Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 4 Issue: 30

The August 12 issue of Izvestia includes a long, detailed interview by correspondent Vadim Rechkalov with a former rebel guerrilla who accepted the Putin-Kadyrov amnesty two months ago. Aslan Elmurzaev, a member of the guerrilla band led by Ruslan Gelaev, claimed that he gave himself up because Gelaev ordered him and others to do so. As he described the circumstances, he simply was not free to decide independently.

“The people at the top decide these things–Gelaev, Kadyrov–how many people they need to get amnestied, how many to stay in the guerrilla band,” the former rebel fighter said. “There were 280 of us in the woods, only 25 have given themselves up….My direct commander is Sultan Suleimanov, it was he who recruited me to go up into the highlands [that is, to join the guerrillas] and then he who had me come back down. I have to obey, orders are orders.”

Elmurzaev painted a picture of a Chechnya in which the lines between the warring sides are very much blurred. For example, he said that he voted in the March constitutional referendum even while he was still serving in a separatist guerrilla band. Even more remarkably, he said that he voted in favor of the pro-Moscow constitution. Elmurzaev hinted that he had continued all along, without interruption, to maintain good personal relations with an old Russian friend who had served with him in the Soviet army and who is now with an FSB unit in Chechnya.

When he surrendered to the federal forces, the former guerrilla left his Kalashnikov assault rifle with colleagues who had decided (or who had been ordered) not to surrender. “It’s the property of the rebels,” he explained to Izvestia, “how could I hand over [to the pro-Moscow forces] something that isn’t mine.” Elmurzaev is now serving in a unit of Kadyrov’s bodyguard, under the command of Sultan Suleimanov–the same Gelaev deputy who had been his commander in the separatist rebel unit.