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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

It's Tough to Amnesty the Militants

On Sept. 22, the State Duma approved a law providing a legal basis for an amnesty in the North Caucasus under which roughly 150 militants had already given themselves up to the Chechen authorities.

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Since it was announced, a number of opinions about the policy have been put forward: that the amnesty is a stupid idea, because only those guilty of harvesting mushrooms in the forest will be pardoned; that the amnesty has been a failure, given the low figure of 150 people who have turned themselves in; that the 150 militants in question were all in civilian clothes anyway, and had already been living at home for some time.

Basically, the usual mix of window-dressing, PR and failure.

To understand the point of the amnesty, you have to look at it from Chechnya, not from Moscow. And you have to imagine the following.

First, the militants do not represent an army. Twelve people comprise a fighting force. Thirty people is a pretty hefty fighting force. No militant group has more than 100 men, as it needs to feed itself. On Aug. 6, 1996, the regional capital, Grozny, was taken by 800 militants. In winter 2000, some 5,000 to 7,000 militants left Grozny. When former Chechen Defense Minister Magomed Khanbiyev told me about this, he said: "And then, on the second night, lots of men died -- about 70."

"Is that really a lot?" I asked.

"It's a whole regiment!" he exclaimed.

It was a Freudian slip. Seventy men is not a regiment, not even a platoon, in a regular army. But by militant standards, 150 men is two regiments.

Second, amnesty or no amnesty, some 7,000 militants have already given themselves up to Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov. More accurately, they have not given themselves up but gone to work for the Chechen OMON special police, the Akhmed Kadyrov regiment and the South and North batallions.

Kadyrov was himself a militant and a man who commanded a whole generation of Kadyrovtsy in the first war; and now Kadyrov's government is dominated by the military. "A Chechen can only be conquered by another Chechen," the late Chechen President Akhmat Kadyrov used to say, and for fairness' sake we should note that the Kadyrovs have promoted not only those who fought in 1995, but also those who fought in 1999 -- in other words, against them.

The head of the Chechen OMON, Artur Akhmadov, headed up former Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov's security force, and half of the district heads in the region were in the mountains until 2002. Ramzan Kadyrov can be accused either of having militants in his government or of a failed amnesty, but not both at once.

Third, regarding civilian clothes. Almost all of those who gave themselves up were clean, washed, and well fed. What does this mean?

It means that in Chechen society, which is as transparent as glass, all of the men had been living at home for some time, and that everyone, including Kadyrov, knew this. In other words, any one of them could have been picked up at any time -- and federal forces would have scored cheap points in this way -- but they were not. So why not? But if the men went to another region and joined the OMON, there could be problems with federal fources. And now, with the amnesty, this problem will be solved.

As for "serious crimes," there is no doubt. People go missing in Chechnya in broad daylight and no one can prove it is Kadyrov's men who are doing it. So who is going to prove that the amnestied men were not, in fact, collecting herbs in the mountains?

Do the feds really want the amnestied men shown on television? Well, fine, we'll show them -- to get permission to work in the OMON.

Yulia Latynina is the host of a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.