Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 32

By September 1, the final day for rebel guerrillas to surrender voluntarily under the amnesty proclaimed in June, it was abundantly clear that the amnesty program was a failure. The daily Kommersant reported on September 2 that, according to Sergei Fridinsky, head of the northern Caucasus directorate of the Russian procuracy, some 171 members of so-called “illegal armed formations” had applied for amnesty; of that number, some 143 had received amnesty while the remaining twenty-eight cases were still under investigation. In an article in the August 31 issue of Izvestia, Vadim Rechkalov and Anastasia Uskova wrote that “according to estimates from various sources, from 1200 to 3,000 guerrillas still remain in the ranks of the illegal armed formations–in other words, just as many as there were before the amnesty.”

Yelena Shesternina wrote in a September 2 article for Russky kurier that sources in the GRU (Russian military intelligence) had given her an even higher estimate: 5,000. Moreover, she reported that those seeking amnesty were “not the most active guerrillas. Vladimir Chernyaev, deputy head of the Chechen procuracy, confirmed this….As he put it, among those ‘repenting’ there were almost no ‘people from the highlands.’ Thus Chernyaev acknowledged that ‘in the Shelkovskaya district former guerrillas had been living in people’s homes, and now they are using the amnesty to legalize themselves.'”

It seems that the main beneficiaries of the amnesty–as was predicted by some of the human rights advocates who opposed it–have been pro-Moscow servicemen accused of military atrocities and other crimes. According to Fridinsky’s figures, some 226 soldiers and police were amnestied between June and September.

In their Izvestia article, Rechkalov and Uskova discussed the practical mechanisms by which the amnesty has worked. The process has depended on informal middlemen, sometimes Islamic clergy: “For example, in the Shatoi district this role has been performed by the mufti of Chechnya Akhmed Shamaev, in the Gudermes district by the mullah Khamzat-khodzhi, and in the Vedeno district by Sulim Yamadaev. All these men, of course, are loyal to Kadyrov. Guerrillas wishing to take advantage of the amnesty have appealed to these middlemen, who in turn have presented a list of them to the local office of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and have negotiated the procedures for their surrender. Thus the middlemen have served as guarantors that the former guerrillas will not be prosecuted by the federal security agencies….The majority of those surrendering have almost immediately been enrolled in Kadyrov’s own security service and given the right to bear arms…”

Several key officials in Grozny and Moscow, including Kadyrov and the federal minister for nationalities, Vladimir Zorin, are now pushing for an extension of the amnesty, but that can be done only (at least in theory) by an act of the federal parliament–which will not return from its summer recess until mid-September.