Medvedev Appoints a New Interior Minister for Ingushetia

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 122

Interior Ministry officers patrol a motorway in Ingushetia (Source: militaryphotos.net)

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev continues to surprise everyone with his management reshuffle in the Russian interior ministry. This time it involved the North Caucasus as well. Major-General Aleksandr Trofimov, 48, has been appointed Ingushetia’s Interior Minister. He had, since May 2009, held the position of first deputy head of Dagestan’s interior ministry and concurrently was the head of the republic’s criminal police (www.km.ru/v-rossii/2011/06/13). In becoming Ingushetia’s Interior Minister, Trofimov replaces Major-General Viktor Pogolov, who has been reassigned to a similar position in the Kirov region. One can thus clearly see that Trofimov’s new position is a promotion, while the reassignment of Victor Pogolov is an honorary resignation to a central Russian backwater.

Pogolov had been appointed to the post of Ingushetia’s interior ministry in March 2010 with personal input from Ingushetia’s president, Yunus-bek Yevkurov, who had long known him personally (http://finam.fm/news/50306/). The president of Ingushetia counted on Pogolov to radically change the situation in the republic. Although the leader of Ingush militants, Emir Magas, was arrested during Pogolov’s tenure as Interior Minister, the arrest was not the result of Pogolov’s personal achievements, given that officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) had been leading the operation long before his appointment. Such a high-profile arrest of a key militant figure dealt a strong blow to the local Ingush jamaat. The current relatively “low profile” of the jamaat is related to its state of disorganization, as its members and local groups had operated under direct leadership of Emir Magas (there was no middle management in the Ingush jamaat). In any case, the number of attacks by the armed resistance militants decreased substantially after the defeat of key Ingush jamaat leadership members in March-June 2010 (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/187235/). That would be hard not to notice.

At the same time, the website of the Ingush jamaat says its low profile is a mere tactic, claiming that the situation will change and the militant activity will increase (http://hunafa.com/). A number of shootings targeting siloviki have already taken place in Ingushetia, just in the week following Trofimov’s appointment as Interior Minister. A policeman was shot dead, a military serviceman died and several policemen were wounded in a shooting. The house of a policeman was shot up, and a grenade exploded in a yard of another policeman’s house. An attempt was also made on the life of Osman Dzeytov, an officer with Special Investigation Bureau-2, and an improvised explosive device equivalent to one kilogram of TNT was defused (www.rian.ru/incidents/20110619/390301629.html).

It is not quite clear what principles guided Moscow’s decision to appoint Trofimov to the position of Ingushetia’s Interior Minister. It certainly could not have been based on any improvement in the crime situation in Dagestan, where Trofimov was first deputy Interior Minister and headed the criminal police. According to Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev, Dagestan has experienced more crimes connected to militant activity than any other republic in the North Caucasus. In May alone, Dagestan accounted for 39 of the 54 people killed in the region, as well as two bomb attacks, 14 clashes with militants, seven attempts on the lives of law enforcement officers, the arrest of at least 6 people on suspicion of participating in the armed underground resistance or aiding militants, and the disappearance of two people. A special raid by siloviki on June 19 targeting Emir Abdusalam (Shamil Paizulaev), who was discovered in Makhachkala, was a great success. The emir, the leader of the Izberbash jamaat, was killed during the raid. Izberbash is a town located south of Makhachkala and is primarily inhabited by Dargins (www.regnum.ru/news/kavkaz/1416912.html#ixzz1PlHlcu2T). As is always the case with units of the Russian interior ministry and FSB, all notorious terror attacks have immediately been attributed to the person killed, including preparations for a failed suicide bombing in Moscow on December 31, 2010. On June 20, an officer with the FSB department for Dagestan, Lieutenant-Colonel Magomed Gamzatov, was killed in Makhachkala. The killing can be seen as retribution by militants for the killing of Emir Abdusalam.

At the same time, Dagestan is experiencing an aggravated sectarian situation, with clashes between Sufi and Salafi followers becoming more frequent. Two clergymen have been killed this year (http://mahachkala.russiaregionpress.ru/archives/1524). None of these cases have been solved. Moreover, some Dagestani journalists view these murders as a demonstration of a likely standoff between the Sufi adherents and their opponents (http://www.islam.ru/content/analitics/1779). This confrontation spills over into large-scale street fights, as happened on June 18 in the village of Komsomol in Dagestan’s Kizilyurt district. The Salafi community opposed the construction of a new mosque in the village, considering its imam to be the supporter of the officially supported Spiritual Board of Muslims of Dagestan (www.regnum.ru/news/kavkaz/1416918.html#ixzz1PnNqGyJ9). Such developments make the call for the repeal of the Law on Wahhabism (which was adopted following the incursion of radical Islamic groups under the leadership of Bagaudin Kebedov into Dagestan’s Botlikh district in August 1999) a very relevant issue (www.rosbalt.ru/main/2011/06/17/860064.html). This is because the law allows the detention of people who do not agree with the official views of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Dagestan. This, of course, cannot but raise concerns for those who do not share the views of the Spiritual Board, which is backed by the authorities.

Therefore, the regional management reshuffle within the Russian interior ministry will have no impact on the situation in the North Caucasus in the near future amid the deepening crisis in Dagestan and the unclear status of the militants in Ingushetia.