Ingushetia’s parliament on October 31 confirmed Yunus-Bek Yevkurov as the republic’s president, replacing Murat Zyazikov, who resigned the previous day (North Caucasus Weekly, October 31). According to Itar-Tass, 16 legislators out of the 18 who attended the session voted to confirm the 45-year-old colonel, while one voted against and one ballot was invalidated.
According to Itar-Tass, Yevkurov was born into an ethnic Ingush family in North Ossetia and graduated from the Ryazan Higher School of Airborne Troops in 1989. In 2004, he graduated from the Academy of the Russian Armed Forces General Staff, Russia’s highest military education institution.
In 1999, Yevkurov commanded a unit of Russian paratroopers that entered Kosovo and took control of the international airport ahead of the forces of other countries. As the Moscow Times wrote on November 1, Russian media reported that Yevkurov led the 200-man contingent that caught NATO off guard by racing from Bosnia to Kosovo to occupy the airport in Kosovo’s capital of Pristina, an operation at the end of the Kosovo war that “risked a dangerous confrontation with NATO troops, who were also heading to the airport.” According to the English-language newspaper, it was later revealed that an armed clash was only averted because the local NATO commander, British General Michael Jackson, refused to be involved in a conflict that could “start World War III.” However, Itar-Tass, in its description of the incident, wrote that the Russian race to occupy the airport in Pristina “went down in the history of the Russian Airborne Troops as one of the most successful peacekeeping operations.”
Yevkurov subsequently served in command positions within Russia’s airborne troops and also held high-ranking positions in the Defense Ministry and in civilian organizations, Itar-Tass and Warheroes.ru reported. He was awarded the title of the Hero of Russia in 2000 for displaying exemplary courage while carrying out his professional duties in the North Caucasus, and then-President Vladimir Putin said during the ceremony at which Yevkurov received the award that the colonel had located and freed from captivity 12 federal soldiers while conducting reconnaissance missions. In 2004, Yevkurov was appointed deputy head of the Intelligence Directorate of the Volga-Urals Military District.
Kaloi Akhilgov, a lawyer for the opposition website Ingushetia.org, whose owner Magomed Yevloev was shot to death after being detained by police in Nazran last August, told the Rosbalt News Agency in an interview published in October 31 that the Kremlin had wanted to appoint Yevkurov as Ingushetia’s president earlier. “This was the third time they asked him, but he had always refused,” Akhilgov said. “He did not want to accept this time either, but they insisted and he probably got some concessions.”
The Moscow Times on November 1 quoted Aleksei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center as saying of Yevkurov: “From what I hear, he is a tough guy, very tough.” The newspaper quoted a source in Ingushetia’s regional presidential administration as saying that the appointment of Yevkurov as the republic’s president would not be a temporary one and that he “will be president for five years.”
Interfax on November 4 quoted Ingush opposition lawyer Musa Pliev as saying that he and opposition leaders Magomed Khazbiev and Maksharip Aushev had met with Yevkurov since he was named to replace Murat Zyazikov. “The meeting lasted a long time and the president was asked very many questions,” Pliev told Interfax of the meeting. “The head of the republic also asked many questions.” Yevkurov “came across as an amiable person,” Pliev said. “With regard to his actions in politics we cannot comment so far, we need to look at his deeds.” Pliev said he and his follow opposition leaders presented Yevkurov with “factual materials” and “documents” about instances of corruption and kidnapping in Ingushetia and that the new president said he had visited relatives of slain website founder Magomed Yevloev and offered condolences to Yevloev’s parents. Pliev said that when they asked Yevkurov to ensure that there will be an objective investigation into Yevloev’s death, he “promised to provide cooperation if necessary.”
Meanwhile, lawyers for Magomed Yevloev’s relatives have put in an official request to the Nazran District Court to question Murat Zyazikov as a witness in connection with Yevloev’s death. Kommersant on November 6 quoted Musa Pliev as saying that the ultimate purpose of the move would be to turn the former president of Ingushetia from being simply a witness to Yevloev’s shooting death to being a suspect. The opposition Ingushetia.org website has publicly accused 13 current and former top government and law-enforcement officials in Ingushetia, including Zyazikov and Interior Minister Musa Medov, of being behind Yevloev’s killing.