5 - 11 August 2003 10397-5-11-august-20035 - 11 August 200311 August 2003 Father appoints son as prime minister before flying to the United States for medical treatment.

BAKU, Azerbaijan--In a dramatic though long-expected constitutional move, the traditionally quiescent Azeri parliament has appointed the son of President Heidar Aliev to the post of prime minister.

Aliev, who approved the decision just two days before being flown to the United States for medical treatment, has thereby ensured that if he dies before October’s presidential elections, his son Ilham will assume his powers.

“It is clear now that Ilham will be the next president,” Mehriban Babayeva, a teacher at a local college, said, reflecting the general sense of certainty that that, whatever happens before, during, or after the elections, Ilham will succeed his father.

It had already been clear for years that Heidar Aliev, the dominant figure in Azeri politics since the 1960s, was grooming his now 42-year-old son as his heir. Over the past 10 years, the younger Aliev has served as president of the state oil company, first deputy chair of the ruling New Azerbaijan party, president of the National Olympic Committee, and a member of parliament. Since 2000, Ilham Aliev has also headed the Azeri delegation to the Council of Europe.

A constitutional referendum in August 2002, which changed the statutes to confer the prime minister with presidential powers if the president is incapacitated, was almost universally interpreted as paving the road to Ilham’s succession. The impression was only supplemented by the decision to hang portraits of both Heidar and Ilham in the polling stations. Ministries now also have photos of both men on their walls.

Though long-predicted, Ilham’s elevation may have come at the last moment. The president has not been seen in public since 8 July and has been in poor health since collapsing twice on live television.

Heidar, who is now 80, has still not been seen by the public. However, on 6 August, officials said he had been taken by a Russian hospital plane for treatment in the United States. An American hospital official called the visit a “check-up.” Ilham, however, has said his father was being treated in connection with seven broken ribs suffered during the April collapse. The comments marked the first time an Azeri official had revealed how extensively the president had injured himself in the fall.

The Turkish media have variously claimed, some citing unnamed sources, that Aliev is on a respirator or needs a heart and kidney transplant.

The president has a history of heart problems.

OPPOSITION PROTESTS

Many Azeris welcomed Ilham’s appointment, seeing it as a way of avoiding instability after Heidar Aliev dies.

However, opposition parties have labeled Ilham’s appointment as “illegal,” “the development of a monarchy in the country,” and a “usurpation of power.” “We consider it a coup d'etat” said Isa Gambar, the leader of a major opposition party Musavat.

Several thousand opposition members took to the streets to protest. Several members of the opposition party Umid have begun a hunger strike.

In recent weeks, demands for free and fair elections have also been fueled by the decision of the electoral commission to ban former parliamentary speaker, Rasul Guliev, from standing because he now lives in the United States. Guliev left Azerbaijan after being accused of theft.

However, the opposition parties themselves are weak and fragmented and are seen as posing little threat to the ruling party.

The appointment of Ilham Aliev left many ordinary members of the opposition disappointed with their own parties. “We knew this [would happen] a long time ago, and we should have prepared for it,” said one member of the Popular Front party who didn’t want to be identified.

OCTOBER’S ELECTIONS

Many observers expect that Ilham Aliev, whose name had already been entered as a presidential candidate, will now take over his father’s candidacy. With access to the administrative and financial resources of the government and the ruling party, Ilham would be almost certain to win the October elections.

Not everything will be smooth for Ilham, though. Question marks remain over his ability to consolidate power and maintain the unity of the ruling party.

It is still doubtful whether all members of the ruling elite will stand behind the young politician. Although Ilham has said that he will not make major changes to the government and that he will work with his father’s team, this was widely seen as a short-term ploy to preserve the party’s unity until the elections.

“Should he be elected to the presidency, he will get rid of the old team and bring in his own men,” said one local political analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity. That would allow him to present himself as a new-generation politician and give him room to move away from his father's agenda.

