Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 8

“Neither side yet wants a genuine, mutual absolution of wartime sins.” That is the verdict of Anna Politkovskaya, who predicted in an April 21 article for “Novaya gazeta” that the forthcoming amnesty in Chechnya will take into account the interests of only one side–and that it will be a failure.

Russian officials have begun to reveal scattered details about plans for the amnesty in Chechnya. Top Russian prosecutor Sergei Fridinsky told the Interfax news agency on April 17 that rebel fighters would normally have to surrender within six months after the amnesty is announced. General Gennady Troshev, an adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the former commander of Russian troops in the Northern Caucasus, told Interfax that the amnesty would apply to “all those whose hands are not stained with blood.” That would seem to leave the authorities latitude to exclude anyone who bore arms on behalf of the separatist government. “The others should be prosecuted,” he said. As for separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov, the general called him a “criminal” who is “to blame for everything.”

The vice speaker of the Russian State Duma, Lyubov Sliska, told journalists on April 22 that the parliament would probably not begin formal discussion of amnesty legislation any sooner than the second week of May. She said that Pavel Krasheninnikov, chairman of the Duma’s committee on legislation, was engaged in intensive discussions with the president’s staff and that several issues had still not been decided, the news agency “Novosti” reported.

As of April 22, the full, precise texts of the various legislative drafts under discussion were not publicly available. It seemed likely that key Duma leaders would reach agreement with the Kremlin in secret, and then push a bill through to passage with little opportunity for public discussion.

In an article for the April 22 issue of the weekly “Moskovskie novosti,” Sanobar Shermatova reported that the latest version of the draft being negotiated behind the scenes would make eligible for amnesty only those rebel fighters whose term of punishment for their alleged crimes would normally be less than seven years in prison. Those facing longer sentences could be amnestied only if they confessed their guilt–in which case their sentences might be shortened. The amnesty would not include rebels who had committed murder or kidnapping. (Her account did not make it clear whether the shooting of enemy troops in military combat would be considered “murder.”) Moreover, she pointed out, this formulation would exclude from possible amnesty “all the leadership” of the separatist side, including President Maskhadov and the major field commanders.

In her “Novaya gazeta” article, Politkovskaya evaluated two amnesty proposals that have emerged within the Duma, plus a third that she called the “somewhat virtual text” of the Putin administration. This third proposal was known at the point she was writing only through second hand summaries. It reflects the work of the Kadyrov apparat in Grozny as well as the Kremlin staff. The other two proposals came from Krasheninnikov’s committee and from Aslambek Aslakhanov, the Duma deputy from Chechnya. In Politkovskaya’s view, all three share the same major flaw: They are intended first and foremost to benefit those who fought on the pro-Moscow side, while their provisions for the separatist guerrillas are “limited and vague.”

The problems begin with the very first lines of the proposals, wrote Politkovskaya. The two Duma texts begin with the phrase: “On the announcement of an amnesty in connection with the adoption of the Constitution of the Chechen Republic…” In her view that choice of words, instead of something like “in connection with the end of the war” or “on the occasion of peace negotiations,” is profoundly important. That is because the rebels, as everyone knows, do not recognize the new constitution. The formulation chosen by the Duma drafters will require a rebel guerrilla to accept that document in order to apply for amnesty. In other words, he will have to renounce the previous constitution for which he fought, and thus the legitimacy of President Maskhadov. “This is absolutely impossible,” she wrote, “for those who simply do not have it in them to be traitors, even when the overwhelming majority of the guerrillas want very much to send this exhausting war to the devil and return to normal life.”

An amnesty benefiting only one side would be like being “half pregnant,” in Politkovskaya’s view. If an amnesty is formally announced but only a few of the rebels then make use of it, the federal side will simply claim that it tried to make peace but that the rebels are irreconcilable and don’t want to be amnestied. And this, the federal side will say, means that the federal forces are justified in waging total war against them.

