24 August 2009, 23:00

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of August 17-23

Explosions of terrorists-suicide bombers in Chechnya and Ingushetia; persecutions of human rights activists in Northern Caucasus; detention by Georgia of foreign ships sailing to Abkhazia; Georgia's exit from the CIS - look up these and other events in the review of the week of August 17-23 in the Caucasian regions prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

Suicide bombers' trigger explosions in Ingushetia and Chechnya

The first day of the week - Monday, August 17, in Northern Caucasus was marked by a powerful terror act. At 9:00 a.m., a terrorist rammed the gate of the GUVD (Chief Interior Department) with his "Gazel" minivan, stuffed with explosive, drove into the yard, where local militiamen were standing in a line, and triggered a powerful bomb. According to the latest data, the terror act at the GUVD building in Nazran killed 25 persons and wounded 262 more. Many are still hospitals. The authorities have declared that all the victims will receive compensations.

Vakha Chapanov, director of the Ingush Information Agency "Maximum", told the "Caucasian Knot" correspondent that a man's head was found in the venue; "they suppose it could be the terrorist's head." He has also assumed that there were two terrorists, as someone held fire from the van in motion.

President Dmitri Medvedev said that the terror act could be prevented, as a couple of days before the tragedy a signal arrived to the militia about preparation of a terror act; and the hijacked "Gazel", which was later used as a wheeled bomb, was in search. In the context of the incident, Mr Medvedev dismissed the Minister of Internal Affairs of Ingushetia Ruslan Meiriev and appointed Victor Zhirnov to be Acting Minister.

The Investigatory Committee at the Prosecutor's Office (ICPO) for the Southern Federal District has opened a criminal case under the article of "negligence" on the fact "of poor execution by the officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of Ingushetia of their duties."

As reported by the MIA, the republic's law enforcement bodies possessed information about preparation of new terror acts. Militiamen received operative data about three car models, planned to be used by terrorists for blowing up administrative and ministerial objects.

The terror act forced the President of Ingushetia Yunus-Bek Evkurov to interrupt his rehabilitation treatment at a sanatorium near Moscow, and fly back to his republic.

There he announced his plans to strive for increasing the personnel of the republic's MIA by 1500-2000 persons.

Back in Ingushetia, Mr Evkurov touched on the issue of the attempt on him. According to his story, the militants, who took part in the attack, were identified, and now they are no longer alive. However, he has noted that should the suicide bomber, who had attempted on him, have been alive; the President would have been ready to pardon him in case of sincere repentance.

On the day of terror act in Ingushetia, an accident happened at the Sayan-Shushensk Hydroelectric Power Plant (HPP), the largest power plant in Russia - a partial destruction of the turbine house of the HPP. One of the websites of Chechen separatists placed a statement, according to which, the responsibility for the accident was taken by the Russian Jama'at "Muvakhiddun ar-Rusi", controlled by the militants' leader Doku Umarov. However, the Kremlin called this version "idiotic" and refused to make any comments on it.

On this week, on Friday, August 21, similar explosions of two terrorists-suicide bombers took place in the neighbouring Chechnya. In the time interval from 1:10 to 1:40 p.m. Moscow time two suicide bombers who moved on bicycles triggered their bombs in Pervomaiskaya and Mayakovskaya Streets.

The first one wounded two civilians, a girl of 13 inclusive. "A man and a girl of 13 - victims of the explosion in the Pervomaiskaya Street - were brought to a hospital in Grozny," a source in the Investigatory department of the ICPO for Chechnya said.

In total in Grozny four militiamen were lost, and three persons were wounded - one militiaman and two civilian residents of the capital of Chechnya.

President of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov then said that law enforcers were searching two more young men, who also use bicycles and may try to commit self-explosions. He emphasized that, despite the incidents, the situation in Grozny remained calm and under complete control of law enforcement bodies.

According to Mr Kadyrov, the suicide bombers had been trained by Arabian instructors. "We had information that in the Vedeno District Arabs Makhdan and Yasir were training bombers, and, allegedly, a group of these terrorists was sent to commit terror acts," Kadyrov has noted.

Ruslan Alkhanov, head of the Chechen MIA, added that one of the terrorists was Ilyas Batalov, born in 1991, a resident of Grozny, the other - Shamil Saltakhanov, born in 1985, a native of Argun.

The local militia, same as law enforcers in Ingushetia, said that they knew about the prepared terror acts and prevented more serious consequences.

As reported by Vladimir Markin, official spokesman of the ICPO, the investigation did not exclude that the terror acts were attempts to destabilize the situation in Northern Caucasus.

Politkovskaya's case

On August 17, the defence of the family of Anna Politkovskaya, the assassinated observer of the "Novaya Gazeta" newspaper, appealed at the Supreme Court of Russia against the refusal to return her murder case back to the public prosecutor. This was reported by Anna Stavitskaya, who is representing the interests of Politkovskaya's children.

