TYPE=ON THE LINE
TITLE=ON THE LINE: TURMOIL IN THE CAUCASUS
EDITOR=OFFICE OF POLICY - 619-0037
THEME: UP, HOLD UNDER AND FADE
Anncr: On the Line - a discussion of United
States policy and contemporary issues. This week,
"Turmoil in the Caucasus." Here is your host,
Host: Hello and welcome to On the Line.
Russian troops continue their attack in Chechnya,
throwing the Caucasus region once again into
turmoil. Chechnya gained virtual autonomy from
Russia in 1996 when Russian troops withdrew from
their unsuccessful war. In response to a Chechen-
led insurrection in neighboring Dagestan and
terrorist bombings in Russian cities that have
been blamed on Chechens, Russian forces began
their attack in September. Some two hundred
thousand refugees have fled to nearby Ingushetia.
Meanwhile, adding further instability to the
region, gunmen seized control of the parliament in
Armenia last month and murdered the prime minister
and several other leaders.
Joining me today to discuss the recent turmoil in
the Caucasus are three experts. Charles Fairbanks
is director of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute
at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced
International Studies. Paul Goble is
communications director of Radio Free Europe/Radio
Liberty and a former State Department specialist
on Soviet nationalities. And Paul Henze is a
resident consultant at the RAND Corporation and a
former National Security Council staff member.
Gentlemen, welcome to the program.
Host: Charles Fairbanks, what initiated this
current round? Was it the event in Dagestan when a
group of Wahhabi Muslims tried to declare
themselves a separate entity? What kicked this
Fairbanks: Well, there were two events that
apparently kicked it off: one in Dagestan, one in
Moscow. In Dagestan, Shamil Basayev's forces,
including both Dagestani and Chechen Islamic
militants, crossed the border. In Moscow, there
were still unexplained apartment house bombings.
Some people think, though, that the arrival of
Prime Minister [Vladimir] Putin at the end of the
summer actually somehow set these events in train.
Host: Why would his arrival have set it in train?
Fairbanks: Well, because he is the designated
successor of Boris Yeltsin who is standing at
something like two percent in the polls. And it's
almost universally thought in Russia that the war
has something to do with the presidential election
coming up next spring or early summer.
Host: Paul Goble, do you agree with that?
Globe: I think this war has lot more to do with
what's going on in Moscow than what's going on in
the North Caucasus. I think that this is
definitely Vladimir Putin's war. He's trying to
win the kind of support that he couldn't get in
any other way. And if you look at the polls, if
you look what Russians say to the newspapers and
otherwise, this is clearly a political war.
Host: But why would someone think, as a Russian
leader or prime minister, that they could succeed
today when they failed so miserably between 1994
Goble: There are several reasons. First, I think
Russians think that this is a place where we are
finally drawing a line. We've retreated enough in
front of American power. This is where we can take
a stand, saying "back off" to the Americans and
everyone else. It's a very popular thing.
Host: But the United States is not involved.
Goble: But we have been very critical of what is
going on. We haven't done very much. We have much
more critical this time than we were four or five
years ago. Second, I think that the Russian
government has done a far better job in media
management. They've controlled the media,
Battlefield censorship, control of the electronic
media. And Russians today are hearing a different
story about this war than they heard four years
ago when most people were getting their first look
at battlefield carnage. Now people are hearing
about the victorious Russian advance. In addition
to that, Prime Minister Putin and the rest of the
Russian government have put out the story that we
cannot possibly fail. And that has led to a
certain enthusiasm for this war. I don't think it
will last, but Putin is thoroughly calculating
that it will last long enough to get him the
Host: Paul Henze, what do you think Russian
objectives are this time?
Henze: I was in the Caucasus just after this
began to happen. I was in Georgia during the last
half of September. And I was very struck by people
there expressing the same views that Charles
Fairbanks has just expressed. They felt that
certain forces in Russia were probably behind all
of this. Russia has a big problem with the
Caucasus. It finds it very difficult to accept the
fact that most Caucasians really don't want to be
under Russian domination, Chechens in the lead.
And Russia is very concerned about the
independence of Georgia and Azerbaijan, going
their own way. Russia wants to teach everybody a
lesson. Putin obviously has his own reasons for
wanting to succeed. But it's a difficult
situation, because Russia hasn't given up its
imperial ambitions. And the dominant elements in
Russia are still imperialists.
Host: On the other hand, as President Clinton
said to Mr. Putin in their meeting in Oslo, the
United States does not dispute that the Chechnya
is part of Russia.
Henze: Chechnya alone is not the issue. The issue
is the whole Caucasus.
Host: Then explain to us how their action in
Chechnya redounds throughout the whole Caucasus.
Henze: Well, it frightens everybody in the
Caucasus. We see the example of what has just
happened in Armenia. Any kind of instability in
the Caucasus Russia sees, or the elements in
Russia that favor reconstitution in some form of
the Russian empire, see any instability in the
Caucasus to their advantage. And, therefore, where
they can directly cause instability, they're ready
to do it. And Chechnya is a good example.
