Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 31

Indeed, like Memorial’s Orlov, other observers questioned the effectiveness of the federal authorities’ offer of amnesty to the rebels in Chechnya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus. On August 1, Kommersant quoted unnamed siloviki as saying that the Patrushev amnesty had thus far failed. “Only 70 rebels have surrendered, and among them there is not a single well-known commander,” the newspaper stated.

Kommersant reported that 17 members of the Federation Council members had agreed to act as intermediaries between the law-enforcement agencies and the rebels who wished to give up. These included Federation Council Deputy Speaker Svetlana Orlova, the chairmen of three committees, eight deputy chairmen and five other senators. Yet, when Kommersant correspondent Nikolai Sergeyev pretended to be a Chechen rebel who wanted to surrender directly to the federal authorities rather than to the Chechen authorities, he was unable to do so; he called the five Federation Council senators who were not committee chairmen or deputy chairmen and none answered their telephones. “Nor did any of the deputy committee chairmen,” Sergeyev wrote. “Secretaries answered the telephones for the committee chairmen. The secretaries expressed surprise at the caller’s ignorance. ‘What are you calling here for?’ one asked. ‘Don’t you know that the parliamentary break started days ago? The senators have left.’ When asked whom I could give myself up to and where to bring my arms, the secretary was unable to respond and suggested that I call back in the middle of September. The male voice that answered Orlova’s telephone asked for a very detailed explanation of where I had gotten that number and then said that if I left my full name and telephone number, someone would call back. When asked who would call back, he replied, ‘The people who are supposed to.’”

The only senator who answered his telephone, Ingushetia’s Issa Kostoev, told Sergeyev—who was still posing as a rebel wanting to surrender—that he was “open to negotiations” but that it would be dishonest for him to promise anything. “The fact is that all the amnesties adopted in Russia up till now are empty,” Kostoev said, adding that there has not been a single legislative act passed covering amnesties. “First, a law on amnesty that is weighty in its consequences but carefully developed and applicable for each concrete case has to be passed, in which the procedure for surrender is described, after which negotiations can be conducted.” Such a law, said Kostoev, should include a list of crimes covered by the amnesty and the extent of responsibility that a surrendering militant will bear for such crimes. Kostoev noted that as long as such a law does not exist, before contacting the authorities, one should keep in mind that merely belonging to a group that has been classified as “terrorist” is a crime.

Aleksandr Torshin, a Federation Council deputy speaker who is also the chairman of the Council’s Interim Commission for the Analysis of the North Caucasian Situation, told Kommersant that he essentially agreed with Kostoev. “It is completely understandable that many militants regard with distrust those whom they had only recently been looking at through the sight of a submachine gun,” Torshin said. “I think that it is precisely this reason that the offers of voluntary surrender have not worked.” He added that he is certain that the latest amnesty would not convince serious militants to put down their arms. “What we are doing is self-delusion,” he said. “It is necessary to take out of the woods those on whom there is blood, who have really been fighting, otherwise we will be involved in this process for a long time. After all, other participants in the NVFs (illegal armed formations), on whom there is not blood, can become legalized without these amnesties.” Torshin said that each militant should be amnestied individually, even if he has committed serious crimes. “I understand that this is a very complicated procedure that only the president of the country can pardon—and only those who have already been convicted—but I don’t see any other way out.”

Kommersant also wrote that the strategy of incorporating the surrendered militants into Chechen Interior Ministry units or the North and South special battalions of the federal Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops—the latter of which were recently formed under Ramzan Kadyrov’s personal leadership and consist primarily of former rebels —has been the “main and the most effective guarantee for former militants.” There are no longer any “vacancies” in the Chechen power structures, however, and thus rebels seeking to take up Patrushev’s amnesty offer have nowhere to go. According to Kommersant, a similar situation exists in Dagestan. “The head of the administration of Khasavyurt Arslanali Murtazaliev thinks that the reason for this is an absence of trust in the law-enforcement organs,” the newspaper wrote, quoting Murtazaliev as saying, “No one wants to give concrete guarantees to those who are ready to return. And people simply do not believe what some heads of the law-enforcement organs are saying.”

Likewise, Selim Beshaev, the exiled deputy chairman of the separatist Chechen Republic of Ichkeria parliament, told Kommersant that he was certain that rebels would not take up the amnesty offer regardless of what the Russian authorities offered them. “People do not trust either the military or the so-called Chechen police,” he said. “People have endured so much from them that trust cannot now be restored.”

Kommersant concluded, “Thus it can be assumed that the amnesty, whose deadline was extended yesterday to September 30 by NAK head Patrushev, will also not produce results. Nor can one expect [results] from the real amnesty that the State Duma plans to announce in the autumn. The newspaper quoted a Chechen Interior Ministry official as saying, “The militants will come out of the woods only when the authorities forgive them, not for abstract participation in the NVFs, but for concrete grave crimes—murders and terrorist acts. But that will never happen.”

One observer suggested that the amnesty was never intended to work, but rather was aimed at assuaging Western critics before embarking on a stepped-up campaign to permanently wipe out the remaining rebels. Tatyana Stanovaya, who heads the analytical department at the Center for Political Technologies, wrote in an article posted on the Politcom.ru website on August 1 that given the fact that only 70 rebel fighters had taken up the amnesty offer, it was unlikely that large numbers of rebels would ever do so. “However one can assume that the FSB had other goals,” she wrote. “It is possible that the FSB is publicly making it understood that the chance to be amnestied has been given to everyone, and that he who doesn’t take advantage of it is an irreconcilable militant. Thus the amnesty, at the end of the day, is needed to show that the militants remaining in Chechnya will be subject to destruction.”

Stanovaya stressed that the militants are actually being offered the opportunity to surrender “without any guarantees,” since according to Russia’s constitution, only the State Duma can offer an amnesty and has not yet done so. Furthermore, she wrote that the offer is less an amnesty than a “pardon,” given that the rebels are being urged to come and confess their crimes voluntarily, “after which a trial would ensue with all the ensuing consequences,” but are not being granted immunity from prosecution. “It appears that Nikolai Patrushev wants to carry to its conclusion his success connected to the liquidation of Basaev and to consolidate its results with the surrender of militants,” she wrote. “At the same time, the effectiveness of the amnesty also has much more of a secondary meaning: the low number of ‘returning’ militants will still be favorably viewed by the federal authorities. After the amnesty’s conclusion, all those who have not surrendered can be declared irreconcilable terrorists and the anti-terrorist operation can be continued with a clear conscience.”