Late on the night of February 27, Magomed Chakhkiev, a deputy to the parliament of Ingushetia, was driving in the town of Nazran when masked gunmen suddenly blocked his way near the town’s main sports arena. The gunmen shot through the wheels of Chakhkiev’s car, wounded his driver, and forced the deputy into their car. Chakhkiev had been kidnapped (Interfax, February 27).
The 70-year-old Chakhkiev is considered one of the most prosperous residents of Ingushetia. A former general in the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), Chakhkiev is the father-in-law of both Murat Zyazikov, the Ingush president, and the republic’s prosecutor-general. Chakhkiev is Zyazikov’s most trusted ally and the president often charges him with highly important tasks.
After the kidnapping local security officials began to speculate about the kidnappers’ political motives. “The purpose of this crime is to destabilize the situation and to scare the population,” a source in the Ingush Ministry of Interior Affairs told Itar-Tass news agency. “Law-enforcement agencies are investigating only the political version of the kidnapping” (Itar-Tass, February 28). Zyazikov issued a statement in which he blamed “dark forces” for the kidnapping (lenta.ru, March 1).
However, such official declarations were too vague for the general public to understand who really would benefit from kidnapping Chakhkiev. However, the situation became clearer in two days. “We have information about who could be involved in the kidnapping,” Beslan Khamkhoev, the Ingush minister of interior affairs, told Kommersant. According to the newspaper, this could be local insurgents from the Sunzha Jamaat group (Kommersant, March 2).
The Kommersant article also offered an explanation for the kidnapping. Chakhkiev is the coordinator of a federal program to return ethnic Russians to Ingushetia. The objective of the program is to encourage Russian civilians who had left the North Caucasus in the 1990s to return to the region, especially to Chechnya and Ingushetia. The program was started last May when Russian President Vladimir Putin declared, “Certainly great efforts should be taken at the federal level to make people… return to their homes” (see EDM, June 16, 2005). The fist step of the program is to have Russians come back to Sunzha, a district in Ingushetia adjacent to Chechnya where ethnic Russians were in the majority in the 1980s. Even now the largest townships in Sunzha have Russian names, such as Troitskaya, Slepttsovskaya, and Nesterovskaya.
The investigators in Ingushetia believe that the rebels kidnapped Chakhkiev to abort the program for bringing ethnic Russians back to Sunzha. Furthermore, they believe the kidnapping was only one part of the insurgents’ strategy.
On January 9, the Kavkazcenter rebel website published an interview with Chechen warlord Shamil Basaev, the commander of the North Caucasus rebel forces, who said that it had been decided at the last meeting of Caucasian rebel field commanders “to eliminate the colonists across the entire Caucasus who collaborate with the occupational forces of Russia.” Also in January Ingush guerillas initiated a terror campaign against ethnic Russians who had just settled in the republic, mostly in Sunzha.
On January 20 two masked gunmen attacked the home of the Zarudnevs, a Russian family in the village of Slepttsovskya. Vladimir Zarudnev and Segei Lenkov, his guest, were killed; Vladimir’s wife and son were injured (Kavkazky Uzel, January 20). On February 25 in Troitskaya a 64-year old woman, Valentina Gorokhova, was seriously injured when a live hand grenade was thrown into her house. The same night, the insurgents killed another Russian woman in Slepttsovskaya (Kavkazky Uzel, February 26). On March 5, after Chakhkiev was kidnapped, the gunmen threw hand grenades into the homes of two more Russian families in Slepttsovskaya, but this time no one was hurt (Kavkazky Uzel, March 6).
The authorities started to panic after the last anti-Russian raid in the republic. Unable to respond effectively, the Ingush Ministry of Interior affairs issued a statement that said, “The attack on the houses of ethnic Russians is an attempt to block the process of the return of Russians to Ingushetia” (regions.ru, March 7).
Everything points to a direct link between the kidnapping of Chakhkiev and the terror campaign against ethnic Russians in Ingushetia. These events appear to be part of the rebel strategy to expel the Russian population from the North Caucasus. The insurgents regard ethnic Russians as a “fifth column” of the security officials and they regard the Russian Orthodox Church as an ideological outpost of Russia in the region.
Nevertheless, there is another reason for the anti-Russian terror in Ingushetia: by trying to block the Kremlin’s policy of bringing ethnic Russians back to the region, Basaev wants to prove to Putin once again who really controls the North Caucasus.