Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 3

Predictably, Federation Council deputy chairman and NAK member Aleksandr Torshin, like many Russian officials and members of the pro-Moscow administration, hailed the amnesty as a success. “We can already say that, compared to the previous amnesty campaigns, this one proved to be the most effective, both in terms of the number of militants who desired to return to peaceful life and in terms of the amount of armaments surrendered,” Torshin told RIA Novosti. Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov also said that a large number of militants had put down their weapons, calling the amnesty a “great success in the process of stabilizing the situation in Chechnya,” Finmarket.ru reported on January 15.

Kavkazky Uzel on January 15 quoted Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov as saying: “If 400 well-armed militants with experience in guerrilla actions saved as many lives [by giving up], and remain alive themselves, then it is possible to call the amnesty that just passed effective. It was a well thought-out action, aimed at, above all, that part of the youth which fell under the influence of a hostile ideology and knows nothing other than weapons.” Kadyrov added, “At first, the militants had a wait-and-see attitude [toward the amnesty]. In time, however, the number of those who voluntarily put down their weapons began to grow.”

The mufti of Chechnya, Sultan-Khadzhi Mirzoev, thanked the Russian and Chechen political leadership for carrying out the amnesty. “Quite a few militants…laid down their arms, returned to peaceful life, and this is a tremendous success for the Russian president and our Chechen leadership,” Kavkazky Uzel on January 16 quoted Mirzoev as saying, “I thank everyone who took part in this action, to the representatives of the security agencies and, of course, to our clergy. The imams of the mosques did a lot of work…[They] helped those who wanted to surrender approach the law-enforcement bodies.”

Others expressed skepticism about the amnesty’s results. “Around 500 militants giving up sounds, of course, very serious,” Kavkazky Uzel on January 15 quoted an unnamed Chechen political scientist as saying. “But, at the end of the day, only former members of the armed groups surrendered to the authorities. There was practically no one who came out of the woods with their weapons in hand. And, at the same time, so-called ‘accomplices’ – that is, persons who rendered one or another service to the militants (delivered them food, medicine; provided lodging, and so on) were counted among those who laid down their arms. It is also necessary to note that participants in the armed formations that fought in the first military campaign on the territory of the [Chechen] republic were ‘amnestied.’ Many have probably already forgotten, but these people, just like the federal servicemen, were amnestied after hostilities ended in 1996.”

Not surprisingly, the Chechen separatists were even more dismissive of the amnesty’s results. “The spectacle of the ‘amnesty’ is a bloody performance that civilians who are kidnapped by the occupiers…are forced take part in,” the separatist Chechenpress news agency wrote on January 16. “That is what happened to the brother of ChRI President Dokku Umarov. The occupiers displayed Akhmad Umarov on television, announcing that he had ‘surrendered,’ without even editing out his statement that he had been detained. After that, nothing was known about his location. Neither was anything known about the location of his aged father, who was also seized by the occupiers.” Chechenpress wrote that the practice of taking Chechen civilians hostage gathered momentum when, in November 2004, then Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov said that authorities should be allowed to detain relatives of terrorists by force as a “counter-hostage-taking” measure. “Such actions by the Russian side give the Chechen side the absolute right to [deliver] an appropriate response,” Chechenpress wrote. “The Chechen side found and will find the means to effectively counter Russian terrorism.” The Associated Press, on January 16, reported that a statement posted on the rebel Kavkaz-Center website called the amnesty “the latest stage of propaganda in an endless sequence of disinformation, which Moscow has used for many years, offering it as reality.”

On January 11, four days before the amnesty deadline, Nezavisimaya gazeta questioned the effectiveness of the amnesty, given that large numbers of former rebels are joining the republic’s law-enforcement agencies. The newspaper noted that a former rebel fighter, Ibragim Dadaev, who switched to the federal side in 2003 and whose brother once served in Djokhar Dudaev’s presidential guard, had recently been named the new commander of the Chechen Interior Ministry’s patrol-sentry service (Chechnya Weekly, January 11). Nezavisimaya gazeta noted that normally, only senior officers who have served in Interior Ministry bodies for at least 10 years are appointed to the post of commander. The newspaper quoted Rostov political scientist Vasily Petrov as saying that “representatives of the local elite” in Chechnya appear to have used the amnesty to fill the ranks of local “armed detachments” and that the rebels, in turn, may have used this opportunity to place their members into these detachments without being properly vetted. This means that the amnesty may thereby have helped “legalize former murderers and terrorists,” Nezavisimaya gazeta quoted Petrov as saying. “The degree to which this will help to bring about a curtailment of the conflict and conciliation in the region remains in serious question,” he said.

