovsky.

A couple of days later Stepashin, too, admitted the failure of his plans. He also referred to "certain people" who joined "the process of Vlasov's release" and "provided large sums of money for the Interior Ministry not to free the President's envoy". The Interior Minister added that he was not referring to Russian politicians.

Observers decided that talk was again about Berezovsky who, being CIS Executive Secretary, that is, an international official, formally was not a Russian politician.

But Berezovsky suddenly supported Stepashin, confirming reports about large sums of money paid to prevent Vlasov's release. "Certain political forces do not want to resolve a situation unpleasant for the President and us all, when the person kidnapped is not just a human being, but an envoy of the Russian President".

As Ankara and Washington knew where Ocalan was, so Moscow and Grozny did not entertain particular doubts as to who was holding Vlasov. In Chechnya, by any major reckoning, there were only two political forces able to engage in such games: on the one hand, Maskhadov representing the interests of Chechnya's business elite and the parliament supporting him, and, on the other, the military-religious opposition backed by Raduyev and Basayev militant units.

They found themselves on the opposite sides of the barricade in the spring of that year: early in April, Maskhadov, having gathered in Grozny presidents of all North Caucasian republics and representatives from Baku and Tbilisi, unveiled his plans for a Caucasian Common Market.

The core of the project was a proposal agreed with the West to lay a Baku-Grozny-Ukraine-Poland-Western Europe pipeline. The reaction of Russian constituent members was restrained, but on the whole favourable: after demanding that the project take into account Russia's territorial integrity, Chechnya's neighbours asked Moscow to resume the republic's financing. A new "congress of presidents" was scheduled for June, and Maskhadov was left only to agree the project with Moscow.

But at precisely that moment he got a "stab in the back" - at first a convoy of the Russian General Staff was fired on at the republic's border and on May 1 Vlasov was kidnapped. As a result, all Maskhadov's plans fell to earth and he found himself practically without any external support.

The Chechen President's backing for the northern Caspian oil export route across Russian territory evoked open disappointment in Turkey, claiming to be the main dispatcher for oil transit and lobbying an alternative route - to its Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.

It had seemed that until recently the decision had been in favour of the Turkish route. But in recent months the consortium of oil companies exploiting the Caspian fields began more and more definitely to intimate that the Turkish route held out no prospects, that with oil prices falling it made no economic sense to build a new pipeline; there were also other problems.

They were clearly stated in an interview with the newspaper Kommersant in January of this year by Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of Kurdish rebels who have been fighting a war against Turkey for 14 years: "The US and Turkey dream of getting Caspian and Central Asian oil. But we are a barrier in the way of these plans".

Another barrier to Russian plans could have been Chechnya but Maskhadov decided against that. And the choice fell to the Chechen opposition.

The end of October was set as a date for a final decision on the main export oil pipeline from the Caspian region. By that time the competitors all had trump cards: Turkey's enemy No.1 arrived in Moscow, while the Chechen opposition holding Vlasov was given a hefty advance (700,000 dollars) and, refusing to give away the prisoner, began preparing for war.

As a result, both routes found themselves blocked. And on October 29 in Ankara, instead of a planned agreement on the construction of the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, the heads of Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenia and the US signed a non-binding declaration.

Yevgeny Primakov met Aslan Maskhadov in Vladikavkaz on the same day and had an eye-to-eye talk with him. The meeting took place behind closed doors. But as soon as Maskhadov returned to Grozny, he was approached by elders of a number of teips and offered terms for a peace with the opposition.

According to the traditional custom of reconciliation, with the "blood" of Lechi Khultygov, Chechnya's security chief, and possibly Bargishev, lying between Maskhadov and the coalition led by Basayev and Raduyev, the elders were supposed to "name those guilty" and the "ransom" which they must pay in expiation. To point the finger at the guilty party was not difficult: the whole of Chechnya knew that those responsible for Khultygov's death were Raduyev's men. As for the "ransom," it was to hand over Russian envoy Valentin Vlasov to Maskhadov. But the deal went awry - Maskhadov did not meet Raduyev.

And then Moscow and Ankara decided to exchange their trump cards.

Primakov refused to give Ocalan political asylum. The Kurdish leader had to leave for Rome, where he was already expected.

