Former Ingush President Ruslan Aushev resigned from the Federation Council on April 23, accusing the upper parliamentary chamber of inaction in relation to the situation in the North Caucasus. Aushev said that on more than one occasion he had called the attention of his fellow senators to the plight of Chechen refugees living in Ingushetia and asked that something be done about the disputed Prigorodny district of North Ossetia. Fighting there between Ingushi and Ossetians in 1992 forced thousands of Ingushi out of their homes into Ingushetia, where they remain as refugees. Aushev accused the North Ossetian authorities of “anticonstitutional acts and discrimination” against the Ingushi. The Federation Council, he said, had shown “indifference” to “atrocities” committed against them in the Prigorodny district. He also accused the office of Viktor Kazantsev, President Vladimir Putin’s representative in the Southern federal district, of crudely interfering in Ingushetia’s presidential campaign in order to ensure the victory of its candidate, Federal Security Service (FSB) General Murat Zyazikov. He then asserted his belief, which he called a certainty, that Moscow plans to merge Chechnya and Ingushetia into a single Federation region (Radio Liberty, April 23; see the Monitor, April 18).
Aushev’s resignation from the Federation Council, meanwhile, has been challenged by the chairman of its foreign affairs committee, Mikhail Margelov, who said that there is nothing in either the law defining the status of a Federation Council senator or the law setting out the procedures for forming the Federation Council that would allow a senator to quit on his or her own. According to Margelov, the law permits only the regional head or regional legislature that appointed a given Federation Council member to withdraw that member’s authority. At the same time, the Federation Council’s first deputy speaker, Valery Goreglyad, claimed that Aushev had “acted on the basis of the law,” which, he said, states that the duties of a senator can be terminated at that senator’s request. In any case, the Federation Council’s Commission for Rules and Parliamentary Procedures will take up Aushev’s resignation and presumably resolve its legal status (NTV.ru, April 23).
While Aushev’s resignation statement may on one level have been unexpected, it was in the fact the logical outcome of the events surrounding Ingushetia’s presidential election, whose first round took place on April 7 and which will be decided in an April 28 runoff. On April 22, a voter filed suit with the republic’s Supreme Court, demanding that the registration of the candidate backed by Aushev, Alikhan Amirkhanov, be annulled. Meanwhile, 1,250 voters in the republic’s Malgobeksk district have signed a affidavit alleging that Amirkhanov’s election team bought their votes for US$100 in the first round of voting (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, April 25). Amirkhanov came in first, well ahead of Zyazikov, who placed second. If Amirkhanov is eliminated from the run-off, which looks increasingly likely, this will in effect guarantee a victory for Zyazikov, who will then certainly appoint his own representative to the Federation Council. Against this backdrop, Aushev, in resigning from the Federation Council, was simply making a virtue of necessity (Vremya Novostei, April 23; see also the Monitor, April 9, 11).
Aushev unexpectedly stepped down as Ingushetia’s president in December of last year, saying simply that he was worn out. A majority of observers, however, saw that resignation as the natural result of his long fight with the federal center. Aushev was one of the most independent-minded and uncontrollable of Russia’s regional leaders. Even during the first Chechen military campaign of 1994-1996, he was sharply critical of the Kremlin’s use of force to resolve the Chechen problem. Since the start of the current campaign in September 1999, Aushev has frequently called attention to the plight of the thousands of Chechens living in refugee camps in Ingushetia. This has earned him the enmity of many senior Russian military officials, some of whom, in off-the-record conversations with the Monitor’s correspondent, have accused Aushev of being an agent of the Chechen rebels. During the Yeltsin years, the federal center’s weakness prevented it from dealing with Aushev. Yeltsin’s successor, however, has apparently decided to oust the Ingushetian leader once and for all. Aushev has little with which to battle the center. Indeed, an unnamed Ingushetian politician told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that Aushev understood that he had no “real levers of influence on the situation in the republic” and that his resignation from the Federation Council was “an act of despair.” “The impotence of Ingushetia’s political elite before the leadership of the Southern federal district is obvious,” the anonymous politician told the paper. “No regional leader can withstand the powerful state machine” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, April 25).
From the center’s point of view, Putin certainly had good reasons to force Aushev out of power. The Chechens and Ingushi are closely related ethnolinguistic groups, and a relatively large percentage of Ingushetia’s population sympathizes with the Chechen rebels. During the period between the two Chechen campaigns, Chechen rebels not only moved freely between the two neighboring republics, but also even took journalists hostage in Ingushetia and then moved them into Chechnya. During both campaigns the Chechen rebels used Ingushetia as a kind of rear base. Indeed, the federal authorities announced just today that seven Chechen rebel camps in Ingushetia’s Sunzhensk district had been destroyed in a joint army-Interior Ministry-FSB operation. The Russian forces used attack helicopters and artillery to destroy the camps, which were reportedly supplied with weapons, ammunition, food, medicine and even radio stations, and were defended by “a group of Arab mercenaries.” As the Polit.ru website noted, “the seven guerrilla camps were discovered and triumphantly destroyed at the height of the election battle in Ingushetia: One of the traditional accusations against Ruslan Aushev was that he was unable to prevent the Chechen rebels from… basing themselves on the republic’s territory. Now these accusations, illustrated by the seven destroyed camps, will be shifted to [Aushev’s] allies, who are trying to take power in the republic” (Polit.ru, April 25).