Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 34

Aleksandr Torshin, a Federation Council senator who is also a member of the National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAK), said on September 6 that 224 people had surrendered since July 15, when Federal Security Service (FSB) Chairman Nikolai Patrushev, who also heads the NAK, announced an amnesty for rebels in the North Caucasus. According to Torshin, who also heads a parliamentary commission probing the Beslan school siege, 192 people surrendered in Chechnya, 21 in Dagestan, six in Ingushetia, three in the Astrakhan region and two in the Stavropol region. “This shows that the appeal was timely, and its realization stretched beyond the territory of Chechnya and encompassed the whole North Caucasian region,” Interfax quoted Torshin as saying following an NAK meeting. He also claimed that the amnesty hotline continues to receive calls from relatives of those “who have yet to come in from the woods” and that a “relatively large number of militants” currently engaged in negotiations with a Federation Council members “is expected to lay [their] down arms soon.”

The largest single rebel surrender took place on August 29, when 49 purported militants surrendered in Gudermes to Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, who reportedly personally guaranteed their safety. Nezavisimaya gazeta on August 30 quoted Kadyrov as saying that the militants who turned themselves included “famous people, ‘emirs’ of various regions” —among them, Arbi Khabaev, who once headed the criminal service of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria’s Ministry of Sharia Security and had reportedly been hiding in central Grozny until recently.

Kommersant on August 30, however, questioned whether the Gudermes surrender was all it appeared to be. “Judging by how the militants looked, a majority of them descended from the mountains or came out of the woods already a long time ago,” the newspaper wrote. “All were clean shaven and dressed in decent civilian clothes. Right there, on the parade-ground, were piled up the weapons that had belonged to those who surrendered – a dozen Kalashnikov submachine guns and a few Mukha grenade launchers.” One of the surrendering militants, Ali Suleimanov, who identified himself as a former ChRI army commander, told the newspaper that he now had good reason to start working to persuade rebels who have not yet surrendered to do so, but added that he was talking about “those participants in the illegal armed formations who have not killed or abducted anyone.” A majority of those people, he said, have not fought for a long time and have been in hiding to avoid prosecution. Another of those who surrendered, Sharpuddin Tasuev, said he had headed a special section of the ChRI army and said that he had stopped fighting back in April 2005 after Aslan Maskhadov was killed.

Kommersant concluded, “Thus, Nikolai Patrushev’s call and Ramzan Kadyrov’s efforts have resulted in the surrender only of those NVF [illegal armed formation] participants who had the most remote connections to the illegal formations. For instance, servicing and provisioning the bandit groups. And they showed up at the law-enforcement organs because they were sure there are no criminal cases against them, will not be any and that they have nothing to fear. The real participants in the bandit groups, who Mr. Kadyrov calls devils, might surrender if the State Duma declares an amnesty that covers grave crimes. However, it is hard to imagine that the authorities are prepared to forgive terrorist acts, murders and the kidnapping of people, even as a way to end combat operations in the North Caucasus.”

At least one security official has admitted that all is not well with the amnesty process. The acting head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Chechnya, Sergei Bogomolov, said on August 31 that the republic’s law-enforcement organs have resorted to coercive methods to increase the number of surrenders by militants. Interfax quoted him as telling a meeting of the Republican Anti-Terrorist Commission in Grozny that “it is necessary to stop the improper actions of officials at various levels in the organs of power [and] administration, the law-enforcement organs, who are trying to use the process of voluntary surrender by militants for their own mercenary goals.” Bogomolov said there had been instances of “forced surrenders” and that it could not be ruled out that dishonest “juggling” of statistics concerning rebel surrenders had also taken place.

According to Bogomolov, separatist leaders are also trying to undermine the amnesty or use for their own purposes—for example, using it to place accomplices among the civilian population. Rebels, he said, are targeting both “wavering militants” who are considering surrender and their intermediaries with the authorities, using intimidation, threats, beatings and even the “physical elimination” of their close relatives. The rebels, he claimed, are also putting out false information about the fate of militants who surrender. Such actions, Bogomolov claimed, are being carried out on the orders of rebel leader Dokku Umarov. Bogomolov claimed that certain countries—that he did not name —are also trying to undermine the amnesty process. “It is impossible not to note the negative influence on the…amnesty from foreign special services or organizations working in the North Caucasus,” he said. “In particular, articles appear in the print and electronic press with the aim of portraying the process in a biased manner.” The purpose of such actions, Bogomolov said, is to convince militants not to surrender.

Bogomolov said that in order to counter the actions of the rebels it is necessary to try new approaches to organizing the amnesty in Chechnya’s mountainous regions. He conceded, however, that this task is complicated by the absence of channels for making contact with rebel fighters in those areas. Bogomolov specifically called on Chechnya’s president and parliament to put forward legislation that would reduce the punishments for various crimes currently not covered under the amnesty. He said that Chechen militants who fled abroad are closely watching the amnesty process and that some have already decided to return to the republic and surrender, but added that their activities in Chechnya and abroad first need to be studied closely. Bogomolov added, however, that given the fact that 60 percent of the Chechen population is unemployed, “creating special conditions for militants who return from abroad” could lead to an increase in “social tension.”