No confrontation, though, is likely before the elections. The registration of candidates ended on 6 August and, apart from his father, Ilham is the only candidate representing the authorities. If they are to prevent the opposition winning, the ruling elite therefore effectively has no option but to back Ilham.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE

Though observers believed the constitutional changes that should ease Ilham into the presidency were gerrymandered and though Western monitors said the August 2002 poll was deeply flawed, the international community has lent its support to Ilham Aliev’s appointment.

An official statement from the U.S. State Department said that “Ilham Aliev was appointed according to constitutional procedures, and the U.S. government looks forward to working with him in the future.” The prime ministers of Turkey, Russia, and Iran, the key regional powers, all sent congratulatory letters.

“The United States is interested in stability and oil and that is why they support Ilham,” argued Fakhreddin Abbasov, a non-governmental sector employee.

But David Woodward, head of British Petroleum’s operation in Azerbaijan, told Reuters, “There could be a period of uncertainty and disruption.”

British Petroleum (BP) is the largest foreign investor in Azerbaijan, and until his appointment as prime minister last week, Ilham had, as vice-president of the state oil company, worked with Woodward.

“I think he has the capability to be the leader of the country and a good leader,” Woodward said.

One of Ilham’s key tasks as prime minister will be to continue the development of the country’s extensive oil and gas fields and oversee the construction of pipelines to Western markets. Work on a key oil pipeline, running from Baku to Ceyhan in Turkey, began in September 2002. However, international backing for the project has not yet been won completely. Political instability could lead to fresh delays, though the United States and Western governments are keen to ensure the construction of a strategic pipeline that would enable Caspian oil to bypass Russia.

A similar gas pipeline, this time to Erzerum in Turkey, remains on the drawing board.

--by Fariz Ismailzade

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Ukraine: Another Bloody Death
A suspect in Ukraine’s worst political scandal since independence dies after being held in police custody.

KIEV, Ukraine--Secret dossiers and compromising documents no longer seem to have much effect on Ukrainian politics anymore. Years of damning allegations against Ukrainian leaders has almost inured the public to such kompromat. But even for “scandal-proof” Ukraine, the reaction to the death in police custody of Ihor Honcharov--the prime suspect in the country’s most high-profile political murder--and to the incriminating letters he left behind, has been uncharacteristically muted.

Honcharov, a 44-year-old senior officer in Ukraine’s organized crime department, was accused of running a gang of policemen, dubbed the “Werewolves,” who kidnapped and murdered businessmen. Among the gang’s victims, prosecutors suspected, was independent Internet journalist Georgy Gongadze, whose death in 2000 sparked a massive campaign of street protests after allegations emerged of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma’s involvement.

Honcharov died in an emergency ward on 1 August after three serious operations, crippled by what his lawyer and relatives described as inhumane beatings in police custody. Two days later, even before the cause of death had been announced, his body was cremated, leaving no possibility of further inquest. Shortly afterwards, the Institute of Mass Information (IMI), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) representing Reporters Without Borders in Ukraine, came forward saying it had received several letters, purportedly from Honcharov, marked “Open after my death.”

According to the excerpts from the hand-written letters published on the NGO’s website, the former police officer said he had been repeatedly beaten up and tortured after promising to reveal the names of “senior Interior Ministry officials” behind Gongadze’s murder. References to all but one name were blacked out for legal reasons, but the letter also alleges that “the top state leadership” was fully aware of the killing.

The excerpts also accuse the former head of Kiev’s organized crime department, Serhiy Khamula, of personally orchestrating the beatings to silence Honcharov.

“Khamula wanted me not to give evidence against those organized crime department officers who, together with [… name blacked out] and another criminal from the Kysel gang, abducted journalist Georgy Gongadze in September 2000 on Lesya Ukrayinka Boulevard in Kiev,” the letter says. “I was severely beaten up and tortured by Khamula and his subordinate Igor at the organized crime department building on Moskovskaya Square.

“I have been denied medical treatment despite worsening stomach pains and frequent blackouts,” the letter says. “My attempt to bring to justice those who organized these crimes may well get me killed.”

