20 years under Putin: a timeline

This December, 14 Chechen police officers died during a counterterrorist operation in Grozny. Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov’s subsequent threat of retaliation against not only the terrorists but also their relatives sparked a massive public outcry. IMR legal expert Ekaterina Mishina analyzes the issue from a legal perspective.


President of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov (depicted above) introduced personal responsibility for the law-enforcement officers to seek out and kill the militants. Photo: Oleg Nikishin / Getty Images.


Over the last few weeks, in the wake of the economic meltdown, some clear signs of mass insanity have been evident. Apparently, amid the turbulent events of December, the principle that “the worse it is, the better it gets” has gained a fatal appeal and has triggered a variety of events, speeches, and legislative initiatives. The number of examples to analyze is far too large, so I will single out the recent events in the Chechen Republic for study.

On December 4, in Grozny, 14 Chechen police officers were killed in a clash with a group of militants. President Ramzan Kadyrov reacted immediately by declaring that he considered the death of the police officers as equivalent to the death of his loved ones, and therefore he would crack down hard on terrorists. “The time when we would say that parents are not responsible for the actions of their sons or daughters is over. In Chechnya, they will be held responsible!” Kadyrov said. “Those who killed [the police officers] will answer [for their crimes] to the fullest extent, as will those who abetted or failed to prevent this, whoever those people are.”

Kadyrov further stated: “If a militant in Chechnya commits a murder of a police officer or any other person, his family will be immediately expelled from Chechnya, without the possibility of return, and their house will be demolished. All those who think about turning their weapons against a police officer or any other person should know this. I will not tolerate anyone shedding blood here!” Alas, these words were matched by actions: arsons and demolitions of the houses of citizens, whose relatives have been declared terrorists by the Chechen government, followed shortly after Kadyrov’s statement. On December 17, 2014, Elena Milashina, a special correspondent for Novaya Gazeta, reported on Radio Liberty that more than 12 homes had been destroyed. The local office of the Joint Mobile Group of the Committee Against Torture, a human rights organization that has worked in Chechnya since 2009, was also burned down.

Kadyrov’s statement caused a flurry of indignation in the media and on social networks, but this response did not have any tangible effects on the government’s actions. Equally ineffective were activists’ appeals to the authorities, who by law are responsible for promptly and efficiently investigating crimes, protecting the rights and freedoms of citizens (Article 1 of the federal law “On the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation”), and overseeing law enforcement and the protection of human rights and freedoms by authorities at different levels of government, including the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (Article 1 of the federal law “On the Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation”).

Indeed, on December 9, the head of the Committee Against Torture, Igor Kalyapin, filed a report to the Prosecutor General and the Investigative Committee in which he complained that Kadyrov had promised to expel the relatives of terrorists from the country and burn down their houses. Kalyapin’s letter received no appropriate response from either office. A complaint on the presence of indicia of a crime in the public statements of the Chechen president was also filed with the IC by Elena Milashina. In response, Milashina received a Kafkaesque document from the committee stating that “the complaint received does not contain any information about circumstances indicating presence of elements of a crime.”

On December 15, 2014, the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights released a statement about the Committee Against Torture’s complaint. This statement noted that Kalyapin had appealed to law enforcement authorities for a legal assessment of Kadyrov’s statements regarding Chechen terrorists. “Responding to this appeal by a human rights activist, the head of the Chechen Republic stated that ‘a certain Kalyapin stood up to defend bandits and their relatives,’” the Council’s statement read. “In this regard, the Council considers it necessary to state that law enforcement has nothing to do with justification of terrorism. Any actions aimed against such an absolute evil as terrorism must be carried out in strict adherence to the law. The authorities cannot use means drawn from the arsenal of terrorists, for doing so would mean that they have prevailed over Russia as a state based on the rule of law. In this regard, there cannot be a difference of opinion between the state and human rights activists.”

It is pointless to complain that the current situation in Chechnya indicates a direct violation of the provisions of the Constitution and the federal laws of the Russian Federation. What is much worse is that all this is happening with the tacit approval of Moscow.

This statement also received no appropriate response. Public outcry continued to mount, and at a major press conference held December 18 by Vladimir Putin, a TV Rain presenter Ksenia Sobchak, asked the Russian president a question about the legality of Kadyrov’s statements. The head of state answered rather vaguely, stressing that “there can be no other approach but one: in Russia, everyone must observe all the applicable laws of the land. No one is considered guilty until it is determined by the court.” The president did refer to the methods used by antiterrorist units, indicating that the relatives of those who commit terrorist acts often know about those acts, but stated that this “does not give anyone, including the leader of Chechnya, the right to resort to extrajudicial reprisals.”

