Fate of Ingush Opposition Leader Sparks Struggle Between Kadyrov and Yevkurov

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 16 Issue: 3

Shortly after the governor of Ingushetia, Yunus-bek Yevkurov, said he intended to do away with everyone connected to the armed opposition in the republic (Kavkasia.net, December 30, 2014), it started to become apparent that his targets were not only regional militants. One of the targets is Ingushetia’s opposition leader Magomed Khazbiev, who has been under the government’s close scrutiny for a long time. Khazbiev is also the leader of the Republican Party of Russia–the Party of People’s Liberty (PARNAS), which makes him formally a regional-level politician. Khazbiev was considered to be the successor to the owner of the popular opposition website, Ingushetiya.ru, Magomed Yevloev, who was killed in 2008 by the bodyguards of the then-president of Ingushetia, Murad Zyazikov (Lenta.ru, August 31, 2008). In April 2013, a Russian court ruled that Ingushetiya.ru was an extremist website (Kavkazsky Uzel, April 4, 2013).

At the end of January, the Ingush authorities unexpectedly charged Khazbiev and members of his family with stealing expensive cars and illegally possessing arms and ammunition (Kommersant, January 25). Given how closely he is watched by the government, it is unlikely that Khazbiev would have engaged in the activities he is accused of. The authorities, for some reason, also arrested his father and his brothers. The opposition leader was not arrested since the authorities did not know his whereabouts. Khazbiev published a video on the Internet (YouTube, January 31), in which he accused the government of staging a provocation against him. He said the police planted weapons in his home and that the car theft charge is not serious. According to the opposition leader, the republican authorities attacked him because he supported Ramzan Kadyrov’s rally in Grozny against the caricatures in the French magazine Charlie Hebdo (Lenta.ru, January 19). In his struggle with the authorities of Ingushetia, Khazbiev has repeatedly relied on the support of the Chechen leader, who is the main rival of Ingushetia’s governor Yunus-Bek Yevkurov. Khazbiev travels to Grozny quite often, and he even mediated the conflict between the most famous Ingush Muslim scholar, Khamzat Chumakov, and Kadyrov’s entourage (Kavpolit.com, August 17, 2014).

Any contacts between Ingush activists and Ramzan Kadyrov, of course, are seen by the government of Ingushetia as suspicious. Ingush officials regard ties to Kadyrov as an attempt by Ingush opposition leaders to improve their standing in Moscow’s eyes by showing that they have the support of Kadyrov (Galgayche.org, January 27). Ingush authorities have repeatedly charged Khazbiev with administrative violations for organizing illegal mass protests. Each time, the opposition leader got off with fines or administrative arrest for a few days. This time, however, the Ingush police are intent on charging Khazbiev with criminal activities that could potentially land him in prison (Kommersant, January 27). Khazbiev’s lawyer still said that his client was invited by the investigators as a witness, not as a suspect. While appealing the decisions of the investigators, Khazbiev went to Grozny to undergo a medical examination, according to his lawyer (Kavkazsky Uzel, February 1).

The situation changed radically on Sunday, February 1, when an attempt on Khazbiev’s life was made right on the doorsteps of the Fourth City Hospital in Grozny, where he underwent medical procedures (Regnum, February 2). Although, Khazbiev himself was not injured, investigators found ten bullets in his car (Novayagazeta.ru, February 1). Yet, the investigators’ first step was to detain the victim himself, who was placed under arrest on February 4 (Svoboda.org, February 6). The Ingush authorities had put Khazbiev on the Russian federal wanted list, which technically required the Chechen police to detain him and to impose the corresponding legal restraints on his movements prior to handing him over to the police in Ingushetia (Kavkazsky Uzel, February 5).

On February 6, however, Khazbiev was not simply released, but also put under government protection on the orders of the Chechen authorities to defend him from possible attacks or illegal attempts to detain him (Ia-maximum.ru, February 6). Ingush investigators are demanding that Khazbiev be arrested and transferred to Ingushetia.

The Ingush Interior Ministry began persecuting Khazbiev after he scathingly criticized the leadership of the republic and published his address on the Internet, according to Magomed Mutsolgov, the head of the Ingush human rights organization Mashr. According to Mutsolgov, the official charges against the relatives of Khazbiev who are suspected of car theft and illegal arms possession are dubious and appear to be political in nature, rather than legal (Kavkazsky Uzel, February 7).

Anyone who criticizes the head of Ingushetia runs the risk of being accused of criminal activities and persecuted across the Russia Federation until he is arrested and sentenced to a prison term. The leadership of Ingushetia tries to control even those who are capable of public actions and have the support of national politicians and neighboring republics. In the case of Khazbiev, the leaders of Ingushetia and Chechnya are continuing the rivalry they have been long engaged in for the past several years and that will continue as long as the two remain in power.

A new political phenomenon can be discerned in the circumstances surrounding Khazbiev’s arrest. One Russian region (in this case, Chechnya) does not recognize the actions of law enforcement agencies in the other neighboring region (in this case, Ingushetia). The relationship between the two regions, therefore, resembles that found in a more confederative type of state rather than a federation. This is one of the significant indicators of the weakening of Russian state power in the peripheral regions. Moscow cannot eradicate these unwarranted interactions of the regions, which renders the state a weak actor in the eyes of the regional population.