THE PANKISI GORGE: A HORNETS’ NEST

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THE PANKISI GORGE: A HORNETS’ NEST

Parlamentskaya Gazeta, August 30, 2002, p. 4

The Pankisi Gorge today is a hornets’ nest, according to Vladimir Kulakov, Federation Council member and chairman of the operations supervision committee. Kulakov is one of the most qualified members of the upper house to speak on the given issue. Over the past decade, he has been directly involved with the problem of Chechnya: first as a senior military commander in the North Caucasus, then as one of the supreme commanders in the Defense Ministry in charge of safety in the military and educational work. Kulakov’s last position before he was elected as senator was that of the Cabinet’s senior deputy envoy to Chechnya.

Vladimir Kulakov: The abscess in the Pankisi Gorge has been festering for more than a year, and no location in the region is more painful. I am certain that all recent attacks and provocations in Chechnya, Dagestan, Abkhazia, and Ingushetia originate from the Pankisi Gorge.

Question: Can President Shevardnadze be unaware of that? It’s like sleeping on a volcano, isn’t it?

Kulakov: He does know – and, like any other leader, is concerned about ensuring law and order in his country. But being concerned is one thing, and being able to bring it about is another. That inability explains the inconsistent policy of the Georgian government in respect to the Chechen guerrillas. Sometimes it makes overtures to them, turning a blind eye to bandits receiving medical treatment in Georgia’s best hospitals, and allowing them complete freedom of movement. At other times, it suddenly makes sweeping statements about the start of an anti-criminal operation to destroy the guerrillas.

What sort of special operation is this, if its terms and routes are made public about a week in advance? Even the most stupid bandit would understand what to do and where to hide. For them, disappearing elsewhere in Georgia, or hiding in the Pankisi Gorge itself with sympathetic relatives, presents no difficulty. I would not be surprised if a statement follows that no terrorists were found in the gorge.

Question: So what is the solution?

Kulakov: There is only one solution: blocking every border and killing anyone who tries to break through into Russia. I have used the hornets’ nest metaphor deliberately: if you try to separate half of it, or simply scatter it, the hornets will soon make you regret that. The Pankisi situation is the same. There are ways of resolving it positively, but the Georgian government needs the will to do so. Russia’s military leadership has repeatedly offered aid for “lancing the abcess” of the Pankisi Gorge (they can’t do it without us). However, Tbilisi has always declined that aid, intending to use its own forces on its own territory.

Question: What is your view of the bombing of the gorge – who did it?

Kulakov: Those who benefit from that. As a former commander of the military group in the Ossetia-Ingushetia conflict zone, I am qualified to state that our planes – as reported by some shepherd from the ground – could not have done that, for a number of technical reasons. Making up such a provocation is not difficult; especially when the main source of information is some anonymous shepherd. However, there have also been statements from the UN (!) to the effect that if Russia can permit itself to bomb someone else’s territory, then why don’t other concerned states send their troops into Chechnya… Incidentally, this is the reasoning which confirms that every current problem in the North Caucasus originates from the Pankisi Gorge. If we do not show determination now, that argument will be used against us repeatedly in the future.

NEWS FROM THE ROSSIYA MOVEMENT AND THE INTERIOR MINISTRY

Izvestia, August 30, 2002, p. 4 EV

Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev was elected yesterday as a delegate to the constitutive congress of the party that will be created on the basis of the Rossiya movement. The congress will be held in Moscow on September 7. Other delegates include leaders of Rossiya, artists, and academics: for example, singer Nikolai Baskov and head of the Russian Cancer Center Mikhail Davydov.

Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, deputy interior minister and commander-in-chief of the Interior Troops, stated yesterday that special forces would be created within the Interior Troops by the end of 2003. According to Tikhomirov, this is being done because special tasks require high-powered weapons and a high level of skill.

GEORGIA HASN’T FOUND ANY CRIMINALS IN THE PANKISI GORGE

Rossiyskaya Gazeta, August 30, 2002, p. 3

The entry of Georgian police forces into the Pankisi Gorge marked a new phase in the dispute between Russia and Georgia. In chess terms, Georgia moved its queen forward. Actually, it was more like moving a knight, given the local circumstances. On the one hand, the forces sent into the area can carry out President Shevardnadze’s threat to shoot down any Russian planes in Georgian airspace. On the other hand, Georgia has formally demonstrated that it doesn’t intend to tolerate the presence of criminals in the Pankisi Gorge. But this is only a formality – since the Georgian government let guerrilla leader Ruslan Gelayev know in advance that all his men should leave the gorge. Not surprisingly, Gelayev took the advice of Eduard “White Fox” Shevardnadze; and the Georgian police troops haven’t found any criminals during the operation in the Pankisi Gorge.

THE AMBITIOUS PLANS OF ASLAN MASKHADOV

Trud, August 30, 2002, p. 2

To our knowledge, Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov has spent the last month at the so-called western front. The Kavkaz.org website run by Movladi Udugov says: “Maskhadov has been working hard on the reorganization of Ichkerian military structures.”

The main result of the work of “the Ichkerian Commander-in-Chief” has been the development of the Military Committee’s operational plan for the autumn period. The essence of it is “a transition from guerrilla tactics and diversionary warfare to planned military operations and a centralized operational direction”.

“I hope we will overcome the present situation and make our enemy leave our land,” Maskhadov said.

It seems that Maskhadov has been reconciled with his chief propagandist Movladi Udugov and the former Ichkerian president Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev in order to demonstrate the consolidation of the separatist forces.

However, military officials think that all these moves by Maskhadov are only a poor effort to create an illusion of real power, in the hope of securing aid from abroad. In actual fact, the separatists don’t have enough forces left to carry out any large-scale operations.

Head of the Chechen administration Akhmad Kadyrov holds the same opinion. “I’m acquainted with these people and I think that even if such an alliance is formed, it would only be a formality,” he said. “It is necessary to finish off the criminals and extremists, and start the full-scale reconstruction of Chechnya’s ruined economy.”

PUTIN ADDRESSES STATE COAL COUNCIL PRESIDIUM

Parlamentskaya Gazeta, August 30, 2002, p. 2

President Vladimir Putin considers that the main problem in developing the Russian coal industry is “the imbalance in pricing policy between coal and gas”. Putin spoke about this at yesterday’s meeting of the State Coal Council Presidium in Mezhduretchensk. Putin stressed that natural gas is cheaper than coal in Russia at present. This situation is atypical for Europe. Putin said: “Cheap natural gas is a temporary phenomenon, and there will inevitably be some adjustment of domestic and export prices.”

The president said that this adjustment should not be rushed. He stressed that consumer prices should be kept at the same low level, but overall “prices are being adjusted”.

Putin said that the volume of gas reserves is less than the volume of coal reserves, and the use of coal is a guarantee of economic stability. “It is necessary to analyze and estimate potential domestic and export demand, and take this into account when developing the new foundations of Russia’s energy strategy.” Putin noted that this strategy ought to be completed by November.

Some European countries are demanding that Russia should raise its domestic energy prices, equalizing them with export prices, as a precondition for joining the World Trade Organization (WTO). Putin said he considers this unacceptable.

“It does not satisfy us as a condition for Russia’s WTO membership,” Putin said. He stressed that low gas prices at home are “our natural advantage”. Moreover, such demands were not made of other candidates for WTO membership. Putin said he considers it unfair for such demands to be made in the future.

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