Since his appointment as Chechen Republic head two years ago, Ramzan Kadyrov has employed a combination of blandishments and threats in an attempt to stem the steady outflow of young people to join the ranks of the armed Islamic resistance. But in recent days Kadyrov has toughened
his position, warning that for those who "head for the forest, there is no way back."
One of the key components of then-Russian President Vladimir Putin's strategy for breaking the back of the Chechen resistance in the early 2000s was to persuade its fighters to lay down their arms. Under the terms of successive amnesties in 2003 and 2006, fighters who had not engaged in "acts of terrorism" were offered immunity from prosecution and alternative employment in one of several pro-Moscow Chechen security and law enforcement bodies.
Many Chechen resistance fighters took advantage of that offer: according to official statistics, 546 fighters surrendered in the 2006 amnesty. Some of them nonetheless continued, not without risk, to provide information and even weapons to their former resistance comrades in arms, Akhmed Zakayev, the London-based head of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria, said in May 2007.
But for the past several years, young Chechen men -- and some women -- have continued to "head for the forest" to join the resistance ranks. In the summer of 2007, pro-Moscow Chechen Magomed Khanbiyev admitted that over 300 young Chechens had joined the resistance between January and April of that year.
In mid-June 2008, the resistance website kavkazcenter.com claimed that 200 young men from the Nozhai-Yurt district alone had joined the resistance during the previous three months, of whom the majority were aged between 15-16. "Novaya gazeta" on January 14, 2009, quoted Chechen government sources as saying that since January 2007, over 1,000 Chechens between the ages of 15-30 had joined the resistance. Those sources estimated that the average age of resistance fighters is between 20 and 25.
Those figures call into question Kadyrov's repeated boasts that the threat posed by Islamic extremism and terrorism has been neutralized, and that the resistance in Chechnya numbers no more than a few dozen fighters. So too do the repressive measures to which the Chechen authorities have resorted over the past year. Kadyrov and other senior officials have warned in televised statements that the parents of young people who join the resistance have a responsibility to persuade them to return to civilian life.
Those parents are summoned to public meetings at which they are subjected to psychological pressure and insults. If they still prove unable to persuade their children to quit the resistance, their homes are likely to be torched by uniformed masked men from one of the security bodies loyal to Kadyrov. "The New York Times" on September 29, 2008, listed nine towns or villages where this had happened.
At the same time, the Chechen authorities have continued to appeal to young resistance fighters to turn themselves in. Meeting in March 2009 with relatives of young men believed to have joined the resistance, Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov said
he "personally guarantees" that young resistance fighters who surrender will be treated objectively and fairly. Days later, Kadyrov boasted
that "dozens" of young fighters had surrendered over the past month and "admitted their errors."
As of last week, however, Kadyrov signaled that his patience is running out. Speaking at a government session in Grozny on May 13, he demanded that local officials act more resolutely to ensure that not a single young man joins the resistance in future. He branded those who do so "enemies of the people," and warned potential recruits that they can no longer count on heading to join the resistance in the spring, and then returning to normal civilian life for the winter months. "There will be no way back from the forest," Kadyrov said.
Two days later, in the wake of a suicide bombing in Grozny that killed two police officers, Kadyrov declared
that he would not appeal to the Russian State Duma to declare a further amnesty for resistance fighters, and that in future armed militants will be summarily shot, rather than taken alive for interrogation.
But such threats are unlikely to have the desired effect. Indeed, it is the arbitrary brutality with which police and security personnel treat so many young men that drives many of them to join the resistance.
That trend is not confined to Chechnya, but applies equally to Ingushetia, Daghestan, and Kabardino-Balkaria. But for Kadyrov, it is simultaneously a personal insult, insofar as it is the younger generation of Chechens -- those whose hearts and minds he has sought to win as his long-term power base -- that is rejecting his personal vision of Chechnya's future within Russia, and his precepts for how its people should live their lives.