Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 31

Russian and Chechen officials alike continued to discuss the offer of amnesty that the federal authorities offered to the rebels in Chechnya and the North Caucasus in the wake of the death of Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basaev. On August 1, Interfax reported that President Vladimir Putin praised the initiative during a meeting with members of his cabinet. “By all appearances, the decision to possibly grant amnesty to the people who were members of illegal armed groups was right,” Putin said. He added, however, in a comment directed to Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev that “the work against those who continue their illegal activities should be stepped up.” Putin said that he had instructed Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev, who also heads the National Anti-Terrorism Committee (NAK) and first floated the amnesty offer on July 15 (Chechnya Weekly, July 20), “to listen to proposals from the ministries and the other agencies at the next major Anti-Terrorism Committee meeting regarding plans to provide security in both the Chechen Republic and the North Caucasus as a whole.” According to Interfax, Putin asked how many people had laid down their arms since the amnesty was offered, and Nurgaliev responded that over 70 people had done so during the previous few days, with 12 people surrendering on July 29, seven on July 30 and ten on July 31. “This is happening not only in Chechnya and Dagestan, but also in other regions and republics in the Southern Federal District,” Nurgaliev said.

On August 2, Patrushev said that NAK would continue its work on legislation covering amnesty for militants who voluntarily turn themselves in to authorities. “When making the decision on the amnesty act, we did not think that thousands of people…would come and lay down arms; we assumed there would be dozens, and our prognosis turned out to be correct,” Itar-Tass quoted him as saying. Patrushev added that the amnesty is “very effective and important for both our country and for themselves, so we’ll continue to work in this direction in August and September.”

When Patrushev first floated the amnesty offer, he urged Chechen militants to lay down their arms before August 1, 2006. On July 31, however, NAK said it was extending the deadline for militants to surrender until September 30, 2006. The committee said it had decided to extend the amnesty deadline both in response to “numerous requests and statements” and because it was submitting a draft amnesty bill to the State Duma.

On July 31, Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov said that the amnesty had proved a success thus far. “Altogether since the beginning of July about 70 former participants in the illegal armed formations and people assisting them have turned up at law enforcement bodies of the Republic of Chechnya,” he told Interfax. “I think that it is a great result if over one month we can pull this number of people out of the ranks of the guerrillas.” Kadyrov said that he supported extending the amnesty by an additional month. “We are becoming convinced of the necessity of this step as we analyze the vast amount of work that we carry out with the relatives [of the members] … of the illegal armed formations. This work should bring about tangible results in the near future.” According to Interfax, Kadyrov claimed that more than 16 militants from the group headed by Chechen separatist leader Dokku Umarov are prepared to lay down their arms and surrender to the police in the very near future.

Kadyrov insisted that only “a very few” residents of the Chechen Republic would remain in the mountains as rebels after the expiration of the August 1 deadline. “The Turks, Arabs and others, who cannot or do not want to escape from the Republic of Chechnya, will be destroyed and buried in the ground,” Kadyrov said. “I am announcing with the full responsibility that this is the last year of bandits in Chechnya and that this is the first year of peaceful and prosperous life in the Republic of Chechnya. We will not allow anyone in the future to commit terrorist acts, shootings or killings on the territory of the Republic of Chechnya. Whoever does not want to come to terms with the law chooses a road straight into the grave.”

Chechen President Alu Alkhanov, it should be noted, has urged that the deadline for the amnesty be extended to January 1 of next year (Chechnya Weekly, July 20).

The amnesty initiative even elicited a positive reaction from a leading member of Russia’s human rights community—Moscow Helsinki Group Chair Lyudmila Alekseyeva. “The very idea of an amnesty is good, and it was proposed at the right time—after Basaev’s killing,” Interfax on July 31 quoted her as saying. “This proposal is strategically right. I support the idea that hostilities should stop, the people return back home from the mountains and that those not guilty [of serious crimes] be forgiven. It’s always better to try to come to terms than to kill.” According to Interfax, Alekseyeva said she hoped that the courts would be objective in their rulings in cases related to the amnesty. “Sure, those who would respond to the call to lay down their arms are primarily the ones who are not stained in blood and who hope that the courts would rule in their favor,” she said. “But I know how our courts consider the so-called Chechen cases, and I have some concerns in this respect.”

Yet, Interfax quoted another prominent human rights activist, Memorial head Oleg Orlov, as saying that in order for the amnesty to bring about positive results, the former militants thinking of surrendering should be offered certain security guarantees. “The impression that you get now is that the planned amnesty is a kind of propagandistic step,” Orlov said.