Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 12


What sort of amnesty is President Putin actually going to put into practice in Chechnya–and for whom? In the April 7 issue of Novaya gazeta, Anna Politkovskaya, one of the newspaper’s correspondents, suggested some criteria for judging the much-advertised amnesty once the Kremlin makes known the details.

“It is absolutely necessary,” wrote Politkovskaya, “to create an independent commission for the amnesty of 2003–similar to that which used to exist as the commission for pardons. Its members should be people with irreproachable moral authority–human rights defenders, lawyers–and it should act like a social jury. It should review all the sentences for alleged terrorism, make qualitative judgments about the accusations and then provide recommendations to the president and the Duma about which names to include in the amnesty. If nothing at all like this happens, it will mean that all the words about ‘mistakes on the federal side’ and all the attempts to solve the Chechen crisis are nothing but political blather and swindling–and that the president has nothing real in mind, except self-advertisement to be fraternally shared with Kadyrov.”

Specifically, asked the award winning journalist, what effect will Putin’s amnesty have on the “victims of the special courts for Chechnya which have been operating since the beginning of the second war–those convicted by phony evidence under trumped-up charges, or now facing such charges? …Will those already executed for ‘sympathizing with the guerrillas’ or ‘taking part in illegal armed formations’ be posthumously rehabilitated? It is no secret that the public prosecutors, the Ministry of the Interior, the FSB and the GRU [the Russian military intelligence service] have not required, and to this day still do not require, any objective evidence when the accused is a Chechen–especially if he is suspected of ties with ‘the other side.'”

Politkovskaya cited one case in particular–that of Islam Khasukhanov, now serving a twelve-year sentence “for terrorism.” His trial ended a month ago. It took place “in Stalinist fashion,” with no witnesses admitted and with a defense lawyer assigned by the FSB–that is, the same agency that tortured him after his arrest. Khasukhanov’s offense: He held an administrative position in the separatist government of Aslan Maskhadov in 1999, when Moscow legally recognized that government and was even negotiating with it.

Khasukhanov had returned to his native Chechnya in the summer of 1999 upon his retirement as an active duty naval officer. Maskhadov offered him a bureaucratic post in the republic’s Ministry of Defense, and he accepted. That post was abolished when the second Chechen war began, upon which Khasukhanov simply returned to his native village. In November 1999, when secret peace negotiations began in Ingushetia, Maskhadov asked the retired officer to be his representative precisely because he had not taken part in combat and was therefore acceptable to the Russians. During that period Khasukhanov also served Maskhadov as a kind of bookkeeper, transmitting financial receipts from field commanders and verifying that copies of documents were accurate. He never bore arms or led guerrilla units himself, and the federal prosecutors did not even try to prove that he did.

According to Politkovskaya, Khasukhanov’s experience is an example of “a special, parallel system of justice for Chechens,” which remains untouched by democratic reforms. This special justice for Chechens is “fully under the control of the FSB, the president’s own agency which enjoys his complete trust-a trust which leaves no chance for the rule of law.” Its most fearsome feature is its “devyatki” or “groups of nine.” They are representatives of various security agencies that cooperate with each other in interrogating, torturing and secretly murdering Chechens, and then in covering up the evidence.

The “devyatka,” she wrote, “is what they call that place, usually within Chechnya, where they bring someone who has been seized in a ‘zachistka’ (round-up)…A ‘devyatka’ is a circle of interested officials from the various security agencies (the GRU, the FSB, the Ministry of the Interior, special units of the Ministry of Defense…).” They have torture chambers on the scene, enabling them quickly to transfer the victim from one to another. (This and other details she obtained from an anonymous, high ranking officer from within a “devyatka”–one who “is himself of course a butcher in epaulets, but one who suddenly has begun to reflect; such people also exist.”)

The Russian military base at Khankala has such a “devyatka;” another is located near the village of Tangi-Chu. These “devyatki,” as Politkovskaya put it, “constitute the real legal system in Chechnya.” It is these entities that punish or pardon–exercising that power according to a “reverse logic” by which the Chechens who survive are not those who have avoided any connections to the separatist guerrillas, but those who turn out to be useful to the Russian security agencies precisely because they have military information or connections. If a captive turns out to have been a passive bystander with no intelligence information to share, “his chances of surviving are nil.”

The “devyatki,” in the words of the “Novaya gazeta” correspondent, operate according to the principle that Chechens are “subhuman,” and that it is better to kill them than to let them survive lest they someday reveal who their torturers were. Their bodies are then usually destroyed, most often by exploding them with grenades so as to make them unrecognizable. Khasukhanov is alive today, though in prison, only because of his captors’ hope that he might be able to help them track down Maskhadov.