On March 14, the presidium of Russia’s governing political party, United Russia, dismissed Ingush President Murat Zyazikov from the post of the party’s regional leader. Andrei Vorobyev, the chairman of United Russia’s Central Executive Committee, explained this decision by the fact that the Ingush leader was “too busy,” that “Murat Zyazikov has organized two election campaigns in Ingushetia, but as the president of Ingushetia he is too busy to be involved in the regular activities of the party,” Vorobyoev told the Gazeta newspaper. Vorobyev insisted that Zyazikov himself had requested to be dropped as the head of United Russia’s branch in Ingushetia (Gazeta, March 16).
This explanation for Zyazikov’s resignation is less than convincing given that all of Russia’s regional leaders are simultaneously the heads of the pro-Kremlin party’s local branches. All of them organize elections in their regions and use whatever means necessary to obtain election results that would please the Kremlin. It should be noted that last year Murat Zyazikov was sacked as the leader of United Russia’s branch in Ingushetia by members of the Executive Committee of the Ingush branch of the party but was restored to this position in June with the help of the Kremlin. It was not easy for the Ingush president to return to the leadership of United Russia’s branch in Ingushetia. Zyazikov faced a strong resistance from Mukharbek Aushev, an Ingush politician who had replaced Zyazikov as the local party leader. One cannot believe that the president of Ingushetia decided to give up the position for which he fought so hard just several mouths earlier.
Political observers in Russia regard the decision of United Russia to sack Zyazikov as the first clear evidence that the Kremlin has plans to change leaders in Ingushetia. Among all the republics of the North Caucasus, Ingushetia is the region where the insurgency is getting stronger most rapidly (Chechnya Weekly, January 24) and this fact is causing people in the Kremlin to panic. President Vladimir Putin and his entourage have no idea what to do in Ingushetia. Rebel attacks are increasing but the local branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) is paralyzed due to heavy casualties and the destruction of its regional intelligence network. This year the FSB has scored just one success against the militants in Ingushetia, who have conducted dozens of successful attacks against policemen, FSB officers and the military.
This winter the Kremlin used every occasion to demonstrate its full support of Murat Zyazikov. In January and February, federal officials, including Vladimir Putin himself, made statements in which they praised the Ingush president’s “effective work” and attacked his opponents in the republic who are demanding his resignation. The federal authorities promised more financial support to Ingushetia “to solve social problems” in the republic.
Recently, however, the attitude of the Kremlin towards the Ingush president began to change. Commenting on Zyazikov’s resignation