The process on Politkovskaya's murder case continued on August 5. At the first session after cancellation of the acquitting verdict, representatives of the journalist's family asked the Moscow Regional Military Court to return the case to the Prosecutor's Office. The persecution asked the same, and the petition was supported by the defence. The preliminary hearing was held closed; however, the petition was rejected.

"We've filed a complaint on the refusal to return this case to the Prosecutor's Office for merging it with the main criminal case, under which all the persons involved in the murder are established," said Ms Stavitskaya.

New Project of BBC Russian Service and "Caucasian Knot"

Messages of the media from the republics of Northern Caucasus look more and more like frontline reports. How do people live in Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan? What happens now in North Ossetia? Has the life come back to Beslan after capture of the school five years ago? On August 17, the Russian service of the BBC and the Internet media "Caucasian Knot" started a joint project "Northern Caucasus by Bloggers' Eyes", aimed at involving the Internet audience in debating on the main problems of Northern Caucasus.

Detention of ships in Georgia


On August 17, it became known that on the previous day another Turkish ship was detained by Georgian frontier guards in the neutral waters of the Black Sea and towed to the Georgian port of Poti. Journalists have learnt about it from Zaur Ardzinba, director general of the state-owned "Abkhazian Shipping Company". The ship was transporting over 3000 tons of gasoline and 775 tons of diesel fuel.

The Georgian party asserts that the ship sailing under the flag of Panama was detained on the fact of repeated violation of the Georgian border and navigation regulations "in the occupied territory."

The crew of 17 members includes 13 citizens of Turkey, and 4 - of Azerbaijan. A criminal case was opened. Georgia wants to sell the tanker at an auction.

After the incident at fuelling stations near Sukhumi, Gagra, Gudauta and Pitsunda, an agiotage with fuel was observed, and queues reached 15-20 cars. At some stations prices reached 27.5 roubles for a litre of A-95.

Christina Ozgan, Minister of Economy of Abkhazia, stated then that there were no grounds to be afraid of fuel deficit in the republic, the country's gasoline reserve made up to 1000 tons, which was enough for the near future. She attributed high prices on gasoline to dishonesty of private businessmen.

On Monday, August 17, on the occasion of the capture of the tanker, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Abkhazia made an official statement, saying that the Abkhazian party reserved the right to undertake proportional measures in defence of the freights, going to Abkhazia.

Georgia's reacted to the threats was original - on August 19, it became known about detention of the ship "Egemen Doven", sailing under the flag of Panama. And on Thursday, August 20, the motor boats of the Service of Coastal Guard of Georgia detained the dry-cargo ship "Afrostar" under the flag of Cambodia. Besik Shengeliya, director of the Department of Coastal Guard of the Frontier Police of the MIA of Georgia, told journalists that the dry-cargo ship "Afrostar" was detained because of its "illegal entrance into the water area of Abkhazia."

The crew of the ship consists of 7 persons; they are all citizens of Syria. According to Mr Shengeliya, the ship has the cargo - 1255 tons of ferrous metals, which were taken away from the territory of Abkhazia in the form of contraband.

At the same time, Zaur Ardzinba, Director General of the state-owned "Abkhazian Shipping Company", has stated that the ship was sailing not to Abkhazia, but to Turkey.

Georgia leaves the CIS

On August 18, the formal process of Georgia's exit from the Commonwealths of Independent States (CIS) was over.

"According to the Charter of the CIS, the formal procedure of a member's exit from this organization shall last for 12 months. Accordingly, this formal Georgia's exit from the CIS is over on August 18, 2009," said David Dzhalaganiya, deputy minister of foreign affairs of Georgia.

In the opinion of Leonid Slutskiy, first deputy chairman of the committee for international matters of the State Duma of the Russian Federation, the Georgia's exit from the CIS is a rash and demonstrative step. According to his story, "except for unnecessary efforts and a doubtful political effect, this decision will give nothing to Georgia, but will only negatively affect its citizens."

He believes that the Georgian leadership is more and more driving itself into the corner. At the same time, Mr Slutskiy said that Tbilisi's exit from the CIS should not be dramatized.

Ramaz Sakvarelidze, a Georgian political scientist and psychologist, said to the "Caucasian Knot" correspondent that the Georgia's exit out of CIS structures was the only issue, where consensus was reached among the current authorities, political opposition and the population of Georgia.

"Starting from the 1990s, the opposition has always demanded to quit the CIS from the government of Georgia and the ruling political elite. Therefore, it's not the initiative of the authorities; on the contrary, those in power - first Shevardnadze, then Saakashvili - always opposed this exit tendency," said Sakvarelidze.

