On March 28, the Russian security forces launched a large-scale assault on militants in Ingushetia. The Russian air force was used to bomb rebels in the mountainous Upper Alkun area of the republic. Ground operations were carried out in Ingushetia’s largest town, Nazran, and other settlements. Seventeen rebels and three servicemen reportedly died in the fighting, while two people were arrested for alleged involvement in the Domodedovo airport bombing in Moscow on January 24. The special operation was reportedly prepared in advance, but only a few knew about it (www.rian.ru, March 28).
However, it was predictable that in the wake of the Domodedovo bombing, which was blamed on a young Ingush suicide bomber, Ingushetia would undergo yet another wave of police operations (EDM, March 9).
According to officials, the group of rebels killed in the operation had plotted attacks in North Ossetia and Ingushetia and prepared suicide bombers. Surprisingly, they were also accused of involvement in the Moscow metro attack on March 29, 2010. Previously, only Dagestanis had been accused in the suicide attack in the Moscow metro, which killed 40 people (www.rian.ru, March 28). Relations between Ingushetia and neighboring North Ossetia have been strained for the past several decades. So an official confirmation that Ingush insurgents planned attacks in North Ossetia is likely to contribute to a further rise in animosity between the Ingush and the Ossetians.
On March 29, information that Doku Umarov, the Chechen rebel leader and Emir of the Caucasus Emirate insurgent group, may have been killed in the bombardment in Ingushetia quickly spread in the Russian media. However, the statement was retracted later in the day, and when Federal Security Service (FSB) Deputy Director Sergei Smirnov reported to President Dmitry Medvedev, there was no mention of Umarov. Medvedev hailed what was apparently perceived in Moscow as a significant blow against the North Caucasus militants, although as of March 29 it was still not known who was killed in the Russian air attack (www.gazeta.ru, March 29).
President Yunus-bek Yevkurov stated that the special operation, which was being carried out by 200 servicemen in Ingushetia, would take several more days. The Gazeta.ru website provided an analysis that shows a classic cycle of violence, in which government abuses lead to revolt and the resulting armed insurgency provokes heavy-handed government retaliation. The names of only a few of the rebels killed and arrested in this operation became known to the media. Aslan Tsechoev was killed for allegedly supporting the militants with food and medicines According to Gazeta.ru, a person by this name appealed to President Yevkurov in 2010 to help him find the killers of his brother Gilani, who was murdered on June 24, 2010. Tsechoev was inclined to believe that the law enforcement agencies had killed his brother. Gazeta.ru pointed to the motivation for the Domodedovo airport attackers, noting that many people in Ali-Yurt, the village where several of the organizers and the perpetrator of the airport attack lived, were allegedly subject to cruel treatment by the Russian security services in a 2007 special operation (www.gazeta.ru, March 28).
One of the main issues in the struggle between the government forces and the rebels is that of legitimacy. The government agencies have been exposed many times as being very inaccurate when targeting the rebels and as resorting to illegal methods of interrogation, abductions, torture and extra-judicial killings. But even more importantly, the widening gap between the rulers and the general population in Ingushetia, as well as Moscow’s omnipresence in the republic as a hostile power, produces a situation in which people do not feel as if they belong to the state. There is practically no legal way to change the local government through elections, and the elections themselves are habitually rigged with Moscow’s tacit consent.
The independent Caucasian magazine DOSH polled people in Ingushetia and found out that only 8.6 percent trusted the republic’s current president, Yunus-bek Yevkurov. Even the previous, highly unpopular president of Ingushetia, Murat Zyazikov polled slightly higher, at 9.5 percent. The first president of Ingushetia, Ruslan Aushev, was the most trusted leader of Ingushetia, at 81.8 percent. The situation in Ingushetia is still very volatile and the public apparently does not regard Yevkurov as a leader capable of bringing peace to this territory. Abuses by the law enforcement agencies continue and there seems to be no end to the vicious cycle of violence (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, March 28).
The low level of trust in the government and the inability to change that state of affairs is undoubtedly a serious source of conflict and destabilization. It is interesting to note that all three leaders of modern Ingushetia were military men. Ruslan Aushev was a military general and a Soviet-era Afghan war hero. Murat Zyazikov was an FSB general and Yunus-bek Yevkurov came from Russian military intelligence, or the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU). This probably points to the deep suspicions that Russians have of the Ingush, believing the Ingush can be governed only by a man that is used to receiving and executing orders.
Magomed Khazbiev, the legal and non-violent opposition leader in Ingushetia, was beaten up and arrested after he and his supporters staged a protest against a kidnapping of an Ingush, reportedly by the Russian security services. Khazbiev was detained on March 23 and released on March 26 following President Yevkurov’s personal intervention. Previously, two Ingush opposition leaders and human rights champions, lawyer Magomed Yevloev and businessman Maksharip Aushev, were killed in August 2008 and October 2009 respectively. Maksharip Aushev received the US State Department’s annual Human Rights Defenders Award posthumously in December 2009.
Since there is no legal way forward in what essentially seems to be a political stalemate in the North Caucasus, the processes are taking a violent direction. The Russian government has yet to realize that without deep political reforms in the region, it is likely to indulge in an endless, cruel campaign with detrimental consequences for Russia’s political development.