In Chechnya, Maskhadov cracked down on his opponents, demoting Salman Raduyev from a general to the ranks. And the Shariah court sentenced him to four years in prison. The Chechen President seems to have come to terms with the other opposition member. The other day Chechnya's chief of the general staff Alkhaz Abuyev from Maskhadov's alleroi teip was replaced by Colonel Abubakar Mantayev, who is only known in the republic by being a relative of Shamil Basayev.

So, both oil pipeline routes - the Russian and the Turkish - are now free. It was not accidental that two days after the release of Vlasov Russia's Fuel and Energy Minister Sergei Generalov declared Russia was abandoning plans to lay an oil pipeline bypassing Chechnya.

Meanwhile, sources close to the consortium of oil companies producing Caspian oil have reported that the adoption of a decision on the main export pipeline is most likely to be postponed once again.

As the magazine Expert (19.07.1999, under the by-line of Shamsudin Mamayev) wrote, Russia, in upholding its interests in the Caucasus, is compelled to have rivals both in the West and in the East.

A session of the Council of NATO's Advisory Group that met in Baku at the end of May, 1999 was attended by representatives of all the basic NATO committees, and also by the US, Britain, Turkey, CIS countries and several other European states. Russia, Belarus and Armenia ignored the invitation.

Vafa Guluzade, a foreign policy adviser to the Azeri President, in opening the session, said that Azerbaijan's aim was to enter NATO as a full member. This cannot be described as a surprise - Guluzade's first sensational proposal to the West to site a NATO base in Azerbaijan was made in January of this year when Geidar Aliyev, following a sudden heart attack, was taken for treatment to Turkey where Turkish President Suleyman Demirel visited him in hospital practically every day.

Typically, Guluzade's second statement also came after the President's disease - a heart bypass operation conducted in the US. It is hard to say what it is, the official's initiative or subtle Oriental game agreed with the President. 

Be that as it may, Baku invited NATO not only to send humanitarian missions, but also to protect Western investments.

The trick, however, was that NATO troops can get into Azerbaijan only by way of Georgia. The latter, as a matter of fact, is not going to object - its President, speaking at the bloc's anniversary session in Washington, made it a point to remind the audience of "a deep and open wound" for Georgia - Abkhazia - and invited the alliance to deal with the return of Georgian refugees to that province as vigorously as it had done in Kosovo.

Meanwhile Tbilisi is threatening Russia with withdrawal from a CIS collective defence treaty and the removal of Russian military bases from Georgia and its peacekeepers from Abkhazia.

The West's interest in Caspian oil is serious indeed. Although Caspian reserves are incomparable with oil resources in the Persian Gulf and even with Russian oil reserves in Siberia, the West, from the bitter experience of price collusions of OPEC countries that provoked world economic crises, expects in this way to get leverage over pricing. It is for this purpose that it is seeking to extend oil pipelines not through Russia or Iran, but through a chain of satellite countries controlled by it.

Before the Chechen war, however, it was practically impossible to do so - Moscow was influential enough in the region to block all such bids. Russia's defeat in Chechnya let Washington move quickly towards the Caspian.

The decisive turn in Washington's policy occurred on August 6, 1996. On that day Don Stacy, head of the Eurasian operations department of the American oil concern Amoco, held a briefing in the White House. "Without waiting for the end of Stacy's words, President Clinton jumped to his feet to clarify some geopolitical subtleties, then went over to a blackboard and drew a surprisingly accurate map of the Caspian region. And even before the end of that meeting, Amoco, a major American player in Azerbaijan's 'oil rush' got what it wanted: Clinton's promise to invite the Azeri President to Washington," The Washington Post wrote.

The reason for such success of the Amoco spokesman will become understandable if one turns to a chronology of the Chechen war. Here is how that day is described in a Memorial chronicle of the armed conflict: "At 5.50 on August 6 Chechen Republic of Ichkeria armed units entered Grozny. The preparations for an assault were not secret to residents (rumours about it had circulated in the marketplace, and resistance forces were urging city dwellers to leave Grozny), nor for the military. In the very first hours of the storming federal forces suffered heavy losses. The situation demanded action, but the scale of the disaster seemed to have failed to register either on the federal command or on Moscow officials - both were at great pains not to spoil the forthcoming inauguration of Boris Yeltsin with bad news". True, on the day after the inauguration the Russian President remembered suddenly: on August 10 he declared a day of mourning in the country and gave Aleksandr Lebed the necessary powers to conduct peace talks.