Host: Is there any relationship between these
various events in the Caucasus, Charles Fairbanks,
between what happened in Armenia and what's
happening in Chechnya?
Fairbanks: Probably not, though what has happened
in Armenia is even more mysterious. There was a
clear sort of political agenda, but what the
connections of the people who did it might be is
still murky at this point.
Goble: I would agree with that. I think that the
action of the terrorists who killed the Prime
Minister of Armenia, the connection of that to
Chechnya, is very difficult to say right now. But
the way in which that has been exploited by
various groups in Armenia and more broadly, is
clearly connected. The pressure that the Armenian
military, backed by Russian military, has put on
President [Robert] Kocharian of Armenia to do
certain things. . .
Host: To do what?
Goble: Well, to just take a tougher stand vis-a-
vis Azerbaijan, which will make it more difficult
to have a settlement, the reaction in Azerbaijan
that probably we don't want a settlement with a
country this is as "unstable" as Armenia appears
to be, that all works to Russia's policy of
maintaining instability here to keep the West out
and allow Moscow once again to project power.
Host: Well, of course the Russian First Deputy
Prime Minister was recently in Baku with the
message that "we hope you, Azerbaijan, send more
energy resources through our pipeline, and do not
continue your obligation to build a pipeline
through Georgia and Turkey to the Mediterranean."
Is that correct?
Goble: Yes. As Paul Henze pointed out, Russia's
policy in Chechnya is a part of broader Russian
policy across the entire Caucasus designed to
freeze out other people and therefore allow
Russian influence to come back.
Host: Let's talk about the politics of energy in
Henze: The Russian Deputy Prime Minister probably
delivered other messages to the people in Baku as
well. He probably discouraged them from any kind
of settlement with Armenia. And this has been
rumored, we don't have the exact information, but
it seems very likely that there was a movement
between Armenia and Azerbaijan to try to settle
the long-standing Nagorno-Karabakh issue.
Host: How close are they to doing that?
Henze: Some people say they were getting quite
close, and I think they are. They have been
because when both leaders, Kocharian and [
Heydar] Aliev, were here in Washington, Madeline
Albright made particular efforts to get them
together and to get them to talk reasonably to
each other. And those were fairly successful. But
from the Russian point of view, the Nagorno-
Karabakh issue has been a special occasion for
stirring things up ever since well before the
collapse of the Soviet Union. It goes back to
1988, and it's a very sore issue. And Russia has
time and time again stepped in, delivered arms to
Armenia, discouraged moves toward settlement,
discouraged moves toward reasonable examination of
the issues involved.
Host: And you think it's in their continuing
interest to do that, so that the energy pipeline
routes will be under their control?
Henze: Well, Armenia is one of the real losers
here, because Armenia has no chance now of getting
involved in the energy pipeline. The discussions
that are going on this very period on the energy
pipeline are leading to a firm decision on the
part of Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan, backed by
the U.S., to build the pipeline that will go
through Georgia and then through Turkey to the
Mediterranean. That's a major accomplishment for
Western policy and it's a major challenge in its
way to Russian policy, which would like to
maintain full control of the flow of oil out of
Host: And do you see any of their behavior in
these recent events, Charles Fairbanks, being
animated by their concern over that particular
Fairbanks: Well, it's hard to arrange everything
neatly, I think. To have a war in Chechnya was
probably the last thing that they needed in order
to retain the northern route from Baku to
Novorossiysk for Caspian oil transport. I think
this time it's more political than oil-related, I
would say. Though there is also the factor of
great pressure from the Ministry of Internal
Affairs and the army to avenge the humiliation of
the first Chechen war.
Host: Let me ask you a question that was raised
by Paul Goble when he said that the United States
may not be doing what it ought in this respect.
President Clinton has certainly made his
objections known, though he has conceded the
obvious that this is part of Russia. Is the United
States doing right thing in respect to this
Fairbanks: Well, it's hard to know what to do
because Russia is a powerful and aggrieved
country, very unhappy with everything that
Russians have suffered since the beginning of
perestroika. I do think, though, that there are
practical things like the question of I-M-F
[International Monetary Fund] loans that could
have some real impact. There are also differences
in the way we could speak. But so far, we just
make the Russians feel worse by the way we speak
without, I think, in any way stopping the war.
Host: What do you think Paul Goble? Is there
something you would like to see the United States
Goble: We have to understand that right now the
Russian government is delighted by our criticism
because this allows the current Russian
authorities to portray themselves as standing up
for Russia against the West at no cost. I believe
that we ought to use our leverage in I-M-F loans
and elsewhere to make it very clear that a country
that is violating all kinds of international
undertakings, violating its own constitution,
violating the laws of war -- however you want see
this conflict -- will not be getting the kind of
support that we would otherwise like to be able to
extend it. I personally believe that we need to
send a signal that powerful. We are talking about
a crisis that has driven more than a quarter of a
million people from their homes, that has cost
thousands of injured and hundreds, if not
thousands, of dead, and is going to have even more
severe humanitarian consequences in the coming
months. So we should, I think, take a very tough
line. I personally believe that.
