On October 15, Russia’s RIA-Novosti news agency reported that the Interior Ministry of Ingushetia, a region in the North Caucasus adjacent to Chechnya, would be strengthened by additional 200 policemen, mainly senior officials dispatched from other parts of Russia. Temporary police departments will be set up in every Ingush district, each manned by 25 Russian officers. According to the Ingushetia.ru website, Viktor Zelikhov, a newly appointed deputy at the Ingush Interior Ministry, will supervise the temporary departments. Zelikhov, formerly chief of the crime department of Rostov oblast, was appointed to his new position by a special decree of Rashid Nurgaliev, the Russian minister of interior affairs (Ingushetia.ru, October 12).
The establishment of temporary police departments in Ingushetia suggests that the Russian authorities have lost control over local law-enforcement bodies and can no longer trust them.
The term “temporary police departments” entered usage at the beginning of the second Chechen war in 1999. When the Russian army invaded Chechnya, local police departments of the independent Chechen government were closed, and replacements were needed. The Russian authorities did not trust any of the locals and decided to send police troops from different Russian regions to set up temporary police departments in Chechnya. The word “temporary” means that one day they will be replaced by regular departments staffed by locals.
However, six years have passed, and the temporary police departments are still functioning in Chechnya. Moreover, the number of Russian police units operating in the republic is increasing all the time, and the tour of duty for Russian policemen in Chechnya has been extended from three months to six. Despite the fact that there are already Chechen-manned police departments in the republic, the temporary departments operate parallel to them. All Russian police forces in Chechnya are incorporated into a special interim police group under the command of a police general, Oleg Khotin.
The continuing existence of the temporary departments in Chechnya demonstrates that Moscow’s control over Chechen territory is still too weak to declare full victory and the end of the Chechen war. The temporary departments also suggest that the situation in the republic has not changed much since 1999, and the local Chechen policemen still cannot be trusted.
Instead of pacifying Chechnya and establishing strong control over it, the Russian authorities are starting to lose control over other Caucasian regions as well. The rising distrust of local cadres has forced the Russian authorities to send additional police troops from Russia into Ingushetia, Dagestan, and Kabardino-Balkaria. In 2006, ethnic Russians were appointed interior minister in Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, and Karachai-Cherkessia. The latest changes among the Ingush police could signify the beginning of a new stage in russification of local law-enforcement bodies in the North Caucasus.
The establishment of temporary police departments in Ingushetia is Moscow’s reaction to the successful operations conducted by the Ingush rebels in the region this summer.
Last spring the military command of the Caucasian insurgency worked out a plan to weaken Russian control over the region. The main idea was to set up special rebel death squads to eliminate police and Federal Security Service (FSB) officers to demoralize and weaken law-enforcement structures in the North Caucasus (see EDM, June 29). Last summer more than 10 officers from the Ingush law-enforcement bodies (police, FSB and the prosecutor’s office) were killed or seriously wounded by local insurgents. Many more were threatened with murder if they collaborated with Russian efforts to fight the insurgency.
By autumn the Ingush police system had almost collapsed. The rebels can now move around the region and hide in Ingush villages with little risk of being discovered. Moreover, not only do few policemen report the rebels or take countermeasures against them, but they also help the militants transport weapons and ammunition and provide them with information. This summer an Ingush police officer, Abubakar Khamkhoev, tried to bring a truck loaded with explosive materials from Ingushetia into North Ossetia, but he was killed by Ossetian policemen. Many Ingush policemen simply ignore orders coming from Moscow.
Russian authorities believe that the new temporary police departments will help tighten federal control over Ingushetia, but the question is how long these departments will function. It is possible that they could repeat the fate of those temporary departments in Chechnya, which seem stuck there permanently. It will create a much more serious problem if new temporary departments appear later in Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, and other republics of the North Caucasus. In this case it would not be a surprise if one day there will be no police in central Russia because they have all gone to the North Caucasus to defend “the territorial integrity” of the country.