Several opposition websites and papers have carried the excerpts. Much to analysts’ surprise, two leading pro-government tabloids also followed suit, although the papers omitted the reference to “the top state leadership” and focused on the details of the killing of an obscure businessman. Those few TV channels that did not ignore the news relegated it to the bottom of their bulletins.

NO COMMENT

Official reaction has been muted, apart from a statement that the letters are being studied. In the absence of official comment, analysts are left speculating about the effects the letters will have if proved authentic.

Most agree, however, that the allegations they contain about senior leadership’s complicity in the Gongadze affair are nothing new.

Gongadze’s disappearance in September 2000, after a brief public outcry, faded from the front pages within a few weeks. But the discovery of the journalist’s beheaded and acid-laced body in a shallow grave outside Kiev-- followed by the release of wiretapped records apparently implicating Kuchma in the murder--catapulted the case back into the headlines.

The records, smuggled to the West by fugitive former presidential guard Mykola Melnychenko--who claimed to have secretly bugged the president’s office--produced a litany of gruesome charges against the president, including corruption, bribery, persecution of political opponents, and vote-rigging. Most shockingly, the records appeared to reveal the president discussing with his then-interior minister and chief of staff the best way to get rid of Gongadze, who had been vocal in his criticism of what he saw as a corrupt and incompetent administration.

The release of the records triggered a scandal known as “Kuchmagate” and a massive campaign of protests that nearly toppled the president in early 2001. Ukraine’s fractious opposition had finally found a common cause, as tens of thousands took to the streets to call for Kuchma’s ouster. The government’s first reaction, after more than a week of shocked silence, was stonewalling. But the months that followed saw the gradual movement of the official line toward the recognition of the tapes’ partial authenticity and Gongadze’s death.

Faced with the evidence, the government was forced to admit that the voice on the records was indeed Kuchma’s, but the administration has insisted that the digital files were doctored to put words in the president’s mouth and has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing. Suggestions have also been made that unnamed eavesdroppers could have recorded one of the president’s rants against Gongadze and killed the journalist to frame Kuchma.

But the opposition maintains that the recordings are genuine, and the fragments of Melnychenko’s archive dealing with Gongadze have been authenticated by Bruce Koenig, a reputable U.S. expert working for the FBI. Last year’s U.S. allegations that Kiev was involved in illegal arms trades with Iraq were also based on the Melnychenko tapes, in segments that have been authenticated by three separate U.S. government agencies.

ALLEGATIONS WITH IMPACT?

Analysts are now questioning what the ultimate significance may be of Honcharov’s letters. Gruesome as his charges against the country’s leadership are, they are little different from those that have been in the public domain for years. But Ukraine-watchers say the letters could be important in other ways.

First, the letters appear to mention specific details and names of those who actually abducted and killed Gongadze. The IMI says it has 17 pages written by Honcharov, and only a small part of the text has been made public.

Next, the letters claim that Honcharov had obtained important material evidence, including audiotaped testimonies from those involved in the abductions, and that this evidence remains in a safe place. The letters apparently disclose the whereabouts of this safe place.

Honcharov’s senior position in the organized crime department could also lend credence to his words. He had reportedly leaked sensitive information regularly to one of Ukraine’s investigative websites, and according to the leading independent weekly Zerkalo Nedeli, appears to have been intricately involved in the “Werewolves’” operations. That means that his words cannot easily be dismissed.

Honcharov’s decision to blow the whistle suggests that he may have tried to nudge the Gongadze investigation in the right direction, which goes a long way toward explaining how the journalist’ unmarked grave was found in the first place, and why journalists were allowed to learn about the discovery.

Finally, even if the letters yield no useful information, turn out to be fake, or become otherwise discredited, they have already put the simmering Gongadze scandal back on the agenda. As the government is already struggling to repair the damage from the arms-to-Iraq scandal, Honcharov’s death has become a poignant reminder of another sword of Damocles hanging over the Kuchma administration.

The new revelations may not be enough to set off another wave of protests, but--with the 2004 presidential election drawing near--they could destroy what remains of Kuchma’s reputation and stymie any attempts to prolong his term in office or install a loyal successor.

