| Deputy Chairman of the Defence Committee of the
State Duma, member of the YABLOKO faction, Alexei
Arbatov shared with Politburo correspondent Natalya Gorodetskaya
his views on the meaning of the recent referendum for Chechnya.
Question: A referendum was held in Chechnya, the constitution and
laws on the election of the president and the parliament [of the
republic] of the republic were adopted there. Many Duma deputies
think that the Chechen constitution is not only half-baked, but
even contradicts the Constitution of the RF.
Arbatov: It is normal, i.e. standard. The problem
is different: it does not matter whether Chechnya becomes a presidential
or parliamentary republic. The key issue for them is survival.
Their main problems concern movement, security, a revival of the
economy, housing or lack of housing, availability of food and
Question: Judging from the results of the voting,
the residents of the republic are quite active.
Arbatov: Chechens went to the referendum in
the hope that it would help stop the war. But you cannot resolve
the underlying problems in this way: for example, what kind of
relationships will exist between the military and civilians? The
voting won't provide an answer as to whether there is a state
of emergency in Chechnya today or not; whether you can stop anyone
at a control post, asking for bribes or not; whether you can arrest
people without the authorization of a public prosecutor or not,
etc: This means that the referendum has not resolved the conflict
- and there has been a conflict - between the military and the
Question: But the number of block posts has been
reduced, and 1,270 military men were withdrawn from Chechnya.
Arbatov: Yes, on the threshold of the referendum.
And it is nonsense to conduct a referendum after the building
of government was blown up. The militants feel at home in Chechnya.
There has been a lull, but in spring, when it becomes greener,
they will become active again. And you will see once again mop-up
operations, passport checks, "stop-wheel" operations,
shooting at villages, and mainly civilians will suffer. This will
facilitate a renewal of the ranks of the unlawful military formations.
Conducting a referendum in such conditions can be compared to
a situation where people who travel only on foot or a shabby cart
are asked whether they prefer a Mercedes or a Jaguar.
Question: But Chechens decided that they need a constitution.
Arbatov: They chose from what was on offer:
most of them did not read the [draft] constitution, and those
who read it did not understand much about it. They voted for peace.
But peace is impossible as long as there are militants in the
republic. We have to close the borders of Chechnya to stop their
raids. We have to close the supply channels of the militants,
their support from the local population, which is attributable
to the repression against the population carried out by the federal
troops. We should see one-man management everywhere - the military
and the civil authorities should be subordinate to one head. The
troops should be put in order, to ensure that the military don’t
have any motives for extortion and marauding. There should be
no mop-ups and only targeted operations. A breakthrough in this
situation is required to the benefit of the federal authorities.
There were insufficient grounds for the referendum and elections
in Chechnya. It is as if someone were artificially covering up
a wound to hide it: whereas it is better to treat wounds.
Question: The Kremlin promised Chechnya that after
presidential elections [in Chechnya] it would start withdrawing
troops and the republic would be granted extensive powers.
Arbatov: Today everyone understands that it
is impossible to leave Chechnya: slaughter would start at once
and everybody who cooperated with the federal troops would be
murdered. But free elections are impossible in the presence of
the military. Moreover the results of the presidential elections
[in Chechnya] have been pre-determined - the Kremlin has obviously
placed Kadyrov in this post. In this case we can split the population
of the republic into two halves: many people have developed a
dislike for Kadyrov since the first war in Chechnya, when he called
for a holy war against Russia. In addition the military will resent
being subordinate to him. And what kind of president cannot control
Question: Are you sure that Ahmed Kadyrov will become
the President of Chechnya? There is a gossip that he is going
to be offered the post of Russian ambassador.
Arbatov: The conflict with Mikhail Babyish (Ed.
Former Prime Minister of Chechnya, who disagreed publicly in January
with Kadyrov over the latter’s decision to appoint Eli Isayev
as Chechnya's finance minister.) demonstrated who is in charge.
And in a virtual state of emergency, when there are control posts
everywhere and there is no freedom of movement, only the acting
president - this means Kadyrov - can become president there. And
any individual placed there by Moscow will have restricted influence
- as it would be clear that this was not the free choice of Chechens.
Question: Then maybe it would be sensible to support
the proposal from Aslambek Aslakhanov (Ed. deputy of the State
Duma of the Russian Federation from Chechnya) to conduct parliamentary
elections first. And only then hold, in accordance with newly
adopted laws, the presidential elections.
Arbatov: The parliamentary elections are less
contradictory and less conflict-prone than the elections of a
president who would head of the entire republic. Moreover, presidential
elections in a virtual state of emergency can only worsen the
situation in Chechnya and push some loyal Chechens towards the
militants, as this so-called political process has been conceived
by one Chechen clan with the support of certain individuals in
the [federal] centre to legalise their far from legal power there.