Ingushetia’s New President Faces an Uphill Battle

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 10 Issue: 4

The appointment of Yunus-bek Yevkurov, the career military intelligence officer with experience in the Kosovo (1999) and Chechnya (2000) wars, as the president of Ingushetia, the smallest North Caucasian republic, in late October 2008 was perceived by its people as opening up the possibility of changes for the better. However, this Russia army colonel’s first 100 days in office are likely to see no improvements in the political-military in the republic. Since the moment of his appointment, people in the republic have been expecting him to put an end to the extrajudicial executions of Ingush youth that are carried out under the guise of counter-terrorist operations and to the arrests and detentions of those who deviate from the principles of traditional Islam.

Yevkurov was not picked to become the president of Ingushetia out of the blue. According to Yevkurov, Kremlin emissaries had been meeting with him for quite a while to gauge his views and understanding of the situation in the republic (Magas.ru, January 13). In other words, even though Kremlin functionaries carried out similar character vetting of other Ingush politicians of various statures (largely from among the Moscow-based political elites), Yevkurov’s appointment was not a surprise for him. The Kremlin needed a man who would trust Moscow unconditionally, which is why Yevkurov was selected. He is not like Ruslan Aushev, who had an independent point of view and who stood behind his decisions but, despite his military (meaning rigid) character, he is also not like Murat Zyazikov. The appointment of this military intelligence officer signals a new stage in Moscow’s struggle against the armed opposition in the region and implies that Moscow will place its bets on military professionalism and stop pretending everything is fine.  

All of this is rather temporary, however, because any president of Ingushetia would have to deal with the bases of Ingush society, which consists of family clans, and thus in exchange for one thieving member, the family (teip, or clan) will instantly find another from among his or her relatives. Thus, under these conditions, it is premature to speak of the real replacement of corrupt bureaucrats, as the opposition hopes will happen.

Immediately following Yevkurov’s appointment, it was possible to get the impression that something was beginning to change as the news about armed assaults by the militants suddenly disappeared and the attacks on the republic’s residents by unknown armed groups declined. Then it became clear that the lull in militant activities did not include operations carried out by militants from the jamaat led by Emir Magas. As a matter of fact, for a long time both the opposition and population at large thought or were told to think that all the blame for the situation in the republic was with Zyazikov, and, as a result, everyone assumed that once he departed everything would become normal. In the end Zyazikov did leave, but the problems remain unsolved, just as they were when he was the president.

This means that the reason for the problems was not Zyazikov personally, but could be found within Ingush society itself because Ingushetia, under the influence of the Chechen war, had been transformed into a new state. It is no longer the kind of society that can be regulated by traditions and customs, as was the case prior to the Chechen war. A vivid example of this was the fact that in an attempt to force Zyazikov to resign, the opposition chose a so-called parallel parliament (People’s Parliament) based on the results of the elections of delegates from different clans. However, this parliament has never convened. This institution, which existed in Ingush society in medieval times, cannot function today because clan and family interactions have changed so much that the mechanism itself became a kind of atavism. Today it is nothing more than a footprint of the distant past. The Chechens went through the same formative stage in 1990-1992 and also failed to form a teip-based parliament.

The so-called opposition turned out to be a circle of people who were only dissatisfied with Zyazikov, because after his departure the opposition actively joined the coterie of supporters surrounding the new president (http://www.rosbalt.ru/2008/10/31/537757.html). Moreover, the only opposition-oriented website, Ingushetia.org, is apparently taking a time out, because it features no criticism of the republic’s new leadership. One of the first decisions of the new president was to hold consultations with opposition members, who expressed their trust in him (http://47.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/143801). To the surprise of local residents, the new president suddenly began meeting with them during the Friday prayers in various village mosques, and this produced an avalanche of public approval. He visited the family of Magomed Yevloev (the slain founder of Ingushetiya.ru, the predecessor of Ingushetia.org, who was killed by the members of Zyazikov’s entourage) and other Ingush families whose relatives had been killed. This signaled a positive development for Ingushetia. However, time will tell whether this was a predetermined step of Yevkurov’s image makers or his basic belief as the Ingush leader. Nonetheless, it is alarming that as soon as Yevkurov touches the question of the republic’s militants, any hint of diplomacy disappears. He begins to speak with visible irritation about “parents who should know where their children are and what they do.” This is a well-known formula, one that has been adopted by Ramzan Kadyrov in Chechnya and obfuscates collective responsibility. Against this backdrop, to hope that the “death squads” would simply disappear into thin air with the departure of Zyazikov would be inexcusable naiveté on the part of anyone who follows the situation in Ingushetia.

While rumors are circulating that Yevkurov met with the leader of militants, Emir Magas (Akhmed Yevloev), and during the meeting attempted to convince the rebel leader to leave Ingushetia, the likelihood that such a rendezvous took place appears little to non-existent. Emir Magas is unlikely to trust Yevkurov, and the Kremlin would most likely have taken advantage of such a meeting to liquidate its most avowed enemy in the republic. The cornerstone of tensions in Ingushetia is represented by the interactions between the authorities and the militants. The militants ignore the authorities, while the authorities are trying their best to eliminate everything that has to do with the militants. In the context of such a balance of power, contact between the militant leader Emir Magas and the professional intelligence officer Yevkurov is unimaginable.

When Ingushetia’s prosecutor general, Yury Turygyn, spoke last year of thousands of criminal offenses, including many serious crimes such as the assassination of law-enforcement officials, daily armed assaults and attacks on bureaucrats (Ekho Moskvy, November 9, 2008), it is important to understand that the issue at hand has nothing to do with conventional criminality but with the armed opposition. One of the recent innovations invented by government lawyers is the term of “suspected terrorists,” which implies that it is no longer necessary to possess facts and that conjectures are sufficient to use deadly force in order to physically eliminate people (http://ingushetia.org/news/17818.html).

The Sharia Jamaat under the leadership of Emir Magas is increasingly concentrating its attacks on police officers and Federal Security Service (FSB) operatives, although it also frequently targets religious leaders, who are trying to talk the youth out of joining the resistance. The jamaat’s capabilities have improved to the point that it does not need supplemental manpower and has shifted its focus to the qualitative improvement of its ranks. This is why the jamaat has launched its own web resource (www.hunafa.com), which is popular among the youth and is accessed by those who are not involved in the resistance movement but sympathize with it. This is why any talk about the tensions in Ingushetia being defused through dialogue between the authorities and population is likely to be either self-delusion or a simple ideological tool used by the authorities in their struggle with the armed opposition. This struggle is the main problem that any head of the republic will have to face and, given that it is based on the diametrically opposed values of the two warring sides, we can be certain that this standoff will last for a long time to come.