Russian Government Seeks to Further Limit Access to Information From the North Caucasus
On January 27, two policemen were killed and one was wounded when unidentified assailants driving in a car attacked a police car near the villages of Yandare and Gazi-Yurt in Ingushetia’s Nazran district. On the same day, another police car was attacked near the main mosque in the republic’s largest town, Nazran. Four policemen were wounded in the attack and one of them subsequently died (ITAR-TASS, January 27). The attacks in the Nazran district took place on the same day as the law enforcement agencies lifted the special counter-terrorism regime in the district, which is perhaps indicative of the ineffectiveness of the counter-insurgency regimes in Ingushetia.
On January 26, an explosive device equivalent to eight kilograms of TNT and two Shmel rocket-propelled flame-throwers were found in Magas, the seat of Ingushetia’s government and republican branches of federal agencies. The grenade launchers were reportedly pointed toward the Federal Security Service (FSB) headquarters and the offices of the republican presidential administration. According to the reports, someone warned the FSB and the attack was averted (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, January 26).
Continuing violence in Ingushetia is accompanied by visible restrictions on the independent sources of information in Ingushetia. The most professional and accurate Ingush website, Ingushetiyaru.org, came under powerful cyber attacks and was displaying only intermittently a non-updated version as of January 27. Even more profoundly, the authoritative Russian magazine Kommesant-Vlast received an official warning concerning the “inadmissibility of extremist activities” from the Russian government agency that oversees the media. The magazine was reprimanded for publishing an interview with the Ingush writer and Soviet-era political dissident Issa Kodzoev in November 2009 (kavkaz-uzel.ru, January 26). Two such warnings against a media outlet allow the government to ask a court to close it down.
In his interview, Kodzoev predicted that the violence (the “war,” in Kodzoev’s words) in Ingushetia would go on for the foreseeable future, but that there would be no war on a large-scale as in Chechnya. Kodzoev stated that the Ingush people used to be loyal Russian citizens, but with the latest violence in the republic, that has irrevocably changed. “There is such hatred toward Russia in every [Ingush] family,” he said in the interview. “There is no family [in Ingushetia] in which Russians would not kill a man. The blood has been spilt, you see.” He also offered a solution to the problem, although an unrealistic one, as he himself acknowledged: “This war can be stopped in a month’s time. Russians only need to withdraw their troops and the death squads [a reference to the Russian security services’ armed groups]. We will restrain our youth after a month. They know it very well in Moscow, but they will never do it.”
Kodzoev also alleged that the former President of Ingushetia, Ruslan Aushev, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had a row that led Aushev to slap Putin in the face. One of the writer’s sons, Iznaur, was killed in a police operation in spring 2005, even though he had been proclaimed dead after the school siege in Beslan. His second son, Zelimkhan, is serving a twenty-four year sentence in a Russian prison for involvement in an attack on a joint Ingush-Ossetian police outpost in 1998 (Kommersant-Vlast, November 2, 2009).
Few independent news sources remain in Chechnya following the murder of the renowned Chechen human rights activist and journalist Natalya Estemirova in July 2009.
On January 25, in a lengthy interview with the Kremlin-sponsored Russia Today television channel, the Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov accused the exiled Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky of involvement in Estemirova’s murder and repeated his traditional accusations that Western countries are meddling in the North Caucasus, this time supplementing his claims with the assertion that the US itself founded al-Qaeda. Kadyrov quite openly indicated his irritation with Estemirova’s work: “She started receiving a little money from the West,” he said, adding, “Their aim was to speak more about us and receive more money. They were paid for speaking about our problems. We asked them, why scream about our problems as long we are taking care of everything? That is why we exist, and why we are paid. If we have some failures, why tell the whole world about it?” (www.rt.com, January 25).
As the authorities pressured rights activists, kidnappings by law enforcement agencies increased in Chechnya in 2009, according to the Memorial human rights center. In the period of January-November 2009, 90 people were kidnapped. Fifty-eight were released, 10 were found dead, 18 disappeared and four are under investigation. Over the same period in 2008, only 28 people were kidnapped, 15 released or freed for ransom, nine disappeared and five are under investigation. One of the latest cases was the arrest and subsequent disappearance of Islam Umarpashaev, whose whereabouts have been unknown since December 11, when he was taken from his home by people dressed in uniforms (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, January 27).
Meanwhile, in Istanbul, Reuters interviewed Vakha Umarov, who said he was the brother of Doku Umarov, the leader of the North Caucasian Islamic insurgency. Vakha Umarov says he is in contact with Doku, even though he is not part of the insurgency himself. Vakha Umarov alleges that the insurgency clandestinely receives support from the Kremlin-backed local authorities in Chechnya, as there are many insurgency sympathizers among them. According to Umarov, the insurgents number up to 5,000 members in the North Caucasus, 3,000 of which are in Chechnya and the rest elsewhere in the region (www.reuters.com, January 25). Kadyrov dismissed Umarov’s claims on January 26, saying that they were made up exclusively for Western audiences who did not know the real situation in Chechnya (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, January 26).
These trends indicate that the Russian government still regards free media and rights activists as part of the security problem in the North Caucasus. This attitude clearly contradicts the stated goal of Moscow to modernize the region and revive its economy, as modernization can hardly be realized without the liberalization of political life.