In her article for “Moskovskie novosti,” Sanobar Shermatova recalled that Moscow has proclaimed several amnesties since 1996. But she argued that “the federal side has not treated these actions seriously and reliably.” The announced amnesties did not prevent the arrests of people whom they should have protected. That includes, for example, the separatist government’s former oil minister, Khozhakhmed Yarikhanov, and the speaker of its parliament, Ruslan Alikhadzhiev. (The former was eventually released, but the latter has disappeared without a trace.)

According to Politkovskaya, the lack of trust on both sides is so complete that the rebels need concrete guarantees and concrete intermediaries before laying down their arms. She insisted that, in addition to a formal text citing specific articles of the criminal code, the amnesty must have an “understandable and transparent” mechanism of guarantees. This is to ensure “that he who has emerged from the forest and written a declaration about himself can be certain that he won’t be taken off and annihilated the next day.” But not one of the three proposals now under consideration includes even the slightest hint of such a mechanism for putting the amnesty into practice.

“All of Chechnya is extremely well informed,” wrote Politkovskaya, “of many cases in which Mr. Kadyrov, now the acting head of the republic, has already convinced guerrillas to come out of the forests, out of their shelters, to hand over their weapons and to swear to live at peace.” According to her sources, events have then followed one of two scenarios. In the first, the former guerrillas have simply disappeared in large scale security sweeps. These are the notorious “zachistki,” in the course of which pro-Moscow troops descend on an entire village and sweep in everyone without discriminating. In these cases, one might grant that it was only by accident that the arrestees have included former guerrillas who supposedly had been pardoned.

But on other occasions, targeted sweeps (“adresnye zachistki”) have focused precisely on the homes of such former guerrillas. Unidentified men wearing masks and camouflaged uniforms have come to their homes, and the ex-rebels who had voluntarily laid down their arms have vanished forever from the face of the earth. In most of these cases, the families of the former guerrillas are certain that it has been not Russian troops who were involved in the nighttime raids, but the so-called “Kadyrovtsy” or “Kadyrov’s men”–that is, Chechen fighters who are personally loyal to Kadyrov. According to Politkovskaya’s sources, these Kadyrov raiders are often the very same men who had convinced the rebels to stop fighting.

About a year ago, wrote Politkovskaya, such “Kadyrovtsy” were described as Kadyrov’s personal bodyguards. But now they have become so numerous that such a label would be absurd; the head of the Chechen administration does not need thousands of personal bodyguards. Instead, they are now regarded as a kind of commando unit, loyal primarily to Kadyrov himself.

In Politkovskaya’s view, this phenomenon of a rapidly growing “Kadyrovsky spetsnaz” is directly linked to the question of how to guarantee any amnesty in practical terms. As Kadyrov prepares for the presidential election that is to take place at the end of this year, he has a strong interest in enlarging the ranks of his own personal armed forces. And his key source for new recruits is former rebel guerrillas. Any rebel who is thinking of giving up the fight therefore faces a clear choice: “If you want to come over to Kadyrov’s band you will have a green light, just lay down your arms–everyone knows this…If you don’t want to, a ‘zachistka’ awaits you.”

In short, if there is no real, publicly verifiable mechanism for the return of former guerrillas to peaceful life, the amnesty will effectively function as a compulsory recruiting tool for Kadyrov’s personal army. “It is already quite clear,” wrote Politkovskaya, “that not one decent man–not one man who is not a bandit but who has fought for the idea of saving his people and his country–will sign such an amnesty if it is controlled by the ‘law-enforcement organs of the Chechen Republic’ as envisioned by the Putin administration’s proposal.” That is why the concrete mechanism is so vital: It will determine whether the amnesty can provide solid, trustworthy guarantees for both sides, or whether it will simply become yet another tool for Kadyrov to settle accounts with his enemies.

Several leading human rights activists have formed an initiative group which is ready to help formulate and monitor such a mechanism, and Politkovskaya herself is one of the group’s members. The organizations which these activists represent are well informed about the situation in Chechnya. Of even more importance, she wrote, “most of them are trusted in the cities and villages of that zone of total absence of human rights and of military anarchy.” The members of the initiative group have offered their services to help the Putin administration develop and implement a genuine amnesty. So far, according to Politkovskaya, they have not received any reply.