[home page][map of the server][news of the server][forums][publications][Yabloko's Views]

The Moscow Times, May 22, 2003.

Duma Approves Chechen Amnesty

By Nabi Abdullaev

The State Duma on Wednesday gave preliminary approval to President Vladimir Putin's proposed amnesty for Chechen rebels who have committed no grave crimes and agree to lay down their arms. The bill also covers Russian servicemen who have committed crimes in Chechnya.

The Kremlin portrays the amnesty as a second major move toward peace, after the March referendum to approve a Chechen constitution. But critics say it will have little effect other than to absolve robbers and thieves.

After heated debate, the bill passed 354-18 on Wednesday evening in the first of the three required readings.

It offers amnesty to rebels and servicemen who "jeopardized public safety" in Chechnya and Ingushetia from Dec. 12, 1993, when the first Russian military offensive in Chechnya began, to Sept. 1, 2003, the proposed deadline for rebels to lay down their arms.

Those guilty of murder, rape, kidnapping, trafficking in people or threatening or attempting to kill policemen are not eligible (while those who attempted to kill soldiers are). Foreign citizens fighting with the rebels also are not eligible for amnesty.

"There will be no amnesty for terrorists, also," Alexander Kotenkov, Putin's envoy to the Duma, said in presenting the bill.

The amnesty would immediately free 90 percent of the 300 servicemen convicted or waiting trial for non-grave crimes in Chechnya, Kotenkov said. The number of freed rebels would be about the same, he said.

The Yabloko faction opposed the bill. An amnesty will not contribute to peace in Chechnya until the rampant mopping-up operations that federal troops conduct in Chechen villages are drastically limited and Chechen borders are effectively sealed so hardened rebels cannot escape, said Alexei Arbatov, the faction's point man on the bill.

"Also, the bill refers to crimes that have no relation to the conflict in Chechnya," he said before the vote. "Amnesty is offered not to those who fought against Russia, but to people who tried to pursue their own material benefits in this fight."

Arbatov said amnesty would become a viable initiative only if Putin pursues it within a broader peace plan developed together with rebel leaders.

All 17 members of the Yabloko faction would vote against the bill, Arbatov said.

Sergei Kovalyov, a prominent human rights activist, who described the amnesty as another Kremlin move to get control over the republic, also said he would vote against it.

It was not clear Wednesday which 18 deputies had voted against the bill or who were the four who abstained.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, deputy speaker from the Liberal Democratic Party, said the proposed amnesty would not work.

"Imagine a young Chechen man who took up arms 10 years ago and hid in the forest all this time. Now you want him to trust us that we trust him that he hasn't killed anybody during this time," Zhirinovsky said. "This amnesty is a sham; nobody will trust it."

Fellow LDPR Deputy Yevgeny Loginov, however, opposed the amnesty because it would allow Chechen rebels to go free. He said this would be an act of betrayal against Russian troops who died or were wounded in Chechnya.

His remarks angered Aslanbek Aslakhanov, Chechnya's representative in the Duma. "Shut up, you bastard. I'll tear you apart," he shouted to Loginov across the Duma hall.

The Duma passed an earlier amnesty, in December 1999, just a few months after the second military campaign began. As a result, 500 rebels turned in their weapons, said Pavel Krashenninikov, the head of the Duma's legislative committee who was then the justice minister.

According to Aslakhanov, most of them were either killed by rebels taking revenge or prosecuted anyway. "Only those who left Russia or joined the guard of Akhmad Kadyrov [the Kremlin-appointed head of the Chechen administration] survived," he said.

This time, Krashenninikov said, there will be provisions to protect amnestied rebels from subsequent prosecution. He called on deputies to support the amnesty.

Dmitry Rogozin, who heads the Duma's international relations committee, harshly criticized the bill for not preventing amnestied rebels from joining Chechen police forces.

"Rebels may nicely give themselves up to police, then join this very same police force or other armed agencies, and one day we will wake up in Chechnya and see it is another country," he said.

Aslakhanov said no one should expect any improvement in Chechnya if the amnesty is declared. "The amnesty will have no influence on rebel activity, and Chechens will regard it with caution," he said.

Putin submitted the amnesty bill to the Duma on May 12 and urged deputies to pass it quickly. The urgency was seen as reflecting Putin's desire to show progress toward peace in Chechnya at next week's EU meeting.

The Duma had talked about approving the bill Wednesday in all three readings, but decided to allow time for deputies to offer amendments. A second reading was set for June 2 and the third on June 6, at the latest.


See also:

the original at

War in Chechnya

The Moscow Times, May 22, 2003.

[home page][map of the server][news of the server][forums][publications][Yabloko's Views]

Project Director: Vyacheslav Erohin e-mail: admin@yabloko.ru Director: Olga Radayeva, e-mail: english@yabloko.ru
Administrator: Vlad Smirnov, e-mail: vladislav.smirnov@yabloko.ru