But the storm of indignation raised by human rights activists and the media was countered with a wave of support from the State Duma. As reported on December 19 by Vesti.Ru, “State Duma deputies from the United Russia Party believe that the situation in Chechnya has been kept within the bounds of legality, and the republic itself is an outpost in the fight against terrorism.”

“We assess the situation in the Chechen Republic as lawful,” said Vladimir Vassiliev, leader of the United Russia faction in the State Duma, commenting on the question of whether terrorists’ relatives should bear responsibility for their actions. “And now we want to support those who risk and sacrifice their lives fighting terrorism in the Chechen Republic, and to let them know loud and clear that we are on their side.”

The Chechen legislature responded to this support immediately: according to Regnum news agency, Chechen legislators agree with Kadyrov’s intention of toughening reprisals against the relatives of terrorists, and therefore plan to introduce a package of amendments to the federal law “On Combating Terrorism.” “Once the bill is finalized, we will submit it to the State Duma,” said Dukuvakha Abdurakhmanov, speaker of the regional parliament. “Those who are guilty of aiding and abetting the bandits, even if they are relatives, are accomplices in the crime and should be punished accordingly.”

So this is what we have in the final analysis: Appeals and petitions to law enforcement agencies regarding reprisals against relatives of terrorists either have gone unanswered or have been rejected. Putin has spoken smooth and correct words devoid of any evaluation of specific statements and events, while noting that no one gives “the head of Chechnya the right to resort to extrajudicial reprisals.”

This phrase of Putin’s is remarkable not only because it is the only one that implies any criticism of Kadyrov’s actions. To me, the term “extrajudicial reprisals” sounds far more serious than “judicial reprisals.” Does that mean that “judicial reprisals” are something that has been made legal, or have I missed something? Are we talking about some other country? Kadyrov does not need anyone to give him any rights. He normally helps himself, just taking whatever he needs. As a typical representative of a period of feudal fragmentation, he understands only one right: the right of the strongest. The “punishment” that is being handed down to the relatives of terrorists in Chechnya has nothing to do with the modern concept of punishment. According to Article 43 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, a punishment is “a measure of state compulsion, assigned by a court’s judgment, applied for the purpose of restoring social justice, and also for the purpose of reforming a convicted person and of preventing the commission of further crimes.”

In Chechnya, reprisals occur in an atmosphere of classic feudalism, where punishment serves as a deterrent in order to discourage others from following in the same path. In today’s Chechnya, what is being done to the relatives of alleged terrorists is similar to what was termed “pillage” in a voluminous edition of Russian Pravda, the main source of medieval Russian law. A judgment of “pillage” was handed down to those who committed robbery, “horse thieves,” and arsonists, and the families of those found guilty of committing such crimes were also subjected to such punishment.

This form of punishment originally meant that those convicted were expelled from the community and divested of their family assets. Subsequently, this penalty was expanded to include the enslavement of the perpetrator and his family. I sincerely hope that in the preparation of draft amendments to the federal law “On Combating Terrorism,” Chechen lawmakers will draw on more modern and humane sources than Russian Pravda, Constitutio Criminalis Carolina and the “The Hammer of Witches.” So far, everything that has happened evokes clear associations with feudalism, and human rights and freedoms are respected only to the extent allowed within this particular socioeconomic formation.

It is pointless to complain that the current situation in Chechnya indicates a blatant violation of the Constitution and the federal laws of the Russian Federation. What is much worse is that all this is happening with the tacit approval of Moscow—otherwise, a restoration of the constitutional order would be well under way in Chechnya. The reality is that such a restoration has not been deemed necessary. What has been deemed necessary is for the Patriarch of All Russia to award head of Russia government owned news agency Rossiya Segodnya Dmitry Kiselev with the Order of St. Sergius of Radonezh “in consideration of his assiduous work for the good of the Church and the Fatherland” and for Chechen volunteers to be ready to “accomplish a combat mission of any complexity” in order to “protect Russia” from Western aggression. The opinions of those who do not like this program, either in Russia or abroad, are, at best, disregarded. Lawmakers are not playing for the gallery. As Caligula would say, Oderint, dum metuant—"Let them hate, as long as they fear."