Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 36

The Kremlin on September 18 asked the State Duma to approve an amnesty plan for militants in Chechnya and other republics of the North Caucasus. The Associated Press, citing Itar-Tass, quoted the chairman of the Duma committee on criminal legislation, Pavel Krasheninnikov, as saying that the Kremlin’s amnesty would remain in effect for six months after its approval by parliament and would also apply to Russian servicemen suspected of committing crimes while serving in Chechnya and other republics in the North Caucasus. Interfax quoted Krasheninnikov as saying that the amnesty would not apply to “recidivists, foreigners or persons without citizenship,” or to Russian servicemen who sold weapons, ammunition or other military equipment while serving in the “counter-terrorist” operation in the North Caucasus. The Duma is scheduled to take up the Kremlin’s amnesty plan on September 22.

As the AP noted, the Kremlin’s amnesty plan came near the end of a temporary measure announced in July by Federal Security Service (FSB) Chairman Nikolai Patrushev, who suggested militants would not be prosecuted if they surrendered and were not suspected of grave crimes such as murder, rape or terrorism. The offer of amnesty by Patrushev, who also heads the National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NAK), initially gave rebels about two weeks to surrender but was extended through September 30.

Not surprisingly, the Kremlin’s amnesty plan has received backing from Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov. The Agentstvo Natsionalnykh Novostei (ANN) on September 20 quoted Kadyrov as saying he could not have “any other opinion other than approval of the president’s actions.” Kadyrov added, “It is a long-awaited step for those who trusted the head of the National Anti-Terrorism Committee and gave themselves up. It is precisely the document that will be a guarantee that those who turn themselves in will not be prosecuted, which will allow them to become full-fledged citizens of our common homeland.” Both the Chechen Republic’s leadership and the federal authorities understand the need to offer such a chance to those “who are not bogged down in blood,” Kadyrov said, adding, “After all, our goal is not to destroy those who were on that side of the barricades, but to save those who sincerely repent and want to return to their families, to a peaceful constructive life.”

Other observers, however, have questioned both the usefulness of the Kremlin’s amnesty plan and the motives of its authors and supporters. Aleksandr Cherkasov of Memorial noted that the amnesty does not cover the kind of crimes committed by militants in the North Caucasus. “According to the letter of this resolution it will be possible to amnesty detachments of scouts who collected herbarium in the mountainous wooded areas of Chechnya,” the website on September 19 quoted Cherkasov as saying. “Attempts on the lives of servicemen or members of the law-enforcement bodies are, according to the law, grave crimes. Consequently, this amnesty does not provide for the removal of real fighters from opposition.”

Cherkasov added that the kind of “grey” amnesty that has taken place over the last several years, under which hundreds of rebel fighters have surrendered under the personal guarantees of first Akhmad Kadyrov and then his son Ramzan, have simply served to fill the ranks of the kadyrovtsy. “This method leads only to the passage of participants in the conflict from one side to the other,” Cherkasov said. “Huge military structures personally loyal to Ramzan Kadyrov are being formed. Members of these structures are undoubtedly dependent on him, because it is he who guarantees that from this moment on they will not be regarded as [rebel] fighters.”