Host: What do you think, Mr. Henze?
Henze: I couldn't agree more. What's going on in
Chechnya today is genocide. It is just as much
genocide and just as much a violation of basic
principles as Kosovo was. Kosovo was a part of
Yugoslavia, but it was being drastically abused by
the leadership. And therefore we and our NATO
friends concluded that intervention was justified.
Now that doesn't necessarily lead us to conclude
that a similar type of intervention is justified
in Chechnya. But it does, I think, compel us to
think about serious measures to punish Russia for
what she is doing and to try to discourage Russia
Host: Such as?
Henze: Such as sanctions of various kinds and
suspension of I-M-F arrangements, suspension of
unilateral aid on the part of, not only the United
States, but major European countries, many of
which would be willing to do so, I'm quite sure,
because criticism for Russia has been as strong in
Europe as it is in the United States.
Host: What about playing the devil's advocate for
a moment? What about the strength of the
provocations against Russia to act in this
instance? Don't they have some justification?
Fairbanks: There are leaders in Chechnya who are
incredibly irresponsible, and I think the Chechen
leaders have suffered very much for what Hatab and
Basayev did, which was certainly an affront to
Russia. When [Yevgeny] Primakov and then [Sergei]
Stepashin were successively Prime Minister of
Russia, they had a strategy for dealing with that,
which was to work with the president, who is a
moderate, a former Soviet Army officer.
Host: Aslan Maskhadov.
Fairbanks: Maskhadov, yes. Against the
extremists, and that seems to me basically the
best Russian strategy.
Henze: But we have to go back and look at the
history of this. When the Russians, at the
initiative of General [Aleksandr] Lebed agreed to
withdraw from Chechnya, and agreed on a timetable
for Chechen self-determination, they also promised
major aid. If the Russians had given that
substantial financial aid for the reconstruction
of Chechnya, it would not have become the mess
that it became. No Russian aid came through. The
Russians did nothing to moderate the situation in
Chechnya. Under those circumstances they favored
the worst elements. The worst elements in Chechnya
came to the top.
Host: This is obviously radicalizing the
situation. What happens to President Maskhadov's
leadership, and what could be an acceptable
outcome to either side at this stage?
Goble: The problem is, by not talking to
Maskhadov, Moscow, in effect, handed power over to
the radicals, because it leveled Maskhadov to
their level. He could say, "We need to talk." But
Moscow was refusing to do it. So what we have now
is the situation of a rising cycle of
radicalization, and with the increasing numbers of
deaths, the increasing human suffering, the
genocide, as Paul has suggested, I think we are
going to face a situation in which the violence is
going to continue for a very long time. And Moscow
is going to find it far more difficult to end this
round, than it did in 1996.
Henze: I suspect that some of these radical
Chechen leaders right now, as we talk, are
planning major retaliatory action. It would be
completely in character for them to do it, and
very difficult to understand how they can avoid
wanting to do it, given what they've done in the
Host: As Mr. Basayev said several days ago, "The
real battles have not yet begun." Just quickly, at
the end of this month, there is going to be an O-
S-C-E [Organization for Security and Cooperation
in Europe] meeting in Istanbul at which certain
leaders are saying there ought to be a plan for a
grand arrangement or reconciliation in the
Caucasus. Do you think this O-S-C-E meeting can
serve as a platform for that kind of thing?
Henze: I think it can, but I'm very pessimistic
that much will come of it, given the statements
that Russian leaders have been making recently
about taking over all Chechnya, punishing all
Chechens, and pursuing the war to the ultimate
Fairbanks: I would say it can't, as long as Putin
is Prime Minister. It really is his personal war.
I think if the war were to become unsuccessful or
unpopular, and Yeltsin gave him a pink slip as he
has done so many others, then there might be a
possibility of some kind of moderate negotiated
Goble: But it would be extremely difficult for
any Russian leader to back away, given the
enthusiasm this war has generated on the part of a
large numbers of Russians. That means that even if
Putin goes, his successors are going to find it
difficult to end a war that should never have been
Host: Can anyone speak very briefly as to why
Iran, in their chairmanship of the Organization of
Islamic Conference, is defending Russia in their
action in Chechnya? What is Iran's interest in
Henze: It probably has to with Iran's trade with
Russia and the support Russia has given to Iran,
many aspects of Iran's nuclear program, Iran's
industrial development. Iran has very few friends.
Russia is one of the few who have delivered some
real goods to Iran.
Host: I'm afraid that's all the time we have this
week. I'd like to thank our guests -- Charles
Fairbanks from the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute
at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced
International Studies; Paul Goble from Radio Free
Europe/Radio Liberty; and Paul Henze from the RAND
Corporation -- for joining me to discuss the
recent turmoil in the Caucasus. This is Robert
Reilly for On the Line.
Anncr: You've been listening to "On the Line" - a
discussion of United States policies and
contemporary issues. This is -------.
10-Nov-1999 12:00 PM EDT (10-Nov-1999 1700 UTC)
Source: Voice of America
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