Kremlin Plan for Resettling Unemployed Ingush in Sverdlovsk Falters

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 11 Issue: 10

Ingush settlers who come to Russia’s Sverdlovsk region, located in the Ural mountains, in search of work have found little employment and government support. “From the very beginning, this widely advertised [Ingush resettlement] program was doomed to failure,” the former representative of Ingushetia in Sverdlovsk region, Abdul-Mutalib Bogatyryov, told the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website. Bogatyryov cited the government’s unwillingness to work diligently to match the Ingush unemployed with the right employers and provide support for their resettlement (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, November 12).

It has been one year since the program to resettle large numbers of unemployed people from Ingushetia in inner Russian regions was officially adopted. However, to date there is no data available on how effective the program has been.

No formal agreement was signed between the governments of Sverdlovsk region, headed at the time by the Russian heavyweight regional leader Eduard Rossel, and the president of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov. As Rossel did not receive approval from the Kremlin for another term as governor of his region in November 2009, the Ingush resettlement program was practically scrapped (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, November 12).

The official figure for unemployment in Ingushetia is just over 50 percent, but some experts say that even this level of unemployment is an underestimate. According to Yevkurov, over 100,000 working age people in Ingushetia are jobless and there are few realistic prospects for a dramatic improvement of this situation (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, November 4). The unemployment is linked to the glaring instability in this small republic, which for the past several years exceeded its bigger neighbors in terms of volatility, attacks and human rights violations. So the government hoped resettling Ingushetia’s excessive workforce in remote Russian regions would help reduce social tensions and violence.

The program envisaged Ingush families receiving modest funds, close to $2,000 for each person in the family to cover travel and settlement expenses. The settlers were expected to populate the abandoned remote rural areas of Sverdlovsk region to engage in farming. However, no further support or credit opportunities were given to the newcomers, so many of them simply turned back and left. Those who had some friends and family connections in this region stayed on, but it is not clear how useful the program was to them (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, November 12).

Ingushetia has one of the highest birthrates in Russian Federation –it is second only to that of Chechnya. The population of Ingushetia is rapidly growing and has reached 500,000 –although some estimates place this number at a lower level– and job creation programs cannot keep pace with this growth. According to Russian politicians, unemployment supplies the insurgency with radicalized young people. The resettlement program for Ingushetia’s unemployed people is likely to be the pilot program for the North Caucasus that paves the way for larger similar projects. Indeed, the Russian government’s strategy for the development of the North Caucasus stipulates setting up a special agency for labor migration to organize a massive program of resettlement of the North Caucasians in inner Russian regions. According to the strategy, 40,000 people should migrate from the North Caucasus every year in order to normalize the socio-economic situation in the region (www.government.ru, September 6).

However, Moscow’s strategy of solving unemployment and security issues in the North Caucasus by relocating significant parts of its population appears to be stalled. The idea was harshly criticized by some ethnic Russians, who felt that the North Caucasians should not be brought to inner Russia en masse and granted privileges not given to the local population. For their part, the North Caucasians, namely activists in Ingushetia, disliked the idea because it was reminiscent of the mass deportation of the Ingush to Kazakhstan by Stalin in 1944. Ethnic Ingush were driven out of North Ossetia in 1992, and many ethnic Ingush also had to flee Chechnya during the two Russian-Chechen wars and settle in Ingushetia. So it looks as if the authorities created problems for the Ingush and are trying to resolve them in their own way.

In the case of the failure of the program to resettle Ingushetia’s unemployed in the Urals, it appears as if the issues are much more hardwired than mere resentment and xenophobia of the Ingush and Russian sides. The settlers were offered jobs that did not live up to their expectations and no resources were made available to them. There are probably few or no places in Russia that are ready to receive significant numbers of North Caucasians and provide decent pay and safety for them.  

Meanwhile, Ingushetia is increasingly developing features of an impoverished region. On November 10, the republic’s authorities announced the opening of the first soup kitchen in the republic (http://ingushetia.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/176782). While such initiatives can take place anywhere, including in the developed world, in the North Caucasus, with its traditions of hospitality, generosity and social prestige, such an event has a negative connotation. As the government fails to provide basic living standards for the people, poverty is becoming entrenched in Ingushetia. This process, if unchecked, is bound to contribute to the further radicalization of young people in this small, but volatile republic.