Russian authorities are continuing their attempts to get maximum benefit from the July 10 death of Shamil Basaev, military commander of North Caucasian rebels. On July 15 Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev put forward an offer of amnesty to Chechnya’s separatist rebels (see Chechnya Weekly, July 20). The amnesty deadline is Tuesday, August 1. Later Russian authorities decided to offer amnesty not only to the Chechen rebels, but also to militants operating in other North Caucasus regions.
On July 20, Sergei Solodovnikov, deputy head of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Main Directorate for the Southern Federal District, announced that several commanders of the Dagestani militants had recently been killed in the region. As for the local rebel leaders still alive, Solodovnikov stressed that law-enforcement agents know their whereabouts and would soon eliminate them as well. “As for the other rebels,” the senior police officer added, “we will negotiate with them…All gunmen who surrender will be interrogated and then get an amnesty, I hope.” As for those who, as Solodovnikov said, “have blood on their hands, who have killed and raped, they will be tried according to Russian and international law” (Kommersant, July 21). His reference to “international law” was clearly a dig at the “Manifesto for Peace” signed by Akhmed Zakaev, the main rebel envoy abroad. The Manifesto calls for a political dialogue between the Russian authorities and the insurgency as well as for a peaceful solution of the Chechen conflict in accordance with international law. Solodovnikov made clear that while talking about international law, the Russian side did not mean negotiations, but the extradition to Russia of rebel envoys like Zakaev.
During his press conference Solodovnikov personally appealed to Rappani Khalilov, leader of the Dagestani rebels, and called on him to surrender. He added, “If Khalilov does not find a way to surrender, he will be eliminated.”
When the amnesty was widened to include rebels in other North Caucasus republics, Arsen Kanokov, president of Kabardino-Balkaria, suggested that the Kabardinian insurgents lay down their arms and surrender. “In order to avoid new meaningless victims, I insistently recommend that those who are hiding from responsibility after the attack on Nalchik on October 13, 2005, and who have taken part in the armed conflict on the territory of the Chechen republic should start negations with the authorities regarding voluntary surrender,” Kanokov said in his televised appeal (Caucasus Times, July 21).
President Murat Zyazikov of Ingushetia chimed in next, saying, “The amnesty should have been declared earlier, but as soon as it has been finally announced, it will positively influence the situation in Ingushetia.” Zyazikov also supported the idea of postponing the deadline for the rebels’ surrender (Interfax, July 21). President Mustafa Batdyev of Karachaevo-Cherkessia announced that official proposals on amnesty were also being prepared in his republic.
The amnesty process was even declared in such ethnic-Russian-dominated regions of the North Caucasus as Rostov oblast. The Rostov Anti-Terrorist Committee called upon rebel groups located in the region “to return to peaceful life and surrender to the authorities” (Kavkazky Uzel, July 21).
The rebels responded very quickly to the amnesty offers. On July 19 a statement was posted on rebel websites describing the amnesty as a Kremlin attempt “to hide the real situation in the North Caucasus.” According to the message, “The Chechen armed forces and the forces of the Caucasian front are confident and well organized as never before” (Kavkaz Center, July 19).
On July 20 Sharia Jamaat, a rebel group in Dagestan, issued a statement saying, “Armed units of the Dagestani front continue to conduct operations against infidels and their puppet structures. The belief that Jihad is finished is an illusion” (Kavkaz Center, July 20).
Apparently Russian security officials are also skeptical regarding the effectiveness of the amnesty. As has happened many times before, they still continue to rely on security measures rather than on the goodwill of their opponents. According to Regnum news agency, a special plan, code-named “Fortress,” kicked into action across all Caucasian republics on July 13, after Basaev’s death (regnum.ru, July 13). The plan was developed to respond properly to a rebel assault at military or police facilities. Russian air forces and heavy artillery started to bomb and regularly shell the mountain forests in Ingushetia (Ingushetiya.ru, July 15). Special-task police and army units simultaneously launched massive search operations in Kabardino-Balkaria. Yuri Tomchak, minister of interior affairs of Kabardino-Balkaria, had to admit that more than 100 of the rebels who took part in the attack on Nalchik, the republican capital, last year, are still unknown to law-enforcement bodies. Security officials also do not know the whereabouts of 40 rebels on the wanted list (Kavkazky Uzel, July 13).
At a special meeting of the Dagestani Anti-Terrorist Committee, held in the town of Buinaksk, Nikolai Graznov, head of the local branch of the Federal Security Service, said, “There are seven groups of bandit formations operating now in different districts of Dagestan, and they can try to destabilize the situation at any time.” During the same meeting Dagestani leader Mukhu Aliev noted the need to increase the security of vital facilities in the republic (Kommersant, July 21).
Apparently when they speak of “amnesty,” the Russian authorities really mean the opposite scenario in the North Caucasus and continue to brace themselves for new rebel attacks.