General Lebed's mission ended in establishing peace in Chechnya, and all the Kremlin's subsequent post-war policy in that region was pursued under the control of Boris Berezovsky. With that oligarch's help the Kremlin tried by peaceful means to regain the initiative in the Caucasus after finally losing its "imperial status" there. Berezovsky took up an uncompromising stand against Western capital, speaking openly in Davos against allowing it to take part in the development of Russian oil deposits. His watchword about Chechnya said that security had to be paid for. "Money for security" was to be provided by Caspian oil.

Chechnya's oil complex would be privatised, field commanders, instead of tapping the pipe, would get their stakes of stock, and their units would guard the pipeline. Azerbaijan and western oil companies would feel assured of the stability of the Russian oil route. Private Russian capital would be invested in the Chechen economy, and rebellions Chechnya would ease its way into Russian economic space. Such was the scenario.

And early in November 1996, with an interval of a few days, three trans-Caucasian capitals were toured first by James Collins, Bill Clinton's emissary and US Under Secretary of State for CIS, and then by Moscow's emissary Boris Berezovsky. This marked the beginning of the open rivalry between the US and Russia for routes leading to Caspian oil. And although Berezovsky was the first to launch the northern route idea, the ultimate winner was Washington: in November of last year the idea for the priority of the western route it sponsored was supported in the Ankara declaration signed by the presidents of Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

Russia's defeat can be explained first of all by the fact that Boris Berezovsky had never managed to mobilise Russian private capital to rehabilitate Chechnya's oil complex. As a result, in October 1997, when Moscow refused to introduce a special oil tariff on pumping through Chechnya, Chechen field commanders demanded that Shamil Basayev be appointed the Prime Minister and forced Maskhadov to re-orient his oil policy on London.

Yet considering that oil prices showed signs of falling in November 1997 (and given the low profitability of the Western route), Moscow still had a chance to align itself with the British and turn the tables in favour of the northern route.

Margaret Thatcher, as a British Petroleum adviser, met Aslan Maskhadov in March 1998 and in April the latter submitted to Moscow plans for the Caucasian Common Market together with a proposal to transport the bulk of Caspian oil to Europe via Russia, Ukraine and further along the existing Friendship oil pipeline.

The plan was clearly rivalled by the American - London needed a long chain of intermediaries to get it agreed (this chain is traced in the above-mentioned report by S. Kurginyan) - but was very promising because it was inexpensive.

But an examination of the plans and a possible alliance between Moscow and London were foiled by unidentified Chechen terrorists who first kidnapped the Russian envoy to Chechnya and then brutally murdered the British engineers. However, the four severed heads put on view still made the usually reticent Chechen President name the perpetrators. And in particular Chechen field commander Arbi Barayev, closely connected with Salman Raduyev and the Wahhabis.

The author of the article also assumes that behind an avalanche of criminal terrorist acts in the Caucasus were well-planned secret warfare operations of various secret services and terrorists of the "Islamic international". Although these highly trained terrorists are, as a rule, impossible to catch, more often than not one can figure out the strategic objective of their operations. In particular, a link between Wahhabis and Arab oil elites and their lack of interest in developing Caspian oil are sufficiently apparent.

In confirmation of this link it may be noted that the first to react to a fall in oil prices were not the British, but Chechen militants - at the end of December 1997 a combined detachment of Daghestani and Chechen Islamic fundamentalists commanded by Khattab attacked a Russian military unit in Buinaksk. And in February 1998, Salman Raduyev engineered an assassination attempt on Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze.

In other words, the Chechen opposition tried to close both the Western and the Northern routes leading to Caspian oil. The crowning event became the May disturbances in Makhachkala when Shamil Basayev offered the help of Khattab's "peace-keeping brigade" to the Khachilayev brothers that occupied the State Council's building in the capital of Daghestan.

The strategic goal of the Chechen military-religious opposition is to export an Islamic revolution into Daghestan and unite it with Chechnya. But this political goal hides quite definite economic interests. Shamil Basayev, having become Prime Minister, suggested that Moscow should hand over to Chechnya as compensation for the damage done, the state company Rosneft, which controls the Caspian oil shelf. Moscow ignored this suggestion. After heading the Congress of the Peoples of Ichkeria and Daghestan, Basayev tried to get by force what had previously been refused to him.

