The security situation in Ingushetia still bothers Moscow so much that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev paid an unexpected visit to the republic on January 20, along with the director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and other top officials. Calling the situation in Ingushetia very complicated and saying that it is necessary to impose extraordinary measures there, Medvedev promised to inject nearly $1 billion into the tiny impoverished republic to develop its economy and eliminate the insurgency’s social base (Reuters, Prime-Tass, January 20). FSB Director Aleksandr Bortnikov accused unspecified foreign forces of using NGOs to destabilize the situation in the North Caucasus (RIA Novosti, January 20). Russian officials have habitually accused Western countries and NGOs of destabilizing the situation in the North Caucasus but have rarely provided any evidence to support the claim.
In the meantime the violence in the republic has hardly abated since the recent change of leadership in Ingushetia, which saw Yunus-Bek Yevkurov replace Murat Zyazikov as the republic’s president. Dozens of people have died in attacks since Yevkurov came to power, and some people on the ground view his appointment with skepticism. A source in Ingushetia told Jamestown: “Kidnappings and killings have not stopped in the republic and do not appear to have diminished. He [Yevkurov] was sent here to search and destroy and that is what he is going to do.”
The bomb that destroyed the building of the Ingush branch of Russian bailiffs’ service in Nazran on January 13 (North Caucasus Weekly, January 15) renewed talk of bitter disagreements between the Moscow-appointed Ingush authorities and the underground armed opposition.
Eight people—four men and four women—died in the blast, which the Russian media was quick to announce as a terror attack (Lenta.ru, January 13). President Yevkurov announced a three-day mourning period in the republic, while President Medvedev telephoned Yevkurov, offering his condolences and urging him to find out exactly what had happened (Ingushetia.org, January 14).
The initial widely-held assumption that insurgents were responsible for the blast was soon denied by the authorities, who instead suggested that a gas leak had caused the explosion (RIA Novosti, January 14). The Regnum News Agency reported on January 13 that the bailiffs had for several days prior to the explosion warded off the strong smell of gas by extensively ventilating the building and therefore the explosion was caused by official negligence and carelessness.
None of the main insurgent websites has claimed responsibility for the attack or even commented on the explosion.
According to the Kavkazky Uzel website, there have been two dozen attacks using explosive devices in various Ingush towns since the beginning of December 2008.
There are important differences between bomb attacks in Ingushetia and those in other parts of the North Caucasus. While many public places like markets are heavily guarded in North Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkaria, the level of official protection of similar public places in both Ingushetia and Dagestan is much lower. Yet North Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkaria have suffered indiscriminate terror attacks against conspicuously civilian objects, including markets, while no similar attacks have been reported in Ingushetia or Dagestan thus far. So while the overall level of insurgency-related violence is many times greater in Ingushetia and Dagestan than in North Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkaria, the general public appears to be in less danger in the more violent republics. The logic behind this is that the insurgents in Ingushetia and Dagestan do not attack civilians en masse, targeting only very specific individuals or government institutions.
Still, there have been regular reports about explosive devices found at Ingush markets, which suggests that forces other than the Ingush insurgency may be at play when it comes to violence or the threat of violence in the republic.
A number of people and organizations have praised Moscow’s decision to appoint Yevkurov as Ingushetia’s president last October 30. The head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Lyudmila Alekseyeva, saw progress in the area of human rights in Ingushetia following the new president’s appointment (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, December 26, 2008). Some members of the Ingush opposition became members of the Yevkurov’s government, including Magomed-Sali Aushev, an active member of the Ingush opposition who was appointed the republic’s vice premier (Gazeta.ru, November 25, 2008). Ingushetia.org, the famous website of the Ingush opposition that actively coordinated mass protests during the tenure of the highly unpopular former president, Murat Zyazikov, has even been accused of siding with the authorities.
In an apparent move to rally greater popular support for his policies, Yevkurov has proposed calling an Ingush national congress on January 31 to discuss important issues facing the republic. The move obliquely undermines the validity and authority of the existing Ingush parliament, which consists of 27 members, and is supposedly designed to represent the people of Ingushetia. This can be perceived as an additional sign of the forced degradation of democratic rule in the republic.
The existing civil conflict is further aggravated by the disputed borders of Ingushetia. The most dangerous potential hot spot is the contentious border between Ingushetia and North Ossetia. A conference of Ingush NGOs has called on Ingushetia’s government to demand that Ingush lands that are currently part of North Ossetia be returned to the republic (Ingushetia.org, January 19).
However, the continuing low-grade civil war in Ingushetia may induce further steps by Moscow to quell the insurgency. If nothing works to pacify the situation in Ingushetia, some forces in Moscow may be tempted to proceed with the project of reunifying Ingushetia and Chechnya or even a broader overhaul of administrative structures in the North Caucasus, which could include the elimination of national autonomies. Prognosticating is made more complicated by uncertainty over the origins of the violence in Ingushetia and the North Caucasus more broadly. It is unclear, for instance, whether the violence in Ingushetia and elsewhere in the North Caucasus is in protest against Russian policies or whether it is the other way around —that certain Moscow-sponsored forces are heating up the situation in order to justify further controversial reforms.
A similar chain of reforms followed the Beslan hostage crisis in September 2004. Just two weeks after that attack, then Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed abolishing elections for regional governors, turning the post of governor into an appointed position instead. In an obviously superficial explanation, Putin suggested that this would enable the government to fight terrorism better. The general public was so stunned by the Beslan attack that there was very little protest against what some legal experts described as an unconstitutional move.
Thus using public shock as a way to introduce completely random and unrelated political reforms is not something new in Russian policy making, especially when it comes to the North Caucasus, and could be repeated once again.