Russia

1 July 1996 Monitor - Vol.II, No.135

MONITOR - A DAILY BRIEFING ON THE POST-SOVIET STATES

CHECHNYA WAR BACK WITH A VENGEANCE. Russian aviation and artillery yesterday attacked Makhety village in southwestern Chechnya, presumed site of the political leader of Chechen resistance, Zelimkhan Yandarbiev. The Russian command initially announced that its troops had been ordered to arrest Yandarbiev, then said that the purpose was to deliver "pinpoint strikes" on Yandarbiev's headquarters. The village administrative chief announced that the bombardment killed at least 20 civilians. In western Chechnya, Russian forces shelled Gekhi for the second consecutive day. The commander of Russian forces, Lt. General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov stated on Grozny television that his forces will continue identity checks in Chechen villages and, if resisted, will use aviation and artillery strikes against the villages. The OSCE's Chechnya mission issued a statement urgently calling for a halt to military operations and resumption of negotiations.

In Moscow, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin who also chairs the government's special commission for Chechnya settlement blamed the resumption of hostilities on the "impudence of the {Chechen} fighters and their leaders" and reassured media correspondents that the situation is "under control." His special commission on Chechnya will not discuss the situation until its scheduled meeting next week, Chernomyrdin said. President Boris Yeltsin's Security Council Secretary and national security adviser, Aleksandr Lebed stated through his spokesman that Yandarbiev and his "bandit detachments" had provoked the attacks. Chernomyrdin and Lebed claimed without elaborating that Yeltsin's "peaceful settlement plan" for Chechnya is on track. (Russian and Western agencies, NTV, July 10) Yeltsin himself, in a televised address yesterday thanking the people of Russia for reelecting him president, never mentioned Chechnya. As predicted in this space, the Kremlin's willingness to negotiate a political settlement in Chechnya did not outlast Yeltsin's reelection.

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION FIGURE AMNESTIED. Azerbaijani president Heydar Aliyev yesterday ordered the release from detention of Arif Pashaev, a prominent figure in the opposition Popular Front. Aliev determined that his May decree which amnestied thousands of detainees applies to Pashaev as well. Considered second only to former president Abulfaz Elchibey in the Popular Front hierarchy, Pashaev had been detained in 1993 and charged with having surrendered Lachin to Armenian forces in the Karabakh war the preceding year. Pashaev's guilt was not proven and he managed in 1994 to escape from a high security prison, but surrendered voluntarily afterward. Judicial authorities were preparing another case against Pashaev when Aliyev amnestied him. (Interfax, July 10)

AZERBAIJAN CRITICIZES RUSSIAN, OSCE HANDLING OF KARABAKH TALKS. Commenting yesterday on the latest round of OSCE-mediated Karabakh talks, held last week in Stockholm, Azerbaijani foreign minister Hassan Hassanov rejected the draft political agreement on Karabakh settlement which was discussed there as "unbalanced" and "ignoring Azerbaijan's national interests." The agreement was prepared by the Russian and Finnish cochairmen of the mediating group known as the OSCE's Minsk Conference. The cochairmen "not up to the task entrusted to them by the OSCE," Hassanov concluded. Welcoming the reassignment of Russian president Boris Yeltsin's envoy to the Karabakh talks, Vladimir Kazimirov, Hassanov accused him of deviating from Yeltsin's stated view that Karabakh must form an integral part of Azerbaijan with ethnic minority autonomy for Karabakh Armenians. Hassanov expressed hope that Yeltsin's reelection will cause Russian diplomacy and Kazimirov4s successor to adopt the president's view on Karabakh. (Interfax, July 10; Noyan-Tapan, July 9)

Yeltsin's remark, made at a CIS summit, was off-the-cuff and, as has been common with other of his spontaneous comments, did not necessarily reflect Russian policy. After the failed Stockholm meeting, the OSCE-mediated negotiations are not expected to resume before the end of the year. Germany seems set to succeed Finland as the Minsk group's Western cochairman. Baku welcomes the change. President Heydar Aliyev discussed it with top German officials last week in Bonn. The OSCE appears to consider Russia's co-chairmanship as permanent, and the Russian Foreign Ministry's Fourth Asian Department chief Anatoly Zaitsev is reportedly slated to succeed Kazimirov.