On May 12, Ingushetia’s most well-known opposition organization Mehk-Khel published an address to the newly elected president of Russia, Vladimir Putin. Ingushetia’s opposition called on Putin to dismiss the head of the region, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov. The authors of the open letter cited “critical political and socio-economic situation” in the republic and Yevkurov’s inability to provide “effective” governance as the reasons for Yevkurov’s dismissal (ingushetiyaru.org, May 12).
Criticism against Yevkurov arrives at a sensitive moment for the head of Ingushetia. Not only does Yevkurov’s first term in office come to an end in the fall 2013, but also Moscow is reintroducing elections of the regional governors in the fall 2012, while the law comes into force on June 1, 2012. According to the well-known analyst with ties to the Kremlin, Gleb Pavolvsky, reintroduction of the regional governors’ elections was hardly discussed in the Russian government and its consequences are largely unpredictable. In the spring 2012, Moscow started to reshuffle the governors, hurriedly reappointing some, to ensure they are not voted out from their office and dismissing others, to avoid their re-election. Pavlovsky, who had a disagreement with the Kremlin several years ago, described the changes in governance as this: “We have neither a system of federal governance nor regional autonomy. What we have is a murky grey zone, in which the big guys that are semi-elected and semi-appointed will only grow stronger” (ng.ru, May 15). In the North Caucasus setting, Pavlovsky’s remarks mean that the Kremlin will try to retain as much control as possible over the regional governors’ candidacies that run for office. This in turn means that Moscow is likely to adhere to conservative scenarios, applying only minimal changes.
Despite Moscow’s cautionary approach to the North Caucasus, return of elections may press the governors to be more responsive to population needs, at least rhetorically. In the first half of 2012 Yunus-Bek Yevkurov has adopted a much more populist rhetoric than he used to employ previously. In an interview for the liberal-leaning, Moscow-based radio station, Radio Ekho Moskvy, Yevkurov lay claims to the disputed Prigorodny district of North Ossetia, saying “[u]ntil there is at least one Ingush in the world, he will never agree that this [disputed] land belongs to another republic, to another people. This is our land and, of course, everybody understands that”. He also criticized the law enforcements for human rights violations in the republic. Yevkurov’s overtures to the public opinion, however, may be “too little, too late”. His critics remind the public that Yevkurov have authorized killings of young people in the republic and have promoted the principle of collective punishment of the relatives of rebels. “Yevkurov talks of collective responsibility so often, that I think, if the political situation changes, collective responsibility will apply to his relatives”, an author of Ingushetia’s opposition website wrote (ingushetiyaru.org, May 10).
According to Ingushetia’s opposition, under Yevkurov, the numerous talks about government programs for economic recovery of the region yielded no results while the unemployment rate continued to rise, making Ingushetia the worst republic throughout Russian Federation. The opposition claimed that “[u]nder the disguise of fighting terrorism, dissenting people of various age and even gender, are eliminated by the government." Ingushetia’s Mehk-Khel organization concluded that Putin should “urgently” replace Yevkurov with “a more adequate, competent and capable person.” Otherwise, the activists warned, they would launch a campaign of collecting signatures with a petition for Yevkurov’s resignation as well as address the international community with their concerns (ingushetiyaru.org, May 12).
Yunus-Bek Yevkurov was appointed in the fall 2008 by then president Dmitry Medvedev. Since Medvedev has left his office, Vladimir Putin may feel free to dismiss Yevkurov now. However, Yevkurov’s replacement should also provide the Russian security services with the free hand to operate in the republic; otherwise a standoff between Moscow and Ingushetia will be inevitable. All of Ingushetia’s governors in the past 20 years came from the Russian military and security services. The first president of Ingushetia, Ruslan Aushev was member of the Russian military. The second president of Ingushetia, Ruslan Zyazikov came from KGB/FSB. The third governor, Yevkurov also came from the military intelligence. Now, when elections loom ahead, it might be challenging for Moscow to install another military or security services’ person in Ingushetia. At the same time a civilian Ingush leader is likely to challenge the security services’ practices in Ingushetia. In 2011 the rights activists counted 19 kidnappings in one of the smallest republics of the North Caucasus, up from 13 kidnapped people in 2010 (mashr.org/?page_id=7). In addition, scores of people were killed in the republic, including civilians. On April 3, 2012, the security services killed 5 people and the Russian antiterrorist committee promptly announced them “rebels”. However, it quickly transpired that at least 3 of the killed people, including a middle aged woman, could not have been involved in illegal activities (see EDM, April 11, 2012). To date authorities have provided little more than apologies and financial compensation to the families of the victims. It has become an established practice that, even in cases where law enforcement brazenly kills North Caucasus civilians, no investigation and punishment for the servicemen and officials involved will follow.
The changing political environment in Russia prompts the public in Ingushetia to play a more proactive role to press for change in the leadership of the republic. Moscow, in the meantime, will be forced to adopt more subtle mechanisms of control over the republic. Transition from authoritarianism to participatory governance in the North Caucasus in an orderly fashion is still a possibility, although Moscow is unlikely to reach this path voluntarily.