As for the late Honcharov, there is little chance that his death will be ruled to have been anything more than an unfortunate accident, if history is a guide. In addition to several Ukrainian journalists, parliament members, opposition activists, and a presidential candidate, the sorry list of untimely deaths with no legal consequences already includes another chief suspect in the murder of another campaigning journalist: Yuriy Veredyuk--whom investigators claimed mistook TV reporter Ihor Oleksanrov for another man and bludgeoned him to death with two baseball bats in July 2001--died shortly after an appeals court threw out the prosecution’s case.

Veredyuk’s death was blamed on poor health.

--by Ivan Khokhotva

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TOL and its print predecessors have been covering Ukraine since 1995, which means a wealth of information for our readers. Visit the TOL Ukraine page for the latest stories on Ukraine at https://tol.org/client/article/category/regions/eastern-europe-russia/ukraine and the Transition and Transitions archives for the historical perspective at https://tol.org/?s=archive.html.

Georgia: Russian Hands on the Switches
Georgians and U.S. officials protest as secret deals give Russia’s control of the gas system and a dominant position on the electricity market.

TBILISI, Georgia--With parliamentary elections due in November, two new deals that could ensure heat and light this winter for Georgians might have been expected to boost the popularity of the government. But the reaction of the public to the news that the beneficiaries in two secretly signed agreements are Russians has led to protests and fueled long-standing concerns about Russia’s influence over Georgia.

They have also angered the United States, anxious that plans to bring gas from the Caspian to Turkey could be affected.

In late July, Georgians discovered that the government had, on 1 July, secretly signed a 25-year agreement on strategic cooperation with Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas producer, to supply gas to Georgia. Then, on 6 August, parliament was told that UES Nordic, a subsidiary of Unified Energy Systems (UES), the Russian electricity group, had already bought a 75 percent controlling interest in the Tbilisi electricity generator, Telasi.

Since the mid-1990s, when Turkmenistan stopped supplying gas to Georgia because of unpaid bills, Russia has, through Itera, a subsidiary of Gazprom, been the sole provider of gas to Georgia. Since 2002, when it bought Tbilgazi, Itera has also been the key gas distributor in Georgia. The gas deal therefore does not change the status quo in Georgia. It does, though, extend it and deepen it, as Gazprom has promised to invest into upgrading two existing pipelines.

The seller of the Telasi stake was AES Telasi, a joint venture part-owned by the U.S. electricity giant AES.

Nonetheless, the secrecy of the deals and the sight of long-term deals being given to Russian companies has led to a surge in Georgians’ already high-voltage relationship with its large neighbor, with accusations that the government has sold out to Russian interests.

“Of course it’s bad, even dangerous for us. Would we have died fighting in the [1991-2 separatist] war in Abkhazia and after that if we’d known they [the government] were going to sell Georgia back to Russia?” says Manana, a 49-year-old doctor from Tbilisi.

“I just know it’s bad,” a lady next to her agrees.

The public anger ensured that the boss of UES, Anatoly Chubais, was accompanied by protests everywhere he went during his visit to Tbilisi on 6 August. Tensions were so high that the police tried to break up some demonstrations, injuring a few protestors in the process.

Many Georgians see the increased role of UES and Gazprom in the energy sector as nothing short of a political deal between Moscow and Tbilisi to restore Russia’s control over Georgia.

Since 1991, when Georgia gained independence, Russia has retained significant influence over the country. Two ethnic conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia remain unresolved, with Moscow’s decision to issue Russian passports to people in both regions raising questions about the real role of Russian peacemakers. Russian military bases in the regions of Ajaria and Djavakheti mean that both are effectively outside the control of the government in Tbilisi.

Last year, the problems were aggravated by Russian pressure on Georgia to flush out Chechen rebels based in the Pankisi Gorge, which included the bombing of a Georgian village near the border.

With these deals Russia has now secured its role in supplying and distributing gas to Georgia, and won a new and dominant position in the electricity market. UES now owns two power plants and power lines to Turkey and Armenia, and also has managerial control of two hydroelectric plants.

