A critical look at the amnesty for guerrillas in Chechnya

It was announced last week that the amnesty in the North Caucasus is over – and that it’s been successful: 546 guerrillas have surrendered. The only question now is this: who are these people who are no longer officially classified as criminals, and what are their goals?

It was announced last week that the amnesty for members of illegal armed formations in the North Caucasus is over – and that it’s been successful: 546 guerrillas have surrendered, and only a few crazed extremists are still hiding out in the highlands. State-controlled television channels rejoiced, and so did state officials.

The only question now is this: who are these people who are no longer officially classified as criminals, and what are their goals?

No conclusive answers are available from the Duma members who passed the amnesty law, or the prosecutors whose duties include overseeing its implementation. But if such a noble cause as the amnesty is put into practice clandestinely and not monitored by anyone other than the regional authorities, the results may be quite unexpected.

And that’s what happened. According to our sources, most of those 546 people who are now classified as civilians were effectively amnestied long before January 2007, and haven’t been considered guerrillas for two or three years; secondly, by no means all of them have actually returned to a life of peace – they have just switched sides, and are now serving in Chechnya’s security and law enforcement agencies.

Everyone knows what Chechnya’s security and law enforcement agencies are like. Their nature has been revealed in never-ending abductions and extrajudicial executions; the killings in the village of Borozdinovskaya; the asset redistribution raids in St. Petersburg; the demonstrative killing of Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov’s personal enemy in Moscow; the arrest of a group of Chechen police officers in Moscow, in possession of a professional hitman’s equipment.

The amnesty has served two purposes: demonstrating to the federal authorities that peace has been established, while also legally recruiting former guerrillas into the security and law enforcement agencies controlled by Ramzan Kadyrov.

These days, who would recognize Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Adam Demilkhanov as Salman Raduyev’s former driver, involved in many tragic events? He’s entirely within the law now – and so he was able to organize the killing of Baisarov in central Moscow. And then there’s Sulim Yamadayev: former guerrilla and abductor, now a Hero of Russia and Defense Ministry officer, who is capable of using force to achieve his purposes at the Samson factory in St. Petersburg.

And here’s an update… Ibragim Dadayev (brother of former guerrilla Musa Dadayev, now head of the Achkhoi-Martankovsk district in Chechnya) has taken advantage of the amnesty. According to those who know him, Ibragim Dadayev is exceptionally brutal. A few days ago, Ramzan Kadyrov appointed him commander of a police regiment (in charge of over a thousand personnel). This decision was contrary to the advice of federal Interior Ministry chiefs.

Similarly, many other former members of illegal armed formations have joined Chechnya’s lawful armed formations: the North and South battalions, part of the the Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops; the Akhmad Kadyrov regiment of the Chechen Interior Ministry; the brigades that provide security for petroleum industry facilities.

Few recall that this has been the fourth amnesty in the 12 years of hostilities in the North Caucasus. The previous amnesties also had their peculiarities.

First amnesty: between the wars

The first amnesty started on March 12, 1997, and was the result of peace agreements between the federal authorities and the government of Chechnya, starting with the Khasavyurt accords signed in August 1996. Federal troops were withdrawn from Chechnya; Aslan Maskhadov was elected president of Ichkeria in January 1997, and recognized by the Russian government.

In formal terms, the first amnesty was substantially limited: it would not apply to terrorists involved in Shamil Basayev’s raid on Budennovsk or Salman Raduyev’s raids on Kizlyar and Pervomaiksoe. De facto, federal security and law enforcement agencies had no choice but to cooperate with close associates of Basayev and Raduyev, and even with the two ringleaders themselves.

Basayev was appointed as first deputy prime minister of Ichkeria; he traveled freely in adjacent regions, sometimes accompanied by Russian generals. True, he never went as far as Moscow. But some close associates of Basayev and Raduyev did make business trips or private visits to Moscow.

Despite all these oddities, the March 1997 amnesty did play a positive role: many (though by no means all) Chechen youths who had fought with Dudayev’s forces gained an opportunity to lay down their arms and become students in other regions of Russia; they ended up staying in those regions, never returning to Chechnya for the second war.

Second amnesty: unloading

It was passed by the Duma on December 13, 1999, after four months of hostilities in Dagestan and Chechnya. The “unloading” definition came from Memorial society leaders Oleg Orlov and Alexander Cherkasov. The amnesty was intended to “unload” the guerrilla formations by offering waverers a chance to stop fighting. The amnesty applied for six months. Officially, several hundred people took advantage of it. Their names were not made public; it was too dangerous to do so, since the guerrillas might kill them. On the other hand, the federal special services attempted to use amnestied guerrillas for their own purposes – so they weren’t entirely free to return to a life of peace.

