Does Kadyrov Have Designs on Ingushetia?

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 24

The possibility of unifying two regions of the North Caucasus, Ingushetia and Chechnya, has appeared in Russian political discourse several times in the past. Last May, rumors about the possibility of unification appeared yet again. Russian journalist Vadim Rechkalov, an unofficial spokesman for the Federal Security Service (FSB), published an article in Moskovsky Komsomolets claiming that Chechnya’s pro-Russian president, Ramzan Kadyrov, plans to appoint three of his men to key positions within the Ingush government – two of the positions in Ingushetia’s Interior Ministry and one in the civic administration – which would result in the de facto merger of Ingushetia and Chechnya (Chechnya Weekly, May 24).

Rechkalov’s article is not the only source of the recent rumors about the possible unification. Just a week prior to the article’s publication in Moskovsky Komsomolets, the website posted information that the Ingush tax administration would soon be united with the Chechen one.

The rumors were quickly dismissed by the Ingush Interior Ministry and then personally by Murat Zyazikov, the president of Ingushetia. At a conference in Moscow on May 23, Zyazikov said that he believed his republic’s political unification with neighboring Chechnya would be inexpedient (Chechnya Weekly, May 24).

Speculation about the possible unification of the two regions has been circulating since the Russian generals first floated the idea at the beginning of the second military campaign in Chechnya in 1999. Russian military commanders in Chechnya hated Ruslan Aushev, the Ingush leader at the time, for sheltering Chechen refugees. The military was furious that in spite of the many rebels that were hiding among the refugees, Aushev did not allow security officials to conduct operations in Ingushetia like the ones that the Russian army was conducting in Chechnya. The military began pressuring the Kremlin to get rid of Aushev and unite Chechnya and Ingushetia by creating a unified territory for “counter-terrorist operations.”

On August 1, 2000, Ruslan Aushev issued a statement sharply criticizing those who wanted to unite the republics. “The fact that the proposal to unite Ingushetia and Chechnya into one republic is being regarded so seriously proves again that the federal center does not completely understand what is going on in the North Caucasus,” he said. Aushev made the Kremlin even angrier by talking about the need for negotiations with the rebels, whom he called “the legitimate leadership of the Chechen republic” (, August 1, 2000).

In 2001, Ruslan Aushev again repeated that unification should not be placed on the agenda. In fact, the Russian authorities were not interested in unification; they simply hoped that this would help them win the Chechen war. One can compare their feelings to those of the U.S. generals during the Vietnam War, who hoped that their invasion of neighboring Cambodia would help them defeat the Vietcong. Russian generals in Chechnya hoped that merging Ingushetia with Chechnya would leave no rear base for the militants and turn them into an easy target for the Russian units.

The Kremlin ultimately rejected the radical idea of unifying the two republics and simply replaced the independent Aushev with the puppet-like Zyazikov, who allowed the security services to do anything they wanted – conduct zachistki in Ingushetia, oppress Chechen refugees and kidnap anyone whom they found to be suspicious. However, the results of this policy were pathetic: in 2004, the enraged rebels brought the war from Chechnya into Ingushetia by organizing a massive raid on the region on June 21. This rebel raid had a profound effect on the Ingush authorities. The Ingush police were seriously demoralized and Zyazikov completely lost what little support he had among the population. As a result of the raid, the influence of the insurgency in Ingushetia is now even stronger than it was in 2000-2002, because today, it consists not only of Chechens, but also of Ingush.

Zyazikov’s problems have led to renewed talks about a possible unification of the two republics. However, the Kremlin is now shifting the initiative toward its clients in Chechnya. As far back as 2003, Akhmad Kadyrov, who was then Chechnya’s president, supported the idea of unification. After his death, the role of supporting unification was adopted by Ramzan Kadyrov and Dukvakha Abdurakhamanov, the chairman of Chechnya’s pro-Russian parliament. In February, April, and August of 2006, Abdurakhmanov raised the unification issue, insisting that this would benefit both republics. Each time, Zyazikov rejected the idea. Looking closely at the timing of Abdurakhmanov’s proposals, one sees that they coincided with the trips Zyazikov made to Moscow to report to President Vladimir Putin about the economic situation in Ingushetia. In addition, rumors about Zyazikov’s possible resignation have arisen when there is evidence that Moscow is not satisfied with the efforts of the Ingush authorities to improve the local economy.

Rechkalov’s article about a possible merger of Chechnya and Ingushetia was published in Moskovsky Komsomolets on June 20, just three days before Zyazikov was to meet with Vladimir Putin. During the part of the meeting that was broadcast on Russian television, Putin asked Zyazikov why Ingushetia, which has the highest birth rate in the country, also has the highest level of unemployment. Clearly, the Russian president was expressing his dissatisfaction with the work of the authorities of Ingushetia.

Today, Ingushetia is one of the biggest concerns of the security officials in the North Caucasus. The FSB, as well as the military, does not trust the Ingush police and regularly carries out their own large-scale operations in Ingush cities and villages. The latest such security sweeps was conducted at the end of May in the town of Maglobek. According to the website, Russian army units not only surrounded the town and used armored personnel carriers and helicopters during the sweep, but also cut down trees in the nearby woods.

The Kremlin hopes that economic development will help to improve the situation in Ingushetia. However, Zyazikov appears to be too weak and incapable of changing anything in the region, and it is likely that the Russian authorities raise the unification issue through their Chechen clients simply to make the Ingush president sit up, take notice and work harder. The question, however, is how far the Kremlin might be willing to go with such an idea. Moscow may one day decide to get rid of Zyazikov and his troubled region by uniting it with Chechnya, though there is no guarantee that such a radical step will result in a better alternative.