THE ARGUMENTS

Chubais tried to dismiss fears that his company would use its position to increase pressure on Tbilisi on behalf of the Kremlin. “UES’s entry in Georgia is motivated purely by economics,” he said. “This was not a political or Kremlin-guided deal.”

“Now we will be able not only to export electricity to Georgia, but also generate the power locally and distribute it in Tbilisi and other regions of the country. We will also be able to transit electricity to Turkey, which is particularly important for us,” Chubais said.

Though the deal was between AES Telasi and UES, Georgian Energy Minister David Mirtskhulava attended the same press conference and welcomed the purchase. “Georgia is experiencing a severe energy crisis and Russia is the best partner [to help]… This winter promises to be much better,” he concluded.

There could be other benefits too for Georgian customers. Alexei Miller, head of Gazprom, has hinted that Gazprom would consider setting the gas price according to the purchasing power of Georgian consumers.

Georgia's inability to secure energy supplies has been such a major cause of its social and economic problems that Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze once said: If the lights go out, I go out. However, while some of the supply problems can be attributed to poor infrastructure, Russian companies have often been seen as exerting pressure on the government by deliberately turning off the taps.

Shevardnadze told reporters on 28 July that they should not dramatize the deal with Gazprom, saying that Georgia has no alternative. Azerbaijan itself imports five to six billion cubic meters of gas, he said, and Kazakhstan is far away. He made no mention of renewing supplies from Turkmenistan.

However, Shevardnadze did view the AES deal differently. Prior to the agreement, he had said he hoped a controlling interest would remain in Georgian hands.

The opposition is skeptical that these were purely commercial arrangements. David Gamkrelidze, a parliamentary deputy and a leader of the New Rights opposition party, said on the TV channel Rustavi 2 that “the [Gazprom] agreement is an obvious danger to Georgian sovereignty and independence. Russia failed to ruin our statehood and now it has changed tactics. It is trying to penetrate the Georgian energy market by buying its most important strategic units, such as the entire gas and energy system, including pipelines.”

“I am absolutely sure that the people do not want electricity at the price of independence,” parliamentary chairwoman Nino Burjanadze told the press on 6 August.

Many fear this is just the beginning of the advance of Russian commercial interests into Georgia. Tbilisi currently owes UES around 40 million Lari ($19 million) for electricity. Experts believe UES might, instead of cash, demand additional strategic assets. In the gas sector, too, Gazprom stands a chance of extending its interests if the gas distributor Sakgaz goes bankrupt and is sold.

Gia Khukhashvili, a Georgian energy expert, believes that the decision to sell AES-Telasi was clearly political. A year ago,” he continues, “Putin stressed that energy is not only about the economy but is also a political tool.

He also said there are indications that the Russians are eyeing Georgia’s Black Sea ports. “That means we will actually loose independence. But I don't blame the Russians, they have their interests. I blame our government, which actually sold the country.

WORRIES IN WASHINGTON

The United States is also deeply concerned. It issued a statement expressing its regret that AES, a U.S. company, had sold its stake, adding that Washington remains committed to supporting reform in Georgia's energy sector.

AES Telasi has been thinking of leaving Georgia for over a year. Its difficulties were compounded last August when its chief financial officer, Niko Lominadze, was found dead in his house in Tbilisi.

In particular, Washington is concerned at the possible impact on the transfer of gas.

Work has already begun on the construction of an oil pipeline from the Caspian to Turkey, via Georgia. However, there are also plans to build a pipeline that would run between the Shah Deniz gas field off the Azeri coast to Turkey, again via Georgia.

In early June, Stephen Mann, a senior energy advisor to U.S. President George W. Bush visited Tbilisi to tell Shevardnadze and the government that “Georgia should do nothing that undercuts the powerful promise of an East-West energy corridor.”

“Support for any competing gas export pipelines at this stage would be destructive for Shah Deniz,” he added.

According to Mann, the first he heard of the Gazprom deal was when he “read about it on the Russian company’s official website.”

“Such agreements should always be transparent,” he told Rustavi 2.

However, Energy Minister Mirtskhulava is cited by the news website Civil Georgia as saying that the agreement with Gazprom “complies with U.S., as well as Georgian interests.”