Daghestan accounts for two-thirds of Russia's Caspian shelf. Access to it can make the Chechen oil complex sufficiently self-supporting to take Chechnya out of Russia's economic sphere and sufficiently attractive both for the Western and Eastern oil investors to overcome the diplomatic blockade. So while Maskhadov was trying to breach Chechnya's blockade by signing economic agreements with Moscow and London, his Islamic opposition was increasingly orienting itself on its own but equally utopian Drang nach Osten. This explains the recent fighting on the Chechen-Daghestani border.

For Arab sponsors of the Wahhabis this game is worth the candles whatever its outcome, because if a new Caucasian war brings the Chechen oil pipeline to a total standstill, they will quickly recoup their financing expenses.

In principle this is already happening now that the Baku- Supsa oil pipeline has been put in operation. This suggests that Chechen militants who have openly challenged Russia and London prefer to pursue a more subtle game with Washington and Istanbul by threatening, while at the same cooperating with them. It was not for nothing that Yevgeny Primakov in his day undiplomatically demonstrated his open scepticism as to the seriousness of an attempt on Shevardnadze's life. As for Raduyev, who promised to Istanbul to find and extradite Ocalan, he also indirectly guaranteed his loyalty for the Western route.

Nevertheless, if need be, Chechen militants can pose quite serious problems for that route as well - through Abkhazia, since both Shamil Basayev and Salman Raduyev are open advocates of that republic's independence and enemies of Eduard Shevardnadze.

The French newspaper Le Monde (06.10.99) called attention to the fact that amidst the chaos that erupted in Moscow after two residential building blasts, the Transneft company, which owns all Russian oil pipelines, had its management changed. The move was carried out with almost military force, installing as its head Semyon Vainshtok, a man close to billionaire Boris Berezovsky. In his very first public statement Vainshtock said that he had been told to build an oil pipeline branch in detour of Chechnya. The decision was confirmed both by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Energy Minister Viktor Kalyuzhny.

Berezovsky's Nezavisimaya Gazeta splashed a banner headline across its front page, "Strategic Turning Point: End of Years of Indecision in the North Caucasus." Russia has put pay to Chechnya as an oil partner, claimed the paper. It stressed that this was why Russian bombers had been systematically demolishing in recent days the entire Chechen oil infrastructure. And this despite the fact that in 1990 its oil refineries supplied 80 per cent of the kerosene consumed in the USSR. 

Should one see in the Kremlin's bloody advance in Chechnya a reflection of the position no doubt based on the interests of one of the oligarchs? - wonders Le Monde. Such an explanation, according to the French newspaper, may prove to be a rationalisation of irrational developments. Two years ago Boris Nemtsov, then a Deputy Prime Minister, also announced the building of an oil pipeline stretch around Chechnya. Although work was started, it was soon halted. Russia was not in a position to invest 300 million dollars in a project with few chances for success. Daghestan, the only alternative to the Chechen route, was already seething and the detour might prove an easy target for "Islamic terrorists," be they Chechens or Daghestanis.

Did Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev and his Saudi ally Khattab seek to cut off the way for Azeri oil by sending their units into Daghestan? Their operations began in August, the moment Transneft succeeded in arranging the transportation of crude along a pipeline from Azerbaijan to Daghestan and then by rail to Novorossiisk, bypassing Chechnya. To claim that categorically is, however, impossible, although last week Vladimir Putin did accuse foreign Islamic radicals, allies of Chechen and Daghestani separatists, of trying to "fill in the vacuum of power in the region and to set up a state that could take possession of the resources of that part of the world and this part of Russia." After all, Mr. Putin may be the one who knows best the nature of relations between Shamil Basayev and Mr. Berezovsky and not just with certain "radical foreign Islamists".

In any case, Daghestan, which accounts for a major proportion of Russia's Caspian shore, remains crucial for the Kremlin, which intends to continue to play an active role in the future division of its wealth. By losing that republic, Russia would lose any chance to have a say in new manoeuvres around the Caspian Sea, which will inevitably intensify with rising oil prices.

October 9, 1999

  





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