21 January 2010, 18:00
Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of January 11-17
Completion of resonant litigations in Russia and Georgia; new Dagestan leader is anticipated at the background of special operations and explosions; Turkey gets to the forefront in settling the Karabakh conflict, - look up these and other events in the review of the week of January 11-17, 2010, in Caucasian regions prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".
Defendants in "Neva-Express" train explosion case are convicted
Last week, the Novgorod Regional Court held two final sessions in the trial dealing with the explosion of the "Neva-Express" train in 2007. On January 11, the defendants - natives of Ingushetia Salambek Dzakhkiev and Maksharip Khidriev - stated their innocence.
Defendant Khidriev reiterated that he had been tortured. "They dragged me in, forced to sit and tortured. I'm still all right, but this innocent person (Dzakhkiev, - comment of the "Caucasian Knot") - he has his family and children, let him go home," he said.
In his turn, Salambek Dzakhkiev said: "We say - Your Honour - when addressing the court; you have a chance to prove what the honour really means."
At the session on January 15 the defendants were acquitted under the article of "terrorism"; however, the court found them guilty of illegal circulation of explosives. Dzakhkiev was sentenced 10 years of imprisonment, and Khidriev - 4 years. When the sentence was announced, Salambek Dzakhkiev started swearing obscenely, interfering with reading out the verdict. He tried to call up his relatives, but court officers did not allow them to come up.
The defendants' advocates are dissatisfied with the verdict and plan to lodge a cassation in the near future. "We'd accept only complete acquittal," Marat Yunusov, Maksharip Khidriev's advocate, told journalists.
Let us remind you that the wreck of Train No. 166 Moscow-St Petersburg ("Neva-Express" train) happened on August 13, 2007, at the Burga-Malaya Vishera section of the Oktiabr Railway. 60 passengers suffered, more than 30 were hospitalized.
Trial of Mukhrovani rebels over in Georgia
On January 11, a verdict was passed to the militaries accused of the mutiny raised at the Mukhrovani military base. The City Court of Tbilisi ruled to release General Kobaladze, accused of an attempt to overthrow the state power, right in the courtroom. The court, however, found him guilty under the second indictment point (illegal arms storage and bearing) and sentenced to eight months and six days of imprisonment: exactly the term, he had already spent behind bars.
The three other main defendants were rewarded with long imprisonment terms. Leval Amiridze, former commander of rangers' battalion was sentenced to 28 years, Kobe Otanadze - to 29 years, and Shota (Mamuka) Gorgiashvili, former commander of the armoured battalion deployed in Mukhrovani, - to 19 years of imprisonment.
The court also sentenced Kakha Kobaidze, former commander of the Third Brigade, to 3 years of imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 laris, and David Sulkhanishvili, former commander of the First Brigade, to 3 years of conditional imprisonment and a fine of 20,000 laris.
A remedial deal was concluded with defendant Zaza Sandodze, and the remaining 15 defendants were sentenced to 3-15 years of imprisonment.
The inquiry on the Mukhrovani mutiny case had no proofs of General Kobaladze's guilt and the whole process was a typical political show. This was stated by human rights defender Gela Nikoleishvili, one of the main Kobaladze's advocates, who promised to lodge cassation claims in near future. Under the law, advocates have one month for challenging the verdict.
Keti Bekauri, personal lawyer of General Kobaladze, added that the investigation has no proofs of General's guilt, except for oral evidences of Giya Gvaladze, who confessed of preparing a mutiny with the aim of overthrow the legal power. He concluded a remedial agreement and received two years of prison instead. Now Gvaladze is in the Republic's Prison Hospital, where conditions are among the best in Georgia.
"Many of the 44 defendants who figured in the case admitted their guilt only of non-obeying the order of their commander and were convicted conditionally or to small terms. Only three defendants were punished to the maximum - those who rejected the attempt of an armed putsch," Ms Bekauri said, noting that "the case has political context."
Let us remind you that on May 5, 2009, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia announced disclosure of an armed plot with the aim to disrupt the NATO exercises and capture the whole of Georgia.
Dagestan pending new president - situation is heating up
The expectation of the moment, due on January 19, when President of Russia Dmitri Medvedev was to name his nominee to the post of Dagestan leader out of the list of candidates, offered by the party in power - "Edinaya Rossiya" (United Russia), is accompanied by rather high tension.
