In the latest in an escalating series of attacks in the North Caucasus, a car carrying the president of Ingushetia, Yunus Bek-Yevkurov, was blown up on June 22. An estimated 70 kilograms of explosives detonated as the president’s motorcade was passing by in Nazran, the principal city in the republic. President Yevkurov’s driver and his bodyguard died in the attack and the president himself was badly wounded. He underwent surgery and was subsequently airlifted to a Moscow hospital (Interfax, June 22).
The attack took place less than three weeks after Dagestan’s Interior Minister Adilgerei Magomedtagirov was assassinated in Makhachkala. The proximity in time of the attacks on two top officials has led many analysts to wonder whether Moscow has a clue as to what it should do next in the North Caucasus.
The attack on President Yevkurov was carried out on the 2004 anniversary of the raid on law-enforcement and government targets in Ingushetia carried out by units under the command of the late Chechen rebel warlord Shamil Basaev. The theory that Islamic insurgents carried out the attempt on Yevkurov’s life is one of the primary ones (www.lenta.ru, June 22). Yevkurov, a former military intelligence officer, was appointed by Moscow to lead Ingushetia in October 2008 following the failure of another Russian security services officer, Murat Zyazikov, to bring peace and security to Ingushetia. During the past several years Ingushetia has been in the news for numerous violent attacks against government officials, law enforcement officers and civilians, as well as for human rights abuses by the republic’s law enforcement agencies.
Following the bombing of Yevkurov’s motorcade, President Dmitry Medvedev stated that Ingushetia’s president had done much to bring peace and order to the republic and that "the bandits did not like it." Prime Minister Vladimir Putin went even further, equating Yevkurov’s attackers to the Nazis who attacked the Soviet Union on the same day in 1941 (www.gazeta.ru, June 22).
Ingush insurgents are not the only ones thought to have been behind the attack on Yevkurov. According to Sergei Stepashin, chairman of the Audit Chamber, Russia’s federal budget watchdog agency, corrupt officials who Yevkurov had been energetically fighting may have plotted against him, perhaps harnessing assistance from the insurgency (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, June 22). Thus far, no insurgent websites have claimed responsibility for the bombing.
The two successive attacks on top officials in Ingushetia and Dagestan present Moscow with a challenge, as the reliance on crude force coupled with generous subsidies have seemingly repeatedly failed to bring even a modicum of peace and stability to the region. In fact the situation in the North Caucasus is becoming worse than it was in the stormy 1990’s, which the current Russian leadership and large portion of Russian population dismiss as a period of Russian weakness. Indeed, outside of Chechnya, no interior minister or head of a republic in the North Caucasus was assassinated during the 1990’s.
It is hard to imagine that in response to this latest series of incidents Moscow will opt for democratization of the region, reintroducing popular elections for governors, as some authoritative people, like the former president of Ingushetia Ruslan Aushev, have called for. But it is equally hard to see how Moscow could introduce even harsher policies in the region without calling the new situation a full-fledged war. So far, Moscow has preferred to pretend that the situation in the North Caucasus has progressively improved, and in April canceled the counterinsurgency operation regime in Chechnya that had been in place for ten years.
Enver Kisriev, the head of the Caucasus department at the Center for Civilization and Regional Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, does not regard the latest attack in Ingushetia as an abnormal event. Instead, he suggests, that under the present conditions of the rigid political regime installed by Moscow in the region based upon one individual and in the absence of a popular participatory process, that a new means of dealing with these types of problems has emerged – widespread political violence (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, June 22).
Human Rights Watch’s representative in Russia Tatyana Lokshina expressed concern about the attack’s consequences for Ingushetia’s population, citing the habitual disregard for law on the part of law enforcement agencies operating in the republic. "The way that special operations have been carried out in Ingushetia in the past years, with kidnappings and disappearances, has had a very negative impact on the climate in Ingush society," she said. "At some point people started to regard the state law enforcement agencies as a worse enemy than the militants." Ironically, Yevkurov, according to Lokshina, tried to bring more rule of law to the security services’ operations in the republic (www.polit.ru, June 22).
During the past ten days, Ingushetia has experienced serious losses among current and former republican officials. On June 10, the deputy chairperson of Ingushetia’s Supreme Court, Aza Gazgereyeva, was gunned down in Nazran and on June 13, Bashir Aushev, a former republican deputy prime minister and interior minister, was also fatally shot in Nazran (EDM, June 10 and 17).
The latest attacks came as an unpleasant surprise to the Kremlin, which had been pretending that the situation in North Caucasus was on the road to improvement. However, it is the population of the region that is likely to be the ultimate loser in the unfolding chain of events. It is the local population that suffers of the attacks in the first place and, as Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center pointed out, Moscow is likely to impose a Kadyrov-like rule in Ingushetia in order to quell the insurgency and enforce a pro-Moscow public consensus (www.gazeta.ru, June 22).
It is also possible that there can be no good outcome at all for Moscow, unless it drastically changes its approaches to the region. While Moscow has tried to use 19th century methods to govern the North Caucasus, modern communications, a more sensitive public opinion inside Russia and international attention suggest that such means cannot be applied with the same ruthlessness as they were more than a century ago. This means that only serious political and administrative reform efforts – not only in the North Caucasus, but also in Russia itself – can bring lasting peace to the region.