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DATE=11/10/1999 TYPE=ON THE LINE TITLE=ON THE LINE: TURMOIL IN THE CAUCASUS NUMBER=1-00795 EDITOR=OFFICE OF POLICY - 619-0037 CONTENT= 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, Robert Reilly. 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 off? 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 and 1996. 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 presidency. 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 the Caucasus. 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 the Caspian. Host: And do you see any of their behavior in these recent events, Charles Fairbanks, being animated by their concern over that particular issue? 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 crisis? 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 doing? 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 from continuing. 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 past. 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 end. 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 settlement. 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 started. 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 this? 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) NNNN Source: Voice of America .





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