On March 26, the head of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, unexpectedly lashed out at the republic’s law enforcement agencies, demanding that they be fully in control of the situation in the republic. He called an extraordinary meeting of law enforcement officials and the relatives of Abubakar Tsechoev, who was kidnapped on March 22 (https://ingushetia.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/203724/, March 26).
On March 22, an armed group of ten people wearing uniforms and masks sneaked into a water pump facility in the Ingush town of Ordzhnokidzevskaya, where Tsechoev and three coworkers were on duty. According to Tsechoev’s colleagues, the assailants tied them up and threatened to shoot them if they tried to move. Tsechoev himself was beaten up, handcuffed and taken away by the masked men, who reportedly spoke Russian. The assailants disabled the workers’ only car and seized their cell phones, portable radio and money. One of the workers managed to untie himself and the others hours after the masked men left the facility, and he reported the incident to the kidnapping victim’s brother, Ibragim Tsechoev, who tried to file a complaint about the kidnapping with the local police. However, the police refused to accept it, claiming that three days should pass following the disappearance of a person before a search request is eligible for filing. In 2010, one of the Tsechoev brothers, Islam, won a case against the Russian Federation in the European Court for Human Rights for being the victim of a kidnapping in 2002 (https://ingushetia.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/203602/, March 23).
Brazen kidnappings by armed men in uniforms are not rare in Ingushetia. However, it is only in recent months that Yevkurov has displayed growing impatience with illegal acts committed by law enforcement agents. At a meeting with human rights activists in Nazran, Ingushetia’s principal city, in February, Yevkurov admitted that the security services were implicated in five of the eight kidnappings that occurred in Ingushetia in 2011 (https://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/201447/, February 19). This was the first time a top North Caucasian official admitted the security services’ involvement in kidnappings. On March 22, a roadside bomb exploded as the head of Ingushetia’s branch of the Federal Social Insurance Service, Alikhan Tsechoev, was passing by in his car. Tsechoev and his driver received minor injuries in the blast. In reaction to the event, Yevkurov told the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website that “this explosion is not a terrorist attack, but is linked to internal showdowns” (https://ingushetia.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/203531/, March 22). At a meeting with law enforcement officials on March 23, Yevkurov went even further, stating that the insurgents did not stage the attempt on Alikhan Tsechoev’s life. He did not rule out the involvement of the security services in the attack (https://ingushetia.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/203569/, March 23).
Yunus-Bek Yevkurov is a security services officer himself, with a background in Russian military intelligence. He was not previously known for speaking out on sensitive matters, such as the alleged involvement of the Russian security services in the kidnapping of civilians. It is unclear what is behind the sudden change in Yevkurov’s rhetoric. One possibility is that growing Russian nationalism is also starting to provoke a backlash in the North Caucasus, so that even Moscow’s loyalists in the region are feeling the new trend and are affected by it. Another possibility is that Yevkurov, facing utter frustration among Ingushetia’s population and Moscow’s disappointment with his conduct, is under extreme duress to do something decisive about the continuing violence in the republic, but has few instruments at his disposal. Severe limits on his power, coupled with increasing demands by the local population that their security be ensured, may have driven Yevkurov to resort to public revelations.
Ironically, no relevant party to the conflict is likely to appreciate Yevkurov’s bold public statements. The security services will not be happy with his accusations, as they are comfortable with the existing order that gives them a free hand to carry out virtually any operation. Ingushetia’s population is equally disappointed by Yevkurov’s statements, since no actions are likely to follow his remarks. Ingushetia’s opposition website Ingushetiyaru.org derided Yevkurov’s attempt to frame the attack on the Federal Social Insurance Service official as an “internal showdown” and not as a terrorist attack (https://ingushetia.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/203569/, March 23).
Another point of contention between Yevkurov and Ingushetia’s opposition is the territorial dispute over the Prigorodny district of neighboring North Ossetia. Yevkurov withdrew all Ingush claims to the district, which many Ingush believe is the “cradle of the Ingush nation” and should belong to Ingushetia. In the broader context, North Ossetia serves as a point of reference for Ingushetia and the Ingush express resentment against what they perceive as the Ossetians’ better treatment by Moscow. The list of Ingush grievances against Russia includes the Stalin-era forcible relocation of the entire population of Ingushetia from its homeland to Central Asia, with its attendant material losses and loss of human lives. Ingushetiyaru.org called Ingushetia’s history since its accession into Russia in the 18th century an “uninterrupted chain of tragedy, pain and humiliation.” On March 25, Ingush officials celebrated with great pomp the 242nd anniversary of the Ingush people’s accession into Russia (https://ingushetiyaru.org/news/22809.html, March 25).
The well-known Russian political analyst Sergei Markedonov noted the unexpected effect Moscow’s recent appointment of Taimuraz Mamsurov, the head of North Ossetia, as Russia’s special representative for South Ossetia might have on Ingushetia’s politics. According to Markedonov, Mamsurov’s promotion to the special representative position by default created a national politician out of a republican head. This might evoke further resentment among the Ingush and increase their propensity to cooperate with Georgia, especially as the latter has recently pursued a much more proactive approach to the North Caucasus (https://www.ekhokavkaza.com/content/article/24526842.html, March 25).
The institution of puppet governors that Moscow introduced in the North Caucasus and elsewhere in Russia is increasingly showing signs of dysfunction in Ingushetia where, without real tools for managing the region’s affairs, the governor is expected to satisfy the often divergent goals of Moscow but also that of the local population as well.