Those switching over from the opposite camp were treated unceremoniously, and a great deal went beyond the voluntary framework. For example, prominent Ichkerian leaders who fell into the hands of the federal special services were presented with an ultimatum: they should publicly renounce participation in illegal armed formations and condemn Maskhadov and Basayev, calling on guerrillas to stop fighting and take advantage of the amnesty – or they would be subject to extrajudicial execution. That is how Ichkerian parliament speaker Ruslan Alikhadzhiyev was killed when the FSB detained him.

Public statements were made by Nasrudin Bazhiyev, Ichkerian deputy minister for Shariah security; Ibragim Khultygov, head of the Ichkerian State Security Department; Musa Dadayev, and others. They saved their own lives by doing so, and some of them rose to senior office in Chechnya later.

Third amnesty: Kadyrov’s amnesty

The third amnesty was declared on June 6, 2003, timed for the essentially no-alternative election that made Akhmad Kadyrov president of Chechnya. It mostly applied to Akhmad Kadyrov’s associates: close and distant relatives, relatives of relatives, friends of friends – those who were prepared to participate in establishing the Kadyrov family’s rule in Chechnya. For some of them, this opened the path to senior appointments in the regional government and (official or unofficial) security and law enforcement agencies.

But the amnesty was tragic for many ordinary people. They surrendered under the amnesty, underwent police verification procedures, and were released. But some time later (at night, usually), they would be visited by masked men from “unidentified” security agencies – and then the amnestied people would disappear entirely, or turn up in FSB and Interior Ministry reports as “captured or killed guerrillas.” Anna Politkovskaya wrote a great deal about the fate of these unfortunates.

Fourth amnesty: after the death of Shamil Basayev

This amnesty was proposed by FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev, chairman of the National Antiterrorist Committee. The pretext was the death of Terrorist Number One, Shamil Basayev.

The official figure of 546 amnestied guerrillas is hard to confirm or refute. No non-governmental organizations have seen any lists of names. The Memorial society believes that most of the amnestied people have actually been under Ramzan Kadyrov’s wing for some time. Some have long been part of Kadyrov’s power system. There’s Magomed Khambiyev, former Ichkerian defense minister, now a member of the Chechen parliament; Abu Arsanukayev, former chief bodyguard for Djokhar Dudayev, now said to be heading the bodyguards for Chechnya’s new leaders. But some ordinary people who believed in promises of a life of peace have disappeared after surrendering under the amnesty, just like in the Akhmad Kadyrov era.

What should we make of the fact that Arsanukayev, Khultygov, and Khambiyev now have senior jobs with the new authorities – while Islam Khasukhanov, one of Khambiyev’s former deputies who barely fought at all, is now serving a ten-year jail sentence. Khasukhanov served in the Russian Navy for over 25 years as a submarine officer, a captain of the second rank; he resigned from the military in April 1999, married Aslan Maskhadov’s niece before the second war began, and accepted Maskhadov’s offer to become a deputy defense minister of Ichkeria. He didn’t fight in the second war at all; he lived at his home in Shali with his young wife and child, serving as negotiator with the federal forces. He was not considered eligible for the amnesty. And there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people like him. But the amnesty has been applied to some people who killed and abducted Russian and foreign citizens.

Some amnestied guerrillas who now have good jobs with the new authorities ought to be investigated to see if they deserve further charges. There’s Deputy Prime Minister Demilkhanov, who pursued a vendetta to Moscow; or Yamadayev, who wants to take over meat processing plants in St. Petersburg. There’s former guerrillas Musa Dadayev, now head of the Achkhoi-Martanovsk district administration. If I were a prosecutor, I’d have a few questions for Dadayev. For example, what happened to the millions of rubles allocated for rebuilding a cannery in the Achkhoi-Martanovsk district? Why doesn’t the new temporary accommodation for displaced people in Achkhoi-Martan have any showers or toilets? Where are the millions of rubles allocated for building a bridge over the Sunzha River?

When I was engaged in liberating hostages during the two campaigns in Chechnya, I met many people who might be amnestied now: people who helped to save the lives of hostages. One of them is Aslan Adayev. He was extradited from Georgia to Russia in August 2002. He helped save the life of “Moscow News” correspondent Dmitri Balburov, captured by guerrillas in October 1999. It’s odd to see that Balburov’s abductor, Adam Mogushkov, spent a few months in jail and has long since been released; but Aslan Adayev, who saved the journalist, isn’t eligible for the amnesty.

But even with these excesses, “an amnesty is a good thing,” as Anna Politkovskaya wrote not long before her death: “any chance at all is always better than an impasse.” But chances should not be allowed to slip away. To all appearances, the opportunities of this amnesty have been lost.