Chechnya: Moscow Peace Bid Tests Rebel Resolve

Will Chechen militants take up the offer of an amnesty now that their most high-profile leader is dead?

Chechnya: Moscow Peace Bid Tests Rebel Resolve

Will Chechen militants take up the offer of an amnesty now that their most high-profile leader is dead?

The Russian federal government and its allies in Chechnya are seeking to exploit the death of militant leader Shamil Basayev by offering a new amnesty to rebel fighters.

Just three days after the death of Basayev in Ingushetia on July 10, the head of the Russian intelligence service, the FSB, Nikolai Patrushev made a public statement, giving the fighters a deadline of August 1 to lay down their weapons. Patrushev said those who gave themselves up by this date would be guaranteed an “objective and unbiased examination of all the circumstances of their participation in illegal armed formations”.

Patrushev promised that those who did not agree to the amnesty would be pursued with great ferocity.

The pro-Moscow leadership in Chechnya supported Patrushev’s initiative, but suggested a more flexible time-scale.

The prime minister and de facto leader of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov said the pardon should be extended until September 1 to give the rebels more time to make up their minds. “The leaders of the fighters have practically all been destroyed,” he said. “Now it’s just young men, deceived by international terrorists who have remained in the mountains.”

Kadyrov said that fighters should be encouraged by the fact that his own chief of staff was an amnestied fighter. “There are many amnestied people in my entourage,” he said. “The North and South regiments consist 99 per cent of [them] and they have been awarded various medals.

“After the death of my father [former pro-Moscow president Akhmad Kadyrov] they said for a long time that they would be persecuted, but the opposite is true. They now work in the interior ministry of Chechnya and in the government.”

The pro-Moscow president of Chechnya, Alu Alkhanov, promised those fighters who surrendered that they would not be arrested. He suggested prolonging the deadline for the amnesty till January 1, 2007.

This is not the first time an amnesty has been offered since Moscow’s second military campaign in Chechnya began in 1999. There were similar offers in December 1999, 2003 and 2004. Many did lay down their weapons and joined the so-called Kadyrovtsy, loyal to the late Kadyrov senior, who himself fought on the rebel side in the 1994-6 conflict and who was killed by an explosion in May 2004.

Many who refused to accept an amnesty suffered persecution and pressure, which has been documented by human rights groups.

Doku Umarov, currently president of Ichkeria - as the unrecognised independent republic of Chechnya is called - scorned the pardon offer and told the Islamist website Kavkaz Center that the war would continue.

His foreign minister, Akhmed Zakayev, now exiled in London, was less categorical, saying there needed to be a “political basis” to any negotiations between rebels and Moscow and called for negotiations without preconditions.

“If Nikolai Patrushev’s declaration is simply a demonstration of force, an offer to surrender to your enemy, it won’t lead to anything,” said Zakayev. “The language of ultimatums is not a good accompaniment for achieving peace and stability.”

Many people in Chechnya say that after the removal of the charismatic and influential Basayev, a large number of fighters will be tempted to take up the amnesty offer – if it is well organised.

“An amnesty is a successful PR move by Russia,” said Abdula Istamulov, head of the SK-Strategy Centre in Grozny.

Zina Magomadova, a deputy in the Chechen parliament, said, “War is an abnormal condition for a person. People are tired of fighting.”

However, others are cautious about whether the removal of Basayev necessarily means peace for Chechnya.

“I think that after the death of Basayev the situation will both change and not change,” said Russian Caucasus expert Sergei Markedonov.

“It will change in the sense that a charismatic leader, popular with separatists and Islamists and with the sponsors of Islamic radicals abroad, a talented organiser of a terrorist network, will not now be waging war against Russia.

“It will not change because this is not just an issue of Basayev personally but of Basayevism as a socio-political phenomenon.”

Markedonov said that the situation in Chechnya had fundamentally changed in the last few years in a way outside experts had not noticed. He said that in many ways the greatest threat to Moscow came from the government it had itself appointed.

“We shouldn’t be talking about a war. There is no war in the sense of a military confrontation between two organised forces. There is terrorism and partisan activities [which you often can’t tell apart] and there is organised separatism [by the Kadyrov government] – the creation under Russian jurisdiction of a territory de facto independent of federal authority,” remarked Markedonov.

Present-day Chechnya, he went on, presented two political challenges to Russia.

“The first challenge is that Chechnya today has become part of a Caucasus-wide Islamic project and the idea of ethno-national separatism has slipped away. As for the second challenge - in Moscow you have to understand that colonial rule of Chechnya, as opposed to a modernisation programme or incorporating it as part of Russia, is leading to it being lost.”

Chechen political analyst Nadirsotta Elsunkayev warned of another danger, saying that the death of Basayev would increase the influence of al-Qaeda in the North Caucasus.

“Basayev and Bin Laden were antagonists,” said Elsunkayev. “Basayev and his people were orthodox Muslims and they shared the beliefs of the King of Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden on the other hand was one of those Sunnis who wanted to spread the influence of Islam. But while Basayev was alive, Bin Laden did not interfere in the Caucasus and limited his activity to Central Asia. But back in 1998 he said that in 2003 he would move to the Caucasus.”

The analyst said that the rebels were now suffering a serious crisis.

“Doku Umarov is insufficiently charismatic to unite all forces in the North Caucasus under his leadership. After the death of Basayev his links with the King of Saudi Arabia have been broken. Now he either needs to build bridges with Europe, in other words with Zakayev – but then he won’t get any money - or to go with al-Qaeda.

“If al-Qaeda comes to the Caucasus, fighting could last for decades. It will be an intractable guerrilla war without end.”

Timur Aliev is IWPR’s Chechnya Editor.

Support our journalists