The Kremlin Clings to Zyazikov

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 3

Despite the fact that it is winter, rebel attacks in the Caucasian republic of Ingushetia have intensified. It would be no exaggeration to say that attacks on policemen and local officials occur every day. At the same time, the Ingush authorities, especially the republican president Murat Zyazikov, are facing rising pressure from a legal non-violent opposition, whose main aim is to obtain Zyazikov’s resignation. However, there is still no evidence that the Kremlin plans to change anything in its approach to Ingushetia; moreover, the Russian authorities are doing their best to support Murat Zyazikov, despite his extreme unpopularity among the Ingush people. As the security situation in the republic worsens, the Kremlin demonstrates repeatedly that it will not betray its trusted vassal.

On January 15, President Vladimir Putin met with Murat Zyazikov in the Kremlin. During the meeting, which was widely broadcast on Russian TV, Zyazikov told Putin about the “good results of economic development” in Ingushetia in 2007. “We are going to open three factories soon, two brick factories and one to produce haydite,” Zyazikov said (ORT, January 15).

Putin did not comment on this information, but the very fact that he did not criticize Zyazikov during the meeting and did not mention the security problems of Ingushetia suggests that he still supports him or at least sees no alternative to him in the republic.

Just two days after the meeting, Rashid Nurgaliev, the federal Interior Minister, made a visit to Ingushetia, during which he openly praised the Ingush president for his effective work. “Thanks to the firm and uncompromising stand of the president of Ingushetia, as well as the law-enforcement bodies, it has become possible to restore the supremacy of law, to restore the economy and social life, and to increase living standards for the population of Ingushetia,” Nurgaliev said at a meeting of the republican Anti-Terrorist Commission that took place in the Ingush capital Magas. Nurgaliev added that he was sure that the leadership of Ingushetia would continue to work to improve the republic’s social and political life (ANN, January 17).

On January 19, Nikolai Patrushev, who heads the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the National Anti-Terrorist Committee, promised to improve the security situation in Ingushetia soon thanks to a decision that had been made during another meeting of the Anti-Terrorist Commission, which had taken place the same day in Magas (RIA Novosti, January 19). During that meeting, which was also attended by Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev and another high-ranking federal official, Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, it was decided that Murat Zyazikov will be responsible for economic and social issues, while regional law-enforcement bodies should be more active in tracking down rebels and leaders of the Ingush insurgency.

In fact, the main result of this meeting is further proof that the Kremlin does not want to make any changes in its Ingush policy. Russian officials believe that the problem of the insurgency in Ingushetia can still be solved within the framework of its carrot-and-stick policy: the civic administration will continue to get money from Moscow to improve the economy while the security officials continue its search for rebels, and use lawless and violent methods to do so.

Murat Zyazikov was declared the person responsible for the economic development of Ingushetia at a time when the local opposition was uniting the Ingush public behind an anti-Zyazikov movement. More than 50 percent of Ingushetia’s registered voters have signed affidavits saying that they did not vote in the Russian parliamentary election on December 2, while official results provided by Ingushetia’s Election Commission state that 98 percent of the republic’s registered voters voted that day. This “I Didn’t Vote” campaign was organized by the opposition and it demonstrates how unpopular the Ingush president is in his region. The opposition has promised to organize an anti-Zyazikov rally on January 26 that is expected to be quite massive.

The Kremlin is certainly not happy to see any kind of social protest in any place of Russia, but Ingushetia may be an exception. The insurgency is very strong there and the local authorities too weak and unpopular, so something needs to be done to calm down at least a portion of Ingush society. The slogan for the planned upcoming opposition rally is “For Vladimir Putin and Against Terrorism.” Zyazikov, who is squeezed between the rebels and the opposition, may be sacrificed simply to neutralize the legal protest movement. Such a step could improve the stability of the republic very quickly, at least temporarily, without having to build any new factories or hospitals. However, a step like Zyazikov’s resignation goes beyond the carrot-and-stick framework, because it would be perceived as Russian authorities dismissing the Ingush leader due to pressure from below. If Boris Yeltsin were the Russian president now, he would get rid of Murat Zyazikov without any hesitation. He would invite him to the Kremlin, but not listen to the songs about the booming Ingush economy; instead, he would shout at him and immediately sack him publicly. Such a step would make the Russian president popular among many Ingush and neutralize not only the legal opposition, but also perhaps even the insurgency.

Vladimir Putin, however, is unable to make such an easy decision. Instead of sacking Zyazikov, Putin hails him as a person who will lead Ingush society toward economic prosperity. It is hard to believe that the current Russian president is so stupid as not to understand that Zyazikov can lead Ingushetia only to a state of total chaos. He probably understands this, but for Putin to take any political decision that breaks with the carrot-and-stick framework would mean breaking with his Caucasian policy as a whole. If Zyazikov resigns in response to the demands of the population—people in Dagestan, Karachaevo-Cherkessia or of any other republic might try to do the same and demand the resignation of their Kremlin-appointed leaders. That could have a disastrous effect on Putin’s reforms, under which he turned the post of regional governor from one that is freely elected into one that is appointed by the Kremlin. This is the reason why it is easier for the Kremlin simply to leave the situation in Ingushetia as it is and hope it improves sometime in the future.