former high-level advisor to President Yeltsin, Leonid Smirnyagin, who is currently an associate at the Carnegie Center in Moscow, recently observed that the proximity of the small autonomous republic of Ingushetia to Chechnya and the fact that it contains a large number of internally displaced persons from Chechnya were key factors behind Moscow’s desire “to have one of its own proteges in charge of the republic.” “The intervention of the federal center in the Ingush elections,” Smirnyagin remarked, “is not related to [former Ingush president] Aushev. It is just because it is impossible to wage the war in Chechnya further or to do illegal business in Chechnya without having a grasp [on] Ingushetia” (Cited in The Moscow Times, April 8).
The announced victor in the April 28 Ingush presidential election represents in every sense to be a protege of Moscow. Forty-five years old and an ethnic Ingush, retired FSB general Murat Zyazikov is a graduate of the Higher KGB School in Minsk. He subsequently worked in the administration of the Committee of State Security in the Chechen capital and then in the administration of the FSB for Ingushetia. From January of 1996 until January 2002, he occupied the post of deputy head of the FSB for Astrakhan Oblast, in southern Russia. At the beginning of this year, he was appointed a deputy plenipotentiary presidential representative in the Southern Federal District, reporting to retired military general Viktor Kazantsev (Moskovskie Novosti, May 1).
A scrutiny of the second round of the Ingush presidential elections, held on 28 April, suggests that that election was heavily rigged and in fact stolen. I should note that he has three times served as an international elections monitor (in Russia in 1995 and 1996, and in Azerbaijan in 1998). The following represents merely the first fruits of an investigation that ought to be expanded by Western journalists and by specialists in Russian politics.
In the first round of the Ingush presidential elections, which took place on April 7, it will be recalled, Russian State Duma deputy Alikhan Amirkhanov had gained a solid 31.5 percent of the vote in a field with numerous candidates. Kremlin favorite Zyazikov was officially reported to have come in second with 19.4 percent of the vote. Amirkhanov was thus a heavy favorite to win the April 28 contest.
To my knowledge, only two major Russian newspapers–Kommersant and Nezavisimaya Gazeta–deemed it necessary to assign reporters to cover the second round of the Ingush presidential elections. On April 29, Alla Barakhova, a respected journalist who writes for Kommersant, published an account of her visits to several precincts during the vote on election day. At precinct no. 77, she wrote, she had encountered difficulty in gaining access to the voting hall because “the OMON [police commandos] for a long time refused to believe that the press have a right to unhindered access to precincts.” When she eventually did get in, she witnessed a surprising scene of “young people checking the [internal] passports and ballots of the voters.” These young people were not members of the precinct election commission and therefore had no legal right to be engaging in such activity. At Barakhova’s request, the precinct chairman had them removed from the room. “The young people greatly resented that. One of them accompanied me out to the street and shouted from behind a fence, ‘How much did you sell yourself for?!”
A similar comment, Barakhova recalled, was made to her at precinct no. 38 in Malgobek by an armed guard who sought to bar her entrance into the hall. “You have all sold yourselves!’ the guard shouted. The reference to “selling oneself” was apparently prompted by a perception on the part of heavily armed pro-Zyazikov backers that Ingush oligarchs supporting Amirkhanov might attempt to buy the election.
Once she managed to enter the hall of precinct no. 38, Barakhova found her press credentials being attentively examined by a 12-year-old “who identified himself as a nephew of the [Moscow-appointed] Federal Inspector for Ingushetia, Musa Keligov.” The armed guard who had previously sought to block her way in confided: “I represent the Southern Federal District, and I am here at the order of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin to assure that the elections are honest.”
“Poll watchers for both candidates,” Barakhova continued her account, “complained that people were stuffing two to three ballots into the ballot box, but that the chairman of the [precinct] commission was refusing to accept their complaints.” “One poll watcher who represented candidate Amirkhanov,” she related, “asked me to write down the names of people who were stuffing bundles of ballots into the voting urn. I wrote the names down. After that, the precinct chairman asked me to quit the hall…. An OMON officer with an automatic weapon pressed up close to me and repeated the request. I was forced to obey.”
On the street outside the precinct, “a crowd surrounded me in a compact circle. People complained that they were not being admitted into the precinct [to vote]…. Another crowd complained that those who were being admitted were being given ballots with the name of Zyazikov already marked in.”
On the following day, April 30, Barakhova published an interview, once again in Kommersant, with the “defeated” candidate, Amirkhanov. “The fact that 60,000 ballots were given out but that 80,000 voters cast their votes,” Amirkhanov commented sarcastically, “says a great deal. Those 20,000 ballots were printed by the FSB in Nalchik.” Barakhova, for her part, added: “By morning [that is, on Monday, April 29], according to the data of the Ingush Election Commission, the number of voters did indeed grow by 20,000.”
Did Amirkhanov intend to contest the election? “We will try to do so,” he told Barakhova, “but I am convinced that it will be useless. If they throw deputies from the State Duma out of the [voting] room… then it is, of course, useless to protest.”
On April 29, another major Russian newspaper, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, reported that, “the entire republic [of Ingushetia] was hung with photographs of Zyazikov meeting with Putin.” “The law enforcement organs of the FSB,” the newspaper proceeded to note, “have taken all of the precincts without exception, including distant mountain villages, under their strict control.”
In the April 30 issue of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, journalists Artur Ataev and Milorad Fatullaev interviewed the head of Amirkhanov’s campaign headquarters, Khamzat Kodzoev. Kodzoev stressed that his candidate had unquestionably won the election, but added that, unfortunately: “Twenty thousand ballots were stuffed into the ballot boxes…. It would have been better if they had appointed [Zyazikov] president and not tortured the much-suffering Ingush people.”
Commenting on a statement by Valentin Vlasov, the deputy head of the Moscow-based Central Election Commission, who had been in Ingushetia for the elections, that he had not received “a single complaint” concerning the vote, Kodzoev riposted: “Vlasov says that there are no complaints or appeals. But such is not the case. Two thousand persons submitted written complaints concerning violations. But they refused to accept them.”
To sum up, it seems very likely that the presidential election in Ingushetia was crudely rigged and stolen. Several Russian commentators, for example Vadim Dubnov writing in the May 5 issue of Novoe Vremya, have remarked that what happened in Ingushetia reminded them strongly of President Lukashenka’s recent “elegant victory” in Belarus.’ The Lukashenka-ization of Russian electoral politics may be expected to continue.