In his opinion, the population of Georgia is in sympathy with the decision made by the official Tbilisi. "The exit from the CIS is a worthy answer to the insult, which had been physically rendered by Russia, and morally - by the whole CIS structure," he has emphasized.

Georgia was the last among the republics of the former USSR to join the CIS. The decision on Georgia's accession was taken by the heads of the states on December 3, 1993, in the context of the application made by Eduard Shevardnadze, the then head of the Georgian state, on October 8, 1993. In March 1994 the parliament of Georgia approved that decision.

The process of Georgia's exit from the CIS was initiated by the Georgian government on August 12, 2008, when President Mikhail Saakashvili made a respective statement.

On August 14, 2008, the parliament of Georgia made a unanimous decision on the country's exit from three CIS treaties: "Agreements on Founding the CIS" of December 8, 1991; the Charter of the CIS (of January 22, 1993) and "Agreement on Founding the Economic Union of the CIS" (of September 24, 1993). On August 18 last year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia made an official notification of the Executive Committee of the CIS by a special note. At the sitting of the CIS Council of Ministers in Bishkek on October 9, 2008, it was decided to satisfy the Georgia's application about its exit from the CIS.

Prosecutions of human rights activist in Chechnya and Dagestan

On Wednesday, August 19, the HRC "Memorial" reported that in this month employees of the Grozny-based office of the "Memorial" have confronted facts of unhidden shadowing and pressure.

Prosecutions started after Natalia Estemirova, a well-known human rights defender and an employee of the Grozny office of the "Memorial", was kidnapped and murdered on July 15.

The "Memorial" reported that right before her death Natalia Estemirova was dealing with several cases related to new kidnappings, murders and torture of people in Chechnya.

"One of the most 'acute' cases that she had investigated in her last days was kidnapping in Grozny on June 28, 2009, of Zelimkhan Khadzhiev and Apti Zainalov. On July 3, the mutilated Zainalov was found in the Achkhoy-Martan District Hospital by Ahmed Gisaev, another employee of the Grozny office of the 'Memorial', who helped Natalia Estemirova in dealing with this case," runs the statement of the HRC that arrived to the "Caucasian Knot".

Ahmed Gisaev is the applicant to the European Court on Human Rights of complaint No. 14811/04, concerning his illegal arrest in Chechnya on October 23, 2003, by federal forces and torturing.

According to the "Memorial", Gisaev managed to establish that Apti Zainalov was brought in a grave condition to the Achkhoy-Martan District Hospital by employees of the Chechen power agencies. Ahmed Gisaev and Natalia Estemirova started a fight for his release and initiation of a criminal case on the fact of his torturing and illegal keeping in custody. On July 7, Natalia Estemirova addressed, together with Zainalov's mother Aima Makaeva, to the Prosecutor's Office of the Achkhoy-Martan District.

"However, employees of power agencies immediately took Apti Zainalov away from the hospital in an unknown place. His relatives were not informed about his whereabouts and the charges presented to him. These circumstances indicate the presence of a serious danger to Zainalov's life and health," runs the statement.

"About July 10, that is, just a couple of days after the address of the employees of the 'Memorial' and Zainalov's mother to the Prosecutor's Office of the Achkhoy-Martan District, Ahmed Gisaev's shadowing was noticed: from the office of the HRC 'Memorial' in Grozny up to his house he was traced by a car with tinted glasses model GAZ-31029 with the license plate В391MU 95RUS (the 95th region of Russia is the Chechen Republic). This car stopped at Gisaev's house. A portable radio set could be seen on the front door of the car - an attribute of the fact that employees of power agencies were in the car," human rights activists report.

Human rights activists also assert that pressure on human rights activist was practiced in Dagestan. On August 20 in Makhachkala, an arson of a rented apartment was made, where the office of the NGO "Mothers of Dagestan for Human Rights" is located.

At about 9:30 a.m., Svetlana Isaeva, chair of the NGO, who was on her way to a meeting with foreign journalists, received a telephone call from the owner of the building, where the office is located, who told her that the office had burned down. Isaeva immediately went there together with the journalists. Later, a cameraman and a correspondent of local TV also arrived there.

They found the office almost completely destroyed: the walls floor and ceiling were scorched, the office equipment melted. All the photos were lost. Only because the folder with constituent documents and the seal of the organization were at Isaeva's home, they survived.

Ms Isaeva addressed the Sovietskiy ROVD (District Interior Division) of Makhachkala. According to human rights activists, militiamen refused to accept an application about the arson, saying that they had contacted the Ministry for Emergencies (MfE); and an expert from there made a conclusion that the reason of the fire was in a short circuit of electric wires.

Isaeva then went to firemen to clear out the circumstances. According to her story, the office had been switched off from electricity for two weeks, and none of the devices was connected; therefore, any short circuit was excluded.

