Ingushetia’s President In Denial

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 5 Issue: 28

An even bigger loser than Vladimir Putin from last month’s guerrilla raid on Ingushetia turns out to be that republic’s president Murat Zyazikov. The latter, a Federal Security Service (FSB) officer essentially appointed to his post in a rigged election two years ago, has failed to build his own political constituency in Ingushetia but has also not been successful in consolidating his position through sheer, naked terror in the style of Chechnya’s Kadyrov clan.

Zyazikov suffered another blow last week when Ingushetia’s chief Muslim cleric, mufti Magomed Albogachiev, resigned in protest. In an interview reported by Vitaly Portnikov of the website on July 8, Albogachiev specifically linked his departure to the Zyazikov administration’s inability to guarantee security to the republic’s populace—and also to the growth in corruption at all levels of government, the deteriorating economic situation, and the rise in kidnappings and other crimes.

The mufti’s resignation, concluded Portnikov, shows not only that Zyazikov “has not only failed to become the Ingush Putin, but has even failed to become another [Ruslan] Aushev [Ingushetia’s previous president]. People do not greatly respect him and do not greatly fear him—they simply do not love him.”

As if whistling past the graveyard, Zyazikov declared on July 6 that the “bandit attack [of June 21 to 22] proved to be unsuccessful. Society has become more consolidated. The reaction of the federal center was instant. In these tragic days for the Ingush people, Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a visit to the republic. This was a clear example of the profound respect for our people and an endorsement of the correct nature of our chosen strategy of development.”

When asked at his July 6 press conference just who was responsible for the June raid, Zyazikov responded predictably but vaguely: “international terrorism.”

Even the pro-Kremlin website acknowledged, in a July 9 article by Fyodor Chekoyev, that Zyazikov and his circle are now “in an extremely awkward position. They have no surplus of popularity among the people; the populace knows that earlier there were no security sweeps with kidnappings, or explosions, or gun battles. But now all these things are taking place.”

Chekoyev’s analysis in effect admitted that the Kremlin’s strategy for Ingushetia has failed. It acknowledged that the republic’s previous stability had been achieved “thanks to a unique, tacit agreement…Federal troops were not stationed there, and the Chechen separatists in essence regarded the territory as a friendly rear area for themselves. In order to avoid spreading the war to Ingushetia, the federals kept their eyes closed to this reality for a long time. But after the beginning of the second war in Chechnya the situation changed: The federal center decided to transform Ingushetia into its own rear area, to put the government there under its control, to deploy troops there and to clean out the separatist underground….Since the guarantor of the republic’s earlier, special status was Ruslan Aushev, they decided to replace him.”

Predictably, an even harsher attack on Zyazikov came from Izvestia correspondent Andrei Riskin, who often criticizes indigenous leaders of the northern Caucasus even when they are pro-Moscow. But this time Riskin was equally critical of the federal commanders whose jurisdiction includes Ingushetia. In an article in Nezavisimaya Gazeta on July 7, he noted that Zyazikov is now promising to make personnel changes in the republic’s security agencies—which Riskin clearly considers to be too little and too late.

Zyazikov lacks support even among his former colleagues in the FSB, wrote Riskin: “Though only very late, the Chekists did finally inform their colleagues in the Interior Ministry about the plans of the guerrillas—but they did not say anything to the president of the republic. It is no accident that more and more Ingush are saying that ‘Aushev [i.e. Ruslan Aushev, Zyazikov’s predecessor] would not have allowed this.'”

Riskin quoted yet another aggressive protest against Zyazikov’s policies from a high-ranking Ingush political leader: Musa Ozdoyev, a deputy in the republic’s legislature. Ozdoyev demanded that Zyazikov be removed from his post and that the federal center impose direct presidential rule in Ingushetia. According to Riskin, the deputy shares the view “that the cause of the tragedy [i.e. last month’s guerrilla raid] was the lack of support among the populace for Murat Zyazikov and his circle.” The Izvestia correspondent quoted Ozdoyev as insisting that “the total powerlessness of Zyazikov has led to a situation in which young people are virtually standing in line in order to volunteer to go off into the hills [i.e. to join the rebel underground].” Riskin added that in his own opinion not only Zyazikov, but also “all the branches of government” have failed to “control the situation in the region.”

As an example, Riskin cited recent reports in the Russian mass media that the security agencies were claiming to have tracked down and slain the organizer of last month’s massive guerrilla raid, said to be one “Magomed Yevloyev” with the nom de guerre “Magas.” But it turned out that the man they had killed was not Yevloyev but a rank-and-file guerrilla, nicknamed not “Magas” but “Boroda” [beard]. This “Boroda” was also alleged to have been a participant in the raid, but Riskin expressed skepticism even of that claim.

Riskin also quoted Musa Aliev, deputy head of Ingushetia’s Interior Ministry, who said that the guerrillas who mounted last month’s raid were directed “from a single center” in the North Caucasus. Since the simultaneous attacks on various targets in Ingushetia were obviously coordinated and carefully planned, that observation would seem obvious and even banal; but Riskin commented sarcastically, “where during that time was the single command center for the anti-terrorist operation in that very same North Caucasus?” Like other observers, he noted that “for example, the battle continued in Nazran for more than four hours, but nobody came to help the local police—who did not even have grenade launchers.” Thus “one gets the impression that the management of this grandiosely proclaimed anti-terrorist operation consists solely of triumphant declarations of victory from the official spokesman for the regional operations staff, Ilya Shabalkin.”

Overall, concluded Riskin, “the guerrillas have again shown their strength while the security agencies have demonstrated their utter lack of military readiness. For the last year the authorities have repeatedly assured us Russians…that the large-sized illegal armed formations have been crushed and that there remain only small bands which are engaged in robbery…But now it turns out that these remnants have their own ‘single center’…”

The Kremlin’s new hostility toward Zyazikov will of course be fortified by his recent call for peace talks in Chechnya, which the Kremlin’s dominant faction adamantly opposes.