Ingushetia on the Brink of War

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 38

Since the start of October, there have been a record number of attacks against the government in Ingushetia. The situation raises the questions of what is really happening in this small North Caucasus republic that became known to the world as a home to Chechen refugees and why the federal government has failed to establish even a semblance of order in this small enclave of just over four thousand square kilometers.

The events of the last eight months include 114 acts of terror (an average of three to four per week) and a casualty count of 28 killed and 84 wounded policemen as well as 10 killed and 35 wounded servicemen (Komsomolskaya Pravda, September 17). According to the opposition website, the first three days of October also saw attacks on personnel of Ingushetia’s Interior Ministry. According to Ingushetia’s former president, Ruslan Aushev, the power agencies have unleashed a kind of civil war against the Ingush people.

The truth is that Ingushetia has multiple problems whose boundaries are often blurred and are interrelated. Failure to take these linkages into account produces only an incomplete picture of the situation and very uncertain results.

The Refugee Issue

Ingushetia has a high concentration of refugees—numbering in the tens of thousands—who fled not only from Chechnya (this group consists of ethnic Ingush who were forced to leave Chechnya and sought to resettle in Ingushetia permanently) but also from North Ossetia (following clashes in October-November 1992 the Ossetian government implemented de facto ethnic cleansing in the Ossetian capital Vladikavkaz and its suburbs by expelling ethnic Ingush residents who had lived in these areas for several centuries). These two refugee groups remain a source of trouble for the Ingush government, and while the refugees from Chechnya have more or less resettled in Ingushetia within their assigned areas, those who fled Ossetia have no desire to stay in Ingushetia permanently and demand that the government repatriate them to their native lands that by now have been occupied by Ossetian refugees from South Ossetia [1]. Neither Murat Zyazikov nor Ruslan Aushev were able to alleviate the problem since a final decision can be made only by the federal government, which has no intention to settle these territorial disputes to the detriment of Ossetians.

The Land Issue

Ingushetia may well be the only republic in Russia without the fixed borders of an administrative subject of the Russian Federation. Apart from the politically charged issue of Ossetia’s Prigorodny district, there is also a very real problem involving Chechnya. The borders between Chechnya and Ingushetia have not been clearly delineated since 1991. Djohar Dudaev then believed that the Ingush might want to re-unite with the Chechens and that the process of separating the two republics, which were joined in the Chechen-Ingush autonomous republic, should not be hurried. As a result, the decision to establish formal boundaries between the two republics was made only recently [2]. In the meantime, the parties have abstained from making any loud statements, although each has tried to carve out a piece of land along the border at the expense of its erstwhile “brotherly” group.

Civil Opposition

A non-government movement called “The People’s Assembly of Ingushetia” is currently active in the republic. Some of the best-known civil opposition leaders include Bamatgirey Mankiev and the head of the steering committee of the national protest meeting Magomed Khazbiev, a close associate of the late Magomed Yevloev, the owner of the opposition website who was murdered on August 30, 2008. Along with the new owner of the opposition website (it has reappeared as, Magomed Aushev, Khazbiev organized the collection of signatures petitioning President Dmitry Medvedev to recall the current president of Ingushetia, Murat Zyazikov, and replace him with the first Ingush president, Ruslan Aushev (

The Ingush opposition’s problem is that it overestimates its real capabilities. It is not that popular with the Ingush public and its leaders have failed to earn public respect and appear less than professional. For instance, after collecting tens of thousands of signatures calling for the return of Ruslan Aushev, they were ready to brand him an enemy of the Ingush people simply because he did not attend Magomed Yevloev’s funeral (, September 2). Currently, the opposition is obsessed with a single idea, and that is to force Murat Zyazikov out of power.

Armed Opposition

Jamaat units reporting to the common leader Magas (aka Akhmad Yevloev) are actively operating in Ingushetia. The multi-branch structure of the jamaat gives its units the benefit of being able to stage multiple strikes across Ingushetia simultaneously and—just as importantly—in broad daylight. The jamaat leader Magas has also replaced Shamil Basaev as the military amir of the Caucasus Front, and is one of the formidable figures in the leadership hierarchy of the North Caucasus armed resistance movement. It comes as no surprise that the Magas-led Jamaat has grown into one of the most capable units of the North Caucasus resistance movement. Daily attacks on government forces and reinforcements drafted from the local youth indicate that counter-insurgency operations conducted by the Federal Security Service (FSB) are only local in nature and have no strategic effect on the jamaat’s effectiveness (interview with Ruslan Aushev, BBC Radio, October 1).

The Religious Factor

The religious factor is driven by the influence of the Salafi movement and the activities of the vird (religious brotherhood) of Batal-Hajji Belkharoyev. While the Salafists may succeed in drawing some young people into their fold, Batal-Hajji’s group is a well-established entity that operates as a vird closed to all outsiders with its own treasury, a unified chain of command and exceedingly severe discipline. Ruled solely by the principle of mutual help, the brotherhood puts its members above country, family or anything else. When it comes to the brotherhood’s activities, the government is forced to look the other way and pretend that nothing is happening. The brotherhood may kill, insult or confiscate anyone’s business without exception, using any means possible.

The Separatist Problem

This issue forms the critical difference between Chechnya and Ingushetia. While Chechnya has a well-established base of those committed to the separatist ideas that formed over the last twenty years, Ingush society has no equivalent to this group except those who took arms to join the opposition. Magomed Khazbiev’s casually-made comment that Ingushetia may solve its problems by seceding from Russia came as a shock ( No one expected even a hint of a separatist sentiment or statements from Ingushetia’s opposition. The Caucasus Times website wasted no time in suggesting that the murder of Magomed Yevloyev, the former owner of, was related to the website’s efforts to collect signatures calling for Ingushetia’s secession from Russia (Caucasus Times, September 1). It is a bit odd that no one brought that up while the owner of the oppositionist web site was still alive.

The Federal Policy Factor

As long as the federal government in Moscow accepts the claims Ingushetia’s president, Murat Zyazikov, that there is peace and order in the republic, it has to try to suppress the public opinion by mounting secret operations against those suspected of sympathies toward the separatists. Most often, these operations target young people who disappear without a trace, and the public blames the federal powers (, October 3). During her visit to the republic in September 2008 Ludmila Alekseyeva had to admit that Ingushetia’s situation today is reminiscent of the Stalin-era terror of 1937 (, September 23; North Caucasus Weekly, September 26). By continuing to back Murat Zyazikov, Moscow tries to avoid admitting problems in Ingushetia, yet it is not likely to ignore the growing trend of attacks against its power agencies for much longer. Nor is the federal center likely to call on Ruslan Aushev. The government is simply at a loss as to what to do in the region, and this is precisely the reason that the attacks on the government are growing to alarming levels.


1. A. Zverev, Ethnic Conflicts in the Caucasus. Part 1, 1996, in Contested Borders in the Caucasus, Bruno Coppieters (ed.)

2. The draft law on local self-government in Chechnya and Ingushetia was adopted by the State Duma of the Russian Federation—see Kommersant, September 1