Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 100

The war in Chechnya is threatening to spill over into the neighboring republic of Ingushetia. On May 11, a column of Russian internal troops were attacked in Ingushetia’s Suzhensk region. Over the weekend a Russian helicopter gunship bombed a wooded area in Suzhensk. Workers from a local enterprise were in the area of the attack but none of them, fortunately were killed or injured (Russian agencies, May 19; see the Monitor, May 16).

While Ingushetian territory was also hit during the 1994-1996 Chechen war, it was then the result of accidents–the simple incompetence of the Russian military. This time, however, the bombing appears to have been deliberate. According to Ruslan Tumgoev, head of the Suzhensk regional administration, Russian servicemen arrived in the region accompanied by armor and said that they were carrying out a “cleansing” of the area. The Russian military claims that it seized illegal mobile radio stations belonging to the local administration and auto transport belonging to local residents. Meanwhile the criminal case involving the May 11 attack on the Russian military column in Ingushetia has been transferred from the Ingushetian prosecutor’s office to the Prosecutor General’s Office, due, according to the official explanation, to the seriousness of the attack and its consequences. The May 11 attack took place immediately after the meeting between Pavel Krasheninnikov, who heads an independent non-governmental commission to investigate human rights violations in Chechnya, and Kazbek Makhashev, a representative of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov (Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 20). Krasheninnikov also heads the State Duma’s legislative committee.

All of this suggests that Moscow no longer trusts Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev and views his republic as a staging area for rebel military actions in Chechnya. After the May 11 Chechen rebel attack on the Russian military column, General Gennady Troshev, commander of the federal forces in Chechnya, charged that Aushev had let Ingushetia become a “haven for Chechen bandits.” Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov also charged that Aushev was to blame for the attack on the troop column (see the Monitor, May 16). This pressure on Aushev, however, could have unintended consequences. The Chechens and Ingushi are very close ethnically, and the Ingushi are likely to react to pressure from Moscow much as the Chechens did. If Ingushetian civilians begin to die as a result of actions by federal forces, the previously loyal Ingushi will therefore likely begin to see the federal forces as “occupiers” who have to be driven out. Ruslan Aushev’s reaction in such a situation would also be unpredictable, and it cannot be ruled out that he would end up leading an anti-Moscow resistance movement.