It is worth noting that Kavkazky Uzel, citing Newsru.com, reported on January 15 that Chechen President Alu Alkhanov said that more that 7,000 rebels have surrendered since 2001, and that 5,000 of these have found employment, “including in the executive branch and law-and-order organs.”

On January 16, Kommersant quoted Geidar Dzhemal, chairman of the Islamic Committee of Russia, as saying that the amnesty was developed “exclusively in the interests of Ramzan Kadyrov.” “It is obvious that nothing has changed in the North Caucasus,” Dzhemal said. “In the KBR [Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria], repression against religious youth continues, and that means that the ranks of the resistance are being replenished. In Dagestan, the confrontation between the MVD and society has only intensified. And in Chechnya itself, nothing has changed. Take a look, who surrendered there? People who had not fought; someone’s relatives [or] acquaintances, whom they persuaded to pretend they were putting down their arms so that Ramzan Kadyrov could declare that the [rebel] underground has been crushed. They, above all, wanted the amnesty to deflect society’s attention away from Chechnya. But the confrontation in Chechnya has not come to an end.”

Kommersant also quoted Oleg Orlov, head of the Memorial human rights center, as questioning the amnesty’s effectiveness: “When participation in military actions against federal forces is regarded as a crime that isn’t covered under the amnesty, it is impossible to understand whom the amnesty was directed at,” he said. “To those in the ranks of the militants who boiled the kasha?”

Even some officials have conceded that there were problems with the amnesty. Chechen Deputy Prosecutor Nikolai Kalugin told the New York Times that most of those who sought amnesty were low-level militants or commanders leading formations of no more than six or seven fighters, and that no prominent separatists had sought amnesty. He also said that active rebels had made threats against the families of those who were contemplating surrender. “There was a powerful counter-action by the side of those who did not want the amnesty program to take effect,” the newspaper quoted Kalugin as saying. “People were threatened by those odious figures who will never surrender.”

State Duma Deputy Frants Klintsevich also expressed concern about the rebels who have not surrendered. “Not one of those whom we call irreconcilable – and there are about 200 of them in the special services’ card index – will, under any circumstances, lay down their arms,” he said. “These people can only be destroyed. The task of the amnesty was to pull away from them those who had ended up there by chance, and that was done. But one cannot call this amnesty very effective: the gang formations in Chechnya remain.”

There were also different views over whether or not the amnesty should be continued. The mufti of Chechnya, Sultan-Khadzhi Mirzoev, spoke in favor of extending it. “Even if it saves only one person, this [process] must be continued,” Kavkazky Uzel, on January 16, quoted him as saying. “Today, we call on everyone who did not manage to surrender to return to a peaceful life anyway. We will help them return, we will be intermediaries – naturally, as much as permitted by the law.”

President Putin’s adviser on the North Caucasus, Aslambek Aslakhanov, also said the amnesty should be extended, adding that it should be aimed at those who are sincere resistance fighters – distinct from those he called “bandits.” “Among the members of the gang formations, both in Chechnya and abroad, are those who believed in the idea of Chechen independence; they were mistaken and they already understand that,” Kommersant on January 16 quoted Aslakhanov as saying. “They must not be treated like bandits. There is another category – the real scum, for whom human life is worth nothing. Among those who are fighting, it is necessary to distinguish between the bandits and the idealists. And if a person went into the woods because they killed his mother, there must be a different approach toward him than toward those who simply went to murder.”

According to Kommersant, State Duma Security Committee Chairman Vladimir Vasilyev said on January 15 that the amnesty would not be extended. On the other hand, the newspaper quoted Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov as saying that those seeking amnesty and had not made the January 15 deadline could do it at any time, given that Russia’s Criminal Code “contains a mechanism that permits freeing them from criminal responsibility.” Still, it is not clear exactly where Kadyrov stands on this issue. The Associated Press, on January 15, quoted him as saying that the rebels should not be given another chance to give up. “I believe it is the last amnesty,” Kadyrov said, according to Interfax, adding that while “people should be forgiven and return to peaceful life,” the remaining militants “are enemies of the people, enemies of Islam.”