On January 11, a meeting took place of Russian President Dmitri Medvedev with the incumbent head of Dagestan Mukhu Aliev, whose term in office expires on February 20, 2010. Under the official version, the meeting discussed the social and economic situation in the region; however, sources from the republic's top management and "Edinaya Rossiya" assert that the issue of a new leader for the republic was also raised. Rasul Khaibullaev, press secretary of the President of Dagestan, noted that Mukhu Aliev was satisfied with the meeting.
In Dagestan, media publish more and more provocative materials. In particular, articles about candidates for President of Dagestan Magomedsalam Magomedov and State Duma Deputy Khizri Shikhsaidov were placed in the official website of the RIA "Dagestan". And on January 14 a material entitled "Khunzakh Gambit" appeared in the website "APN North-West", running that "for preserving control over Dagestan, Mukhu Aliev's relatives raised 30 million US dollars." The text was accessible from midday till evening, and then disappeared.
The federal press is also discussing the appointment of a new head of Dagestan. In particular, the newspaper "Vedomosti" has reported that the Kremlin would not like to see Mukhu Aliev or Magomed Magomedov, who represent one clan (the "Khunzakh" clan: both are from Khunzakh village), in the post of Dagestan President. The Kremlin's favourite is Magomed Abdullaev, 48, a graduate of the law department of law of the Dagestan State University, who in 1998-2000 taught the law and state theory at the St Petersburg University of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. He has Mr Medvedev's protege to the government of Dagestan in 2009 and made a quick career: became the President's adviser, then - a vice-premier. Mr Abdullaev was a postgraduate student at the St Petersburg State University, when Medvedev was a teacher there.
Meanwhile, explosions and terror acts continue in the republic.
On January 12, because of blowing up the gas main "Mozdok-Kazimagomed" in Dagestan, 5 districts of the republic, where 215,000 people live, remained without gas supply, including 76 schools and preschool establishments and 8 hospitals. Urgent deliveries of bottled gas were organized to the damaged areas and settlements. Restoration of the "Mozdok-Gazimagomed" gas main was over on January 13.
On January 13-14, because of supposed threat of terror acts, the centre of Makhachkala was blocked by "KamAZ" trucks"; traffic in the vicinity of the central square, housing the buildings of the administration of the President and government of Dagestan, Ministry of Internal Affairs, FSB (Federal Security Bureau) and Supreme Court of the republic, was completely stopped. The district was patrolled by armed agents, any photo and video filming was prohibited.
Armed FSB agents forced photo journalist Ruslan Alibekov to destroy the photos he had made of the process of erecting concrete barriers at the building of the FSB Department in Dagestan.
On January 15, the defence fencing of concrete blocks and heavy trucks installed around the building of the Republic's FSB Department were practically removed.
Meanwhile, residents of Makhachkala expressed there irritation with the power agents' actions. The city saw huge traffic jams; the shortest road to the railway station was blocked, the public transport ceased to run therefrom.
Russia-Armenia: friendship with an eye on Istanbul
Moscow goes on with its active efforts towards settlement of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, and its mediation in normalizing the Turkish-Armenian relations.
On January 12, the Constitutional Court of Armenia recognized the compliance of the Armenian-Turkish Protocols to the Constitution of the Armenia state. According to Gagik Arutyunyan, chair of the Court, the decision comes into force from the moment of announcement and cannot be challenged. When the Court's decision was read out, shouts were heard in the hall: "Traitors!", "You are not Armenians!"
On January 13, Moscow was the venue of the meeting of Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan with the top state officials of Russia. After the meeting of Premiers Putin and Erdogan, the former said that Russia is ready to contribute to settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem and normalization of Turkish-Armenian relations, however, it is not reasonable to bundle these two issues into one package.
The talks in Moscow caused certain fears in the Armenia society that Russia, being urged by Turkey, can exert pressure on the Armenian party in the Karabakh issue with the aim to promote normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations.
However, a day later, on January 14, in the course of his visit to Yerevan and meeting with Edvard Nalbandyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov said that it is incorrect to bind together the normalization of Armenia-Turkish relations and settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He also noted that his visit has nothing to do with the arrival of the Turkish Prime Minister to Moscow.
"Russian supports the process of Armenian-Turkish normalization, but moving any artificial demands at this background seems incorrect," Minister Lavrov stated.
He answered in the negative to the question whether Russia can put its energy interests related to Turkey above the right of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh to self-determination.
"The position of the population of Nagorno-Karabakh should not be neglected; still, it should be agreed, in what form it should be done. Russia, just like the two other co-chairing countries of the OSCE Minsk Group for settling the conflict, have no other games but reaching agreement by the parties themselves in the interests of the Armenian and Azerbaijani nations," Sergey Lavrov noted.