Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 19

Does Putin’s proposed “procedure for implementing the decree” make things clearer? “To some extent, Yes,” Memorial has answered. What the “procedural” text makes obvious is that the organs entrusted with putting the amnesty into practice will have the widest possible latitude for making arbitrary decisions. “All the more so in that the procedures for ‘announcing the voluntary cessation of armed resistance’ by members of illegal armed formations and of their surrendering their weapons, and for providing them the appropriate documents, will be defined in equal measure by the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Defense, the Russian FSB and the [Kadyrov] administration of the Chechen Republic.” Never before, notes Memorial, has an organ such as the last of these (roughly the equivalent of the White House staff in America) been assigned the task of putting an amnesty into concrete practice. What makes this provision especially striking in the current circumstances is that the current head of the “pro-Moscow” administration in Grozny is a man who previously took an active part in secessionist military operations.

From all this it follows, Memorial says, that “the decision whether or not to amnesty a particular individual will be made by means of corruption. And those former members of illegal armed formations who do receive amnesty will for years to come be completely at the mercy of the organs which have amnestied them: the special services, the Interior Ministry, and also the local branches of the Chechen administration.” The Memorial analysis concluded that “just who will decide, and for what purposes they will decide, how to use this powerful tool in the long-term future–the special services or the Kadyrov gang–remains to be seen.”

The critique by Memorial was far from unique. Some of its points were echoed in other Moscow periodicals such as Izvestia, which noted on May 21 that a formal new amnesty is not even necessary to enable former separatist guerrillas to join Kadyrov’s bodyguard. Indeed, among those who have already done this is one Aslan Daudov, a veteran of Shamil Basaev’s well-known terrorist raid on Budennovsk in 1995.

An analysis by Aleksandr Podrabinek, published by Prava cheloveka v Rossii (Human Rights in Russia) on May 23, emphasized the extreme degree to which the draft amnesty tilts in favor of federal servicemen accused of atrocities against Chechen or Russian civilians. The articles of the criminal code which are NOT specifically excluded from the proposed amnesty include offenses such as crimes against humanity and the use of forbidden means and methods (such as poison gas) in warfare.

Other authors have pointed out that, under current conditions, including a near total lack of the rule of law in Chechnya and the regular conduct by Russian troops of brutal “zachistki”–or security sweeps–against Chechen civilians, even the few seemingly neutral provisions of the Putin proposal are rendered dubious. A May 21 article for the Grani.ru website pointed out that Memorial has found more than a score of cases in which rebel warriors surrendered under the terms of the last Chechnya amnesty, proclaimed in 1999, and were subsequently murdered.

An article by Zhenya Snezhkina of Kolokol.ru, also dated May 21, noted that the proposed amnesty would apply to both of the post-Soviet wars in Chechnya, not just the current one. And she suggested that the reason for this is, again, to favor criminals wearing Russian uniforms. Indeed, unlike previous amnesties, this one would even apply to Russian soldiers who have sold weapons to the rebels. Criminal negligence, such as the overloading of a military helicopter in August 2001 that led to a fatal crash, would also be eligible for forgiveness. The website noted further that those eligible for amnesty would include Russian civilian bureaucrats (and pro-Moscow Chechen officials) who embezzled federal subsidies intended for the peaceful rebuilding of Chechnya.

Boris Nadezhdin, deputy head of the pro-free market Union of Rightist Forces party, told a Radio Liberty talk show that another reason for including the earlier secessionist war is to make sure that the amnesty will be applicable to the Kadyrov circle. Many of Kadyrov’s men fought against Moscow in the first war, but for it in the second.

Despite the inclusion of all these features in Putin’s amnesty proposal (or perhaps because of them), the federal Duma gave the proposal its preliminary approval (“first reading”) on May 21. The vote was 354 in favor, 18 opposed and 4 abstaining.