Prior to August 2012, nothing portended the souring of relations between the respective heads of Chechnya and Ingushetia – Ramzan Kadyrov and Yunus-Bek Yevkurov. It all began with a trivial news report about an explosion in a house in the village of Galashki in Ingushetia’s foothills on the night of July 29. Reportedly as a result of that explosion, one person died on the spot, while a second died on the way to the hospital, and a third suffered heavy wounds and was treated at a local hospital, but apparently also died later. News agencies initially reported that the explosion was caused by a natural gas leak (http://www.ria.ru/incidents/20120730/712380764.html). However, rescue team members who arrived at the site of the explosion found pieces of ammunition, which raised suspicions that the victims of the explosion may have been insurgents who accidentally detonated an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) (www.gazeta.ru/social/news/2012/07/30/n_2458745.shtml). The Russian media reported this version of events two hours after the explosion.
Two of those killed in the explosion were subsequently identified as 26-year-old Idris Abaev, resident of the Chechen city of Gudermes, and Alekhan Dolkhadov, resident of the Chechen village of Alleroi (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/210466/). After the bodies of the three people killed in the incident were handed over to the Chechen authorities, a mysterious transformation happened with their identity – Chechen authorities began identifying them as brothers Zaurbek and Ibragim Avdorkhanov, and Ayub Khaladov. Thus, the Ingush and Chechen authorities identified completely different people as having been killed in the same explosion incident in the house on Begovaya Street in the village of Galashki in Ingushetia’s Sunzha district on July 29 (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/210585/).
Meanwhile, on August 1, the Chechen authorities boasted of having conducted a special operation in Galashki, Ingushetia, on July 29, during which they eliminated the Avdorkhanov brothers (Evening news, Grozny TV station, August 1). It was unclear why Chechnya’s residents were informed of the successful police operation only three days after the explosion in Galashki. Kadyrov personally reported that the Avdorkhanovs were deliberately lured into a trap and that the operation in Galashki was carried out by Chechen police. The latter assertion cut Ingushetia’s authorities to the quick. Yevkurov, speaking in Magas, stated that there had been no special operation carried out by anyone in Galashki on July 29, including the Chechen police (http://lenta.ru/news/2012/08/02/nonono/).
Yevkurov’s statement, in turn, hit home for Kadyrov, who responded with unusually pointed criticism of Yevkurov, accusing him of being unwilling to fight the militants. Kadyrov further alleged that Yevkurov had telephoned the authorities in Grozny, asking them to say that the Ingush police had also participated in the special operation in Galashki. Moreover, Kadyrov accused Yevkurov of allowing Ingushetia to be used as a safe haven for militants (http://old.inforotor.ru/news/23614659). Yevkurov admitted that the leader of the North Caucasus rebels may have crossed the administrative border between Ingushetia and Chechnya (http://mvkursk.ru/topnews/24024.html).
Yevkurov’s interpretation of the borders was peculiar. He declared: “They have this Caucasus Emirate. They drew their own borders and supposedly they would walk around within those borders.” The head of Ingushetia practically recognized the parallel existence of an Islamic state on the territory of the North Caucasus. In turn, Yevkurov demanded that Kadyrov explain why he made such critical statements (www.svobodanews.ru/archive/ru_news_zone/20120804/17/17.html?id=24666783).
It should be understood that for Kadyrov this is a matter of honor, since those killed in Ingushetia were reportedly involved in an attack on Kadyrov’s home village of Tsentoroi on August 29, 2010. Kadyrov threatened Yevkurov that he would draw a distinct border between the two republics: at the moment, there is no recognized administrative border between Chechnya and Ingushetia. Apparently, Kadyrov hinted that if the administrative border were properly enforced, Ingushetia would lose control over some areas (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/210714/). He also reproached Yevkurov for declining to call the militants bandits and instead called them “misguided people.” Yevkurov regards the insurgents as misguided people who were led astray by accident or are upset about something (www.ria.ru/defense_safety/20120802/715182708.html). Mention of the border issue provoked another round of mutual accusations between Chechens and Ingush in online forums.
Amid all the fuss, the more substantial question about the true identity of the rebels who died in the incident in Ingushetia has remained unaddressed. This question is not insignificant, because Zaurbek Avdorkhanov is not simply a rebel commander, but he has been widely known among the armed resistance in Chechnya. Zaurbek is the younger brother of Ahmed Avdorkhanov, who was the head of Aslan Maskhadov’s personal bodyguards and the most powerful commander on the eastern front in Chechnya. Ahmed was killed in an accidental shootout on September 12, 2005 (www.newsru.com/russia/17sep2005/vost.html). Two to three years after the death of his brother, Zaurbek Avdorkhanov has managed to be elevated to the level of becoming one of Chechnya’s more powerful field commanders, becoming a match to such famous rebel commanders as Hussein Gakaev, Aslanbek Vadalov and Tarkhan Gaziev. It was Avdorkhanov, for example, who organized the rebel attack on Kadyrov’s home village of Tsentroi back in August 2010. This attack was a major psychological blow to Kadyrov’s authority in Chechnya, not too mention that the village is home to Kadyrov’s fortified compound. Furthermore, the attack was a remarkable show of strength by the rebels who rarely use their resources to mount full-scale attacks on urban targets in Chechnya.
Throughout Chechnya’s insurgency, Zaurbek Avdorkhanov is known to have directed a group of militants operating in the Nozhai-Yurt and Kurchaloi districts of eastern Chechnya, where he enjoyed considerable support among the rebels. Although rebel sources have not confirmed Avdorkhanov’s death as of August 9, there is a high probability that he was in the area. On a video showing members of the insurgency with rebel leader Doku Umarov at a meeting this past April 29, Avdorkhanov is shown sitting to the right of Umarov (www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJ5eoBWda8I), which was a clear sign of his prominence in the ranks of rebel commanders. But for some reason, Zaurbek Avdorkhanov appears to have turned out to be operating his forces in the western part of Chechnya should the reports of his death prove true.
Regardless of whether Zaurbek Avdorkhanov died or not, the situation with Chechnya’s insurgency will not change dramatically. However, the argument between Ramzan Kadyrov and Yunus-Bek Yevkurov may have a lasting negative impact on the public in both republics because it touches upon the issues of borders and loyalty to Moscow. Thus Moscow has demonstrated its helplessness even in a dispute between its subordinates – the heads of two republics – being unable to rein in its own representatives in the region.