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Politburo, March 31, 2003

Alexei Arbatov: "Election at war time is nonsense."

By Natalya Gorodetskaya

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 lastly employment.

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 population.

Question: But the number of block posts has been reduced, and 1,270 military men were withdrawn from Chechnya.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 the troops?

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.


See also:

War in Chechnya

Politburo, March 31, 2003

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