Shevardnadze stresses that the agreement with Gazprom does not include east-west gas pipelines. Under the agreement, Gazprom would invest hundreds of millions of dollars to modernize pipelines running from Russia to Ajaria and from Russia to Armenia.

However, the possibility that the pipeline to Ajaria could be extended to Turkey could create competition to the Western-backed gas pipeline from Baku to Erzerum in Turkey.

A leading figure in the Georgian energy industry, Gia Chanturia, president of the Georgian International Oil Corporation, had also warned the government not to take “any steps that would trigger the devaluation of these vital projects,” meaning the oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian to Turkey. “It is worth noting,” he told Civil Georgia “that the expected investment by Gazprom in Georgia's pipelines--$200 million at the first stage--is nothing compared to the dividends that the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum pipeline would bring to Georgia,”

--by Dima bit-Suleiman

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TOL has covered the intricacies of Georgian geopolitics closely. For more, browse our Georgia country file, at https://tol.org/client/article/category/regions/caucasus/georgia, our archive and--for articles from the 1990s—the articles of the Transitions magazine, at http://transitions.tol.cz.

Serbia & Montenegro: Belgrade Sacks 16 Top Generals
Serbia and Montenegro show they’re serious about military reform, but are their soldiers ready for Iraq?

BELGRADE, Serbia and Montenegro--The Supreme Defense Council of Serbia and Montenegro sacked 16 top generals and 202 other officers on 7 August in a move seen as a clear sign that the country is serious about reforming its armed forces.

The Supreme Defense Council adopted the decision during a meeting in Meljine, Montenegro in a process that Defense Minister Boris Tadic said was “natural and necessary for the pursuit of reforms in the army.”

Among those sacked are Deputy Chief of Staff Vojislav Lazarevic and army intelligence chief Radoslav Skoric.

Lazarevic headed the Pristina corps of the Yugoslav Army at the time of the 1998-1999 Kosovo conflict between Belgrade forces and ethnic Albanian separatist guerillas--a conflict rife with suspected war crimes that have led to the indictment of top Belgrade leaders by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.

Some local analysts have speculated that pressure from Western powers had led to Lazarevic’s removal, as well as the firing of several other generals.

Tadic and Army Chief of Staff Branko Krga, however, attempted to downplay the decision. Tadic said the sackings were a result of the restructuring of the armed forces and budgetary concerns. Many of the officers were forced into retirement because of their age, he said.

“We are not talking about a purge of the generals,” said Tadic, refuting claims that the move was in any way political.

Krga also took issue with those allegations in an interview with the daily Vecernje novosti on 11 August. “Without any evidence, all of them are being placed in one basket and suspected as a whole,” Krga said, adding that for decades “these men were in the line of duty of their country, not of some leaders.”

A Western diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity told TOL that “some of the sacked generals were carrying burdens of the past, but we also have in the group generals such as Ninoslav Krstic, who left an excellent impression on us while commanding troops in southern Serbia [during the 2000-2001 rebellion by Albanian extremists].”

“But what is more important than the names of the sacked is the fact that for the first time in Belgrade the military is under civilian control. It is the civilian Defense Ministry that is deciding on the changes, not the military,” he said.

The diplomat also said that the recent reforms in the armed forces of Serbia and Montenegro have been “impressive and very positive.”

“Minister Tadic has also set as a goal membership in the NATO Partnership for Peace program for 2004, which is achievable,” he said.

MAN ON A MISSION

Tadic launched a sweeping reform process in the armed forces after assuming his post following the 12 March assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. Though some said Tadic was unprepared to assume the post of defense minister, he soon proved his readiness to act with a series of hard-hitting moves, including the sacking of four high-ranking officers for “chain of command” responsibility in an accident that resulted in the death of one soldier and the wounding of 12 others at an army barracks in central Serbia.

Yet, even Tadic seemed a bit surprised and confused last week when U.S. media reported that Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic had offered Washington some 1,000 troops for “peace operations” in crisis regions, such as Liberia, Afghani

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