Grozny Haggles for Power

Plan to grant Chechen administration wide economic powers is still in first draft, but it is already under fire from all sides.

Grozny Haggles for Power

Plan to grant Chechen administration wide economic powers is still in first draft, but it is already under fire from all sides.

Thursday, 3 February, 2005

The pro-Moscow government of Chechnya has begun bargaining with the Russian authorities over a power-sharing treaty which would grant the republic an unprecedented level of autonomy.

The deal as currently proposed would allow Chechnya’s administration considerable freedom to control economic affairs, while studiously avoiding any suggestion of political independence from Russia. According to one of the plan’s authors, Chechen State Council head Taus Jabrailov, the result could be that Chechnya goes from its present state of economic and infrastructure collapse to being a “region of intense economic growth” for the next ten years.

But long before a final draft is in sight, the treaty is under attack from both sides, with pro-independence Chechens asking why they should beg for anything from Moscow, and Russian officials casting doubt on a plan they see as granting far too many rights to the unstable regions.

Under the proposed treaty, the Chechen republic would become the sole owner of land and the mineral and other resources it holds, for a limited period lasting ten years. Within that period, the Chechen authorities would enjoy rights to extract mineral resources and sell them locally and. The local government would also retain taxes and fees rather than handing over to the Russian central budget.

Business would be fostered by a new Chechen national bank, which would be established under the auspices of the Russian Central Bank and would have rights to register new enterprises, including joint ventures involving foreign investors. Every year Chechnya would get a Russian loan of three billion roubles, 107 US million dollars.

There would also be tangible benefits for Chechnya’s population, such as a universal exemption from gas and electricity charges. Every Chechen who suffered under Stalin’s 1944 deportation - when the entire Chechen nation was rounded up and sent off to Central Asia - will be given compensation for lost property, which could translate into 150,000 roubles (530,000 dollars) per person.

The document also seeks to give the Chechen authorities total control over internal security, outlawing "any interference by Russian security services” in Chechnya.

These ambitious plans have some way to go before either side can side them.

“The Chechen government has accepted the draft as a basis,” said Jabrailov when he presented the document. “But it’s only a draft and it needs a lot more work. When it’s finalised and has legal approval from the Southern [Russian] Federal District and the presidential administration, first of all Russian president Vladimir Putin will sign it, followed by Chechen president Alu Alkhanov.”

While the intention is to mitigate the social and economic consequences of years of conflict, the Chechen plan steers well clear of politics. No wonder, since it was the republic’s demand to be recognised as an independent state that triggered the two wars between separatists and Russian forces.

The wording of the treaty says that its principal purpose is to “consolidate the geographic integrity and economic unity of the Russian Federation” – in other words, the opposite of independence.

This has naturally caused indignation amongst pro-independence Chechens.

“We already have an agreement with Russia, signed by Maskhadov and Yeltsin in Khasavyurt," said Ruslan Vizirkhanov, a former guerrilla fighter who is now unemployed. "Why do we need a new one?” The agreement he was referring to is the 1996 treaty between rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov and the Russian government that ended the first war of 1994-96.

Others are distrustful of Moscow’s intentions. “Russia has never kept a promise to Chechnya,” said historian Murad Nashkhoev, adding that starting from 1847 onwards, Moscow has signed treaty after treaty with the mountain peoples of the North Caucasus, only to renege on them later.

Even moderate Chechens are displeased. “Putin has [already] promised Chechnya autonomy,” said Rashid Yunusov, an analyst with the Centre for Studies in Humanities. "He said it didn’t matter who rules Chechnya as long as peace is maintained. I think we should just stick with that. If this agreement is enacted, we may as well forget about independence, broad autonomy and Putin’s promises.”

However, for most ordinary Chechens, who have suffered years of hardship, political considerations are secondary. “If what I’ve read about this treaty in the newspapers is true, it’s good,” said Lecha Uspanov, 36, who teaches history at Grozny University. "We are promised a peaceful and quiet life and prosperity. Moreover, we’ll be our own boss."

In practice, if Moscow agrees to the demands set out in the proposed deal, it will be ceding more control to President Alkhanov, and to his powerful deputy prime minister Ramzan Kadyrov, son of the late president Akhmad Kadyrov. Their ability to turn the devastated republic around is still untested.

“Ten years is enough to plunder Chechnya completely, but not to revitalise it,” said Chechen political scientist Murad Magomadov.

In Russia, politicians and political commentators are also critical of the draft treaty, but for entirely different reasons. “Dudaev’s dream” is how one commentator described it, referring to Chechnya's first pro-independence leader Jokhar Dudayev.

“Dudaev could only have dreamed of such a treaty,” Alexei Malashenko, research council member at the Moscow Carnegie Centre, told the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

“At this juncture, both Jabrailov and above all Ramzan Kadyrov believe Moscow is ready to grant enormous concessions in exchange for peace. It’s as if they are telling Moscow 'Give us immense power, and we won’t bother you again'.”

Malashenko doubts Moscow will accept this, saying, “For Russia’s military and political elite, and for Putin himself, this would be tantamount to a war lost.”

While few expect that the Kremlin will accept the draft in its present version, there is a widespread belief that some kind of treaty will be signed.

“Chechnya has to be rebuilt, but no one knows how to make it happen,” said Ilya Maksakov, a Moscow-based political commentator. “Clearly, there’s going to be theft and embezzlement, and Chechnya will turn into a 'black hole'. But Moscow has still no choice but to make huge sacrifices to Chechnya in the form of oil, tax breaks, customs privileges, or 'free economic zone status, although everyone is trying not to mention that term.”

Drafting and subsequent implementation of the treaty could fall to a new Chechen parliament due to be elected in October 2005. Abdul-Khakim Sultygov, formerly Russian president’s special human rights envoy in Chechnya, thinks this is appropriate. “The treaty cannot be discussed before it is reviewed and approved by the Chechen parliament, which is a body representing all Chechen people,” he said.

Yet it may not be possible to wait until October. New Russian legislation requires the treaty to be signed by June 1. Similar agreements are due to be signed between Moscow and 11 other regions. If the schedule is adhered to, Chechnya could become Russia’s first constituent region to share power with Moscow within the new legislative framework.

Timur Aliev is IWPR’s coordinator in Chechnya.

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