For some time now, bad news coming out of Ingushetia has been treated as “business as usual”: reports of explosions, arrests and assassinations have become a trademark of this North Caucasus region. In part, this is reminiscent of the earlier times in Chechnya, but the analogy does not always hold. The difference between Chechnya and Ingushetia is that in the case of the latter, the conflict cuts across multiple sectors of society: there is the Ingush intelligentsia against the government; the Sharia Jamaat and its leader Magas against the official powers; and Ingush businessmen against each other in a fight over spheres of influence.
Few today would deny that the biggest and the most acute concerns for both the local and federal governments are over the operations of the Sharia Jamaat under the leadership of Amir Magas (Akhmed Yevloev). Yevloev also commands the military units of the North Caucasus resistance movement as the successor to Shamil Basaev, who was assassinated in Ingushetia on the night of July 9, 2006.
A brief review of only last week’s news (February 18-24) finds reports of almost daily losses among law-enforcement personnel, while information on casualties among the rebel fighters is much harder to come by. For instance:
February 23: “On Saturday unidentified attackers fired on a vehicle carrying local policemen in the village of Ordzhonikidzevskaya in Ingushetia’s Suzhenski district (Interfax). Yusup Dzarakhov, a member of the traffic police corps of the Ministry of Interior of the Russian Federation in Ingushetia, was shot near the Yandare village of Nazran district (Kavkazky Uzel). Starting on February 23, all Interior Ministry troops began operating in an emergency mode due to the upcoming Russian presidential elections in Russia (Interfax-Yug).
February 22: Unknown individuals thought to be driving a VAZ-2107 vehicle in Nazran’s Barsuki district fired automatic weapons on a UAZ-469 vehicle transporting the personnel of the Interior Ministry’s Nazran department.
February 20: One policeman was killed and another wounded during an armed attack on a post located on the Caucasus highway in Nazran.
February 19: A VAZ 2107 vehicle carrying an official came under fire (Ingushetiya.ru); that same evening, a movie theatre in Nazran was fired on (Newsru.com, February 19).
February 18: An explosive device was detonated in the vehicle of an employee of the Interior Ministry’s Nazran department in an apparent assassination attempt (Ingushetiya.ru). Later that evening, a group of unknown persons fired machine guns and grenade launchers at the residence of Ibrahim Malsagov, the chairman of the Government of the Republic of Ingushetia (Ingushetiya.ru).
Thus, attacks against law-enforcement personnel occur almost daily. This level of conflict exists in only two regions of the North Caucasus, Ingushetia and Dagestan, making these two republics the least stable in the region and posing the greatest challenge for Moscow when it comes to trying to present a picture of a region at peace.
As for the relationship between the opposition and the government of Ingushetia, it is worth noting that things have escalated to a new level of intensity. After failed attempts to organize protests against the actions of Ingushetia’s president, Murat Zyazikov (September 19, 2007; January 26, 2008; and February 23, 2008), the opposition began compiling what may be described as parallel lists of the future parliament of Ingushetia—a process that started with a series of clan (teip) meetings across the republic to elect deputies to represent the teip. These meetings are a new phenomenon, and approximately ten of them have already been held by some of the largest Ingush teips, including the Aushevs, Ozdoevs, Kartoevs, Yevloevs, Kotievs, Nalgievs, Khalukhaevs, Sultygovs, etc. According to the opposition’s plan, the elected teip deputies will form a Mekh-Khel, a traditional council of the nation or Council of Elders. It will, of course, be a non-government organization, but the fact that its members have been elected at meetings of each of the clans will give it a strong leverage against the power bodies that Murat Zyazikov has staffed with United Russia party members.
The opposition also plans to boycott the Russian presidential elections set for early March and to use the boycott to demonstrate that the official powers will yet again manipulate the numbers in order to deliver a fantastic percentage of votes to please Moscow and Vladimir Putin personally. The local governments of the North Caucasus are running an informal competition for securing the highest popular election turnout, so we can expect more numbers like 99 percent in support of Dmitry Medvedev, the new Russian president who has already been pre-elected by Vladimir Putin.
One should also note another development that has remained off the mass media’s radar. A visit by a group of Ingush youth supporters of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party to Chechnya to attend meetings with President Ramzan Kadyrov (www.edinros.ru/news.html?id=128050), along with a concurrent address by Ingush President Murad Zyazikov to Chechen and Ingush youth (http://chechnya.gov.ru/page.php?r=116&id=26), may indicate that the two leaders of the adjacent republics are coordinating their activities. Evidently, the authorities in Moscow have decided that joint actions involving the Chechen and Ingush leaderships may change the situation in Ingushetia for the better.
Additionally, Ramzan Kadyrov has for the first time voiced public criticism of the Ingush opposition and support for the policies of Murat Zyazikov. Kadyrov’s statements that the “well-fed” opposition is trying to destabilize the situation in Ingushetia was met with an outraged response published online by Ingushetia’s only opposition web portal, Ingushetiya.ru, under the self-explanatory headline “Ramzan Kadyrov, Who Drowned the Chechen People in Blood, is Trying to Meddle in Ingushetia’s Affairs” (Ingushetiya.ru, February 22, 2008). The worst-case scenario for the Ingush would be if Zyazikov’s position in Ingushetia were strengthened the way Kadyrov’s was in Chechnya. In spite of overwhelming support from Moscow, Zyazikov has still failed to consolidate power or become even a pale imitation of his Chechen counterpart.
As for the internal squabbles of Ingushetia’s businessmen, despite the departure of the Gutseriev teip from Ingushetia, the government has not only failed to defeat its once-powerful opponent, Mikhail Gutseriev, but the power struggle in Ingushetia has become a corruption-mired conflict between various clans. If before there was only Gutseriev, now there are numerous smaller Ingush businesses attempting to secure their positions in the available markets and recruit new patrons among officials in the Kremlin administration in Moscow.
The developments in Ingushetia, therefore, are somewhat similar to the situation in Dagestan, where lines of conflict in various areas—politics, civil society and the market —have also been drawn. As in Dagestan, it is certain that the Russian government’s actions in Ingushetia will not serve to promote peace in the republic. On the contrary, what will follow is the radicalization of society, which, seeing no chance to influence the government, will become more belligerent toward it. The Russian government may win back some support in Ingushetia when the new Russian president comes to office and the opposition attempts to use him to put pressure on Murat Zyazikov. However, after a few months the people will recognize that the change of presidential guard does not equal systemic change, and things will remain as they were under Putin. Therefore, during the next year or two Ingushetia will remain a political battlefield between various forces in Ingush society. It should also be noted that there is no single leader in Ingushetia capable of bringing people to the streets and becoming a real opposition to the official government.