.On April 7, elections were held for the post of the next president of Ingushetia. Because there are some 150,000 Chechen IDPs (internally displaced persons) currently living on the territory of this small autonomous republic, whoever becomes the next Ingush president must necessarily play a key role in the future fate of the Chechen people. The long-time president of Ingushetia, retired Soviet general Ruslan Aushev, recently resigned his post, a year before new presidential elections in the republic had originally been scheduled to occur. Aushev is widely believed to have been forced to resign his post under heavy pressure from the Kremlin and from the presidential plenipotentiary representative in the Southern Federal District, retired Russian general Viktor Kazantsev. Presidential elections in the republic were moved up to April 7, 2002.
On April 5, the online daily Grani.ru reported that Khamzat Gutseriev, former head of the MVD of Ingushetia, one of the leading contenders–and a candidate being backed by former President Aushev–had been disqualified from participating in the elections by the Russian Supreme Court, just two days before the elections were set to be held. On April 3, the Russian Supreme Court had demanded that a court case involving Gutseriev’s candidacy, which the Ingush Supreme Court had been considering since March 18, be transferred immediately to its jurisdiction. This occurred one hour before the Ingush Court was due to announce its decision in the case. The Russian Supreme Court then announced its own lightning-fast disqualification of Gutseriev.
The swift disqualification of Gutseriev left acting President Akhmed Mal’sagov, the former prime minister of the republic under Aushev, and a retired FSB general named Murad Zyazikov, presently the deputy plenipotentiary presidential representative in the Southern District, as the two leading contenders. While it was assumed by many commentators that the Kremlin and Kazantsev preferred the FSB man Zyazikov, others noted that Mal’sagov, too, had, in the time since he had become acting president, energetically been doing the Kremlin’s bidding. “Ingushetia,” Grani.ru commented, “will not so much elect a president as it will with gratitude accept the will of the Kremlin. And the Kremlin will not lose in any case, even if Zyazikov is not elected” (Grani.ru, April 5).
An article entitled “The ‘Inconspicuous’ Problem of a Conspicuous War,” written by journalist Milrad Fatullaev, appearing in the March 29 issue of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, sought to determine how recent developments in Ingushetia might impact the fate of Chechen IDPs living in that republic. “For the first time since the beginning of the counterterrorist operation in Chechnya,” Fatullaev wrote, “the leadership of Ingushetia has agreed to the demand of Moscow that it facilitate the voluntary return of Chechen refugees residing on its territory to their places of permanent residence [in Chechnya]. In so doing, the acting president of Ingushetia, Akhmed Mal’sagov, has been supporting the federal center, which had for more than a year been unsuccessfully struggling with the government of Ruslan Aushev, who had been hindering the process of repatriation.” The spring of 2002, thus, might feasibly see the return home of all Chechen IDPs living in Ingushetia.
Fatullaev emphasized that such a return was not being supported by the Chechen refugees themselves. “Against a return to still warring Chechnya there speak out first of all the refugees themselves, who justly fear for their lives and who also cite the lack of employment opportunities in the destroyed republic.” Assuming that a pro-Moscow candidate would be elected the next president of Ingushetia, Fatullaev noted that that development would not of itself solve the IDP problem. “A simple transfer of the tent camps to Chechnya and a halting of humanitarian aid in Ingushetia,” he stressed, “will not of themselves resolve this problem. For the reason that many refugees have over four years managed to set up small businesses, fortify their tents, and bring in electricity, gas and water [to Ingushetia]. International organizations, especially the Swiss and Arab charitable organizations, will not leave them alone with their problems.” Fatullaev went on to point out that, while all humanitarian assistance is supposed to be funneled through the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations, in fact foreign foundations often prefer to act independently, partly out of a fear that the humanitarian aid will be stolen and thus not reach its destination. “The ‘Saudi Red Crescent,'” Fatullaev wrote, “going directly counter to the policy of Moscow not to build any more camps for refugees in Ingushetia, last year opened near Sleptsovskaya the well-organized ‘Satsit’ camp intended for 7,000 persons. The camp was built with expansion in mind so that it could accept all the people fleeing their homes [in Chechnya].”
Another key problem hindering the return to Chechnya of displaced persons from Ingushetia, Fatullaev underlined, is the absence of virtually any kind of housing in Chechnya. Where are Chechens who return to their native republic to live? “At the present moment,” Fatullaev noted, “only two five-story apartment buildings in Grozny have been restored, and their former residents have already moved back into them. But it is necessary to effect the return of almost half the population of the republic.” It had been planned by the end of 2001 to complete in the Chechen capital eight IDP centers which would hold some 8,000 IDPs, but this was not done.
In conversations with pro-Moscow police officers, Fatullaev learned that “the police received the ‘task’ of organizing the return of a certain number of refugees, but the agencies responsible for their housing have not in fact provided the housing.” According to five employees of the passport-visa service of the pro-Moscow Chechen MVD, “About 3,000 people have expressed a desire to return to Grozny, but there is simply no place for them to live.”
“The tempos of the facilitating of the repatriation of the refugees [to Chechnya],” Fatullaev concluded his analysis, “are so insignificant that one can boldly predict that the Chechens will pass not only a fourth winter [that is, the winter of 2002-2003] in tent camps but also, possibly, the winter after that [2003-2004].”
Another dimension of the Chechen-Ingush problem is the bruited possible reunification of the two republics. Writing in the April 4 issue of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (www.iwpr.net), journalist Sanobar Shermatova reported that: “Another idea being discussed seriously in Russian corridors of power is the possible re-unification of Chechnya and Ingushetia. A prominent Chechen in Moscow, who asked not to be named, said that the Kremlin had commissioned him to write an analytical report discussing how the idea of the joining of Chechnya and Ingushetia would be received by different groups in the Caucasus…. The writer of the analytical report believes that the Moscow authorities find the re-unification plan very tempting. If it were to happen, they could claim that all state documents signed between Moscow and different separatist governments in Chechnya had lost their validity.” However, Shermatova went on to note: “The unification proposal has serious flaws, says the writer of the report. It would not solve the problem of the rebel fighters. As long as ‘clean-up operations’ continue in Chechnya, during which civilians disappear without trace, groups of fighters will win new recruits from amongst the relatives of those Chechens killed or humiliated by federal soldiers.”
To conclude, developments within Ingushetia in the post-Aushev period promise to impact both Chechnya and the Chechen people in ways too many to enumerate.
And, in a surprising result, deputy of the Russian State Duma Alikhan Amirkhanov received 31.5 percent of the vote and retired FSB general Murat Zyazikov, 19.4 percent in the first round of elections for the president of Ingushetia. Amirkhanov is considered close to Khamzat Gutseriev–the candidate removed at the last minute by the Russian Supreme Court–and his family. A second round, pitting Amirkhanov against Zyazikov, will be held (Gzt.ru and Grani.ru, April 8).