From the very beginning, she put forward the version of arson. Later, it was confirmed by an MfE employee: in a heap of glass under the office window he detected some scorched paper residues impregnated with gasoline; he sent them to examination.

Thanks to interference of local residents, the office had not burnt out completely: they managed to take out some items, like tables and chairs. But the employees are now deprived of the most necessary things for their work - computers, telephones, a fax and so forth.

The public movement "Mothers of Dagestan for Human Rights" was founded in August 2007 as a protest against kidnappings and extrajudicial executions of young people in the republic.

Human rights activists of this organization held multiple protest actions against violations of human rights in Dagestan.

Bureaucrats dismissed in Northern and Southern Caucasus

On Tuesday, August 18, Stanislav Lakoba submitted an application on his resignation from the post of the Secretary of the Security Council of Abkhazia. He named one of the reasons of his decision "the latest events connected with adoption of amendments to the Law on Citizenship of the Republic of Abkhazia."

At the last sitting of the spring session of the parliament, on July 31, the MPs voted for the amendments, which caused hot criticism by the opposition.

The nationwide political party "Forum of National Unity of Abkhazia" (FNUA), the public organization of the veterans of the Patriotic War of the People of Abkhazia "Aruaa" and the social movement "Akhyatsa" disseminated their joint statement, which notes that "the parliament of Abkhazia has adopted changes in the Law of the Republic of Abkhazia 'On Citizenship of the Republic of Abkhazia', according to which all the residents of the Gali District are recognized as citizens of Abkhazia."

The opposition emphasizes that "the parliament has ignored all the dangerous consequences for the country created by these steps." "From this moment on, there are as many citizens of Abkhazia of the Georgian nationality as Abkhazians themselves. At once, they have equated in rights those who had fought for independence of Abkhazia with those who had for so many years promoted Georgian colonial interests. In the overwhelming majority, residents of the Gali District have Georgian citizenship; and now they are awarded the citizenship of Abkhazia without any demand to give up the Georgia one - of the state, which is hostile to us," runs the joint statement of the FNUA, "Aruaa" and "Akhyatsa".

On Friday, August 21, Andrei Yarin, Chairman of the Government of Kabardino-Balkaria, a member of the so-called "Cadre Reserve of the President of Russia", tendered his resignation in the context of changing his job. The resignation was accepted by the President of the republic. According to the Constitution, all the members of the government of the KBR shall resign together with the chairman of the government.

Alexander Merkulov, who earlier worked in Kabardino-Balkaria as a federal inspector was appointed to be the acting chairman of the government of Kabardino-Balkaria.

On August 21, Lasha Zhvaniya, Minister of Economy, was dismissed, and soon was followed by the deputies of the Minister for Economic Development Georgiy Shanidze, Leval Pateishvili, Sulkhan Sisauri and Irakliy Gachechiladze. Only Uruzmag Karkusov, former prime minister of the administration of South Ossetia, preserved his deputy post.

President of Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili believes that with resignation of Lasha Zhvaniya the government lost a good worker. However, according to the President, in such situations the Prime Minister is free to make a decision on his own discretion.

In the opinion of the opposition, Lasha Zhvaniya's resignation will change nothing. "The economy of Georgia is collapsing, and whoever is dismissed, it will not help. Early presidential election and change of power are required to induce real changes," said Zurab Nogaideli, ex-prime-minister of Georgia and now the leader of the Party "For Fair Georgia".

"Lasha Zhvaniya wasn't perceived as a member of a uniform economic team, he was somehow individual and separate. However, it doesn't mean that other changes in the Cabinet are excluded in future," Giya Khukhashvili, a Georgian expert on economic issues, said in his interview to the "Caucasian Knot" correspondent.

Lasha Zhvaniya's dismissal will not remedy the situation in economy, Niko Orvelashvili, an economic expert believes.

He told the "Business Georgia": "The fact that the internal opposition in the government is brought to the public review, can mean one thing - they are searching figures for presenting them to the society as scapegoats; aiming to create an illusion that the guilty person had been revealed; and situation will be remedied."

By his estimate, from the point of view of professionalism, patriotism and honesty, Lasha Zhvaniya was a weak minister, but on this side, the government has not a single strong minister.

During his work, former minister Lasha Zhvaniya emphasized his priorities more than once: preservation of workplaces in the country and creation of new jobs; development of various segments of the economy; attraction of investments; an involvement of potentials of tourism and agriculture.

Mr Zhvaniya gave his special attention to projects of support of small and medium businesses, programme of cheap credits and development of tourism. With the aim to activate the process of attracting investments, he transformed the service for supporting exports into a separate department. He has also developed projects for improvement of the tourist infrastructure, and organized informational and press tours for the world tourist editions.

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