Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 218

On November 4, the Kabardino-Balkaria branch of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) summoned Ruslan Nakhushov, chairman of the local Islamic Institute, for interrogation. According to Kommersant, Nakhushov visited the FSB the very day that the summons was served. He returned to his office after the interrogation, but somebody called him from the FSB and asked him to return. Nakhushov complied and, after the second visit, called Susanna Varitlova, his deputy, to say that everything was fine and that he would be in his office in 10 minutes. Nobody has seen Nakhushov since. He apparently disappeared, and his cell phone is not working (Kommersant, November 7).

Nakhushov, a former KGB officer who worked in North Africa, became a famous public figure in Kabardino-Balkaria early the 1990s. After the first Chechen war (1994-96) Nakhushov worked for the Peacemaking Mission of Russian General Alexander Lebed. Nakhushov is credited with freeing 180 Russian prisoners-of-war from Chechnya (Kommersant, November 7).

Together with Anzor Astemirov and Musa Mukozhev, Nakhushov organized the Islamic Institute, which seeks to protect the rights of the Muslims in Kabardino-Balkaria. Nakhushov sharply criticized the local security officials’ repressive actions toward the Muslim population. Unlike Astemirov, who became the leader of Yarmuk rebel group, and Mukozhev, who went underground, Nakhushov had always tried to find legal ways to solve problems, and he preferred to negotiate rather than to use violence. After the October 13 attack on Nalchik, the capital of the republic (see EDM, October 15), Nakhushov offered to negotiate between the authorities and the Islamic rebels. Arsen Kanokov, president of Kabardino-Balkaria, planned to meet with Nakhushov to discuss a possible dialogue with the Muslims. In an interview with Novaya gazeta Kanokov called Nakhushov “a candidate for building a bridge to negotiate with young Muslims” (Novaya gazeta, October 31).

Nakhushov’s relatives and friends immediately blamed security officials for his disappearance. “We still hope that he will appear again, but such witnesses are usually not left alive. Ruslan had a lot of information on very sensitive issues about the activities of the special services in Kabardino-Balkaria,” journalist Orkhan Dzhemal told Kavkazsky Uzel (November 7). The law-enforcement agencies did not like Nakhushov’s activity, and his office had been raided several times. On November 11, Nikolai Shepel, the deputy Russian prosecutor-general for the Southern Federal District, hinted that Nakhushov might have gone into hiding because criminal proceedings had been started against him for assisting terrorists. However, Shepel’s words only served to fuel rumors that Nakhushov had been kidnapped by security officials. “He did not plan to hide or to be on the run,” his lawyer insisted (Kavkazsky Uzel, November 11). Regnum news agency sources linked to law-enforcement agencies also believe that Nakhushov was kidnapped by the local FSB (regnum, November 11).

Nakhushov’s disappearance from the Kabardino-Balkaria political scene could stymie the last chance to start a peace process in the region. After the raid on Nalchik, President Kanokov was ready for a dialogue. He made a speech on local television and promised to return the bodies of the rebels and civilians killed in the attack to their relatives. However, he had to change his tone after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Kanokov claims that Putin told him that everything should be done by the book, which in practice meant that no corpses would be returned. Kanokov also obliquely indicated in his television interview that the Russian authorities were very hesitant to build new mosques in Kabardino-Balkaria, saying that they would start the process “very slowly and carefully” (Novaya gazeta, October 31).

The Kremlin and local security officials did not welcome the measures proposed by Kanokov, including a dialogue with the rebels through Nakhushov, opening mosques, and returning the bodies. According to Kommersant, Kanokov has a problem dealing with the republican Ministry of Internal Affairs, which directly reports to Moscow. On November 11, a group of Russian politicians, public figures, and human rights activists, including Boris Nadezhdin, a deputy chairman of the Union of the Right Forces political party, held a press conference in Moscow at which they blamed the administration of the Russian president and security officials for the “destabilization in the Caucasian republics.” The group demanded serious changes in Russia’s ethnic minority and religious policies (Kavkazsky Uzel, November 8).

However, the disappearance of Nakhushov and the failure of Kanokov to control the law-enforcement agencies suggest that the policy is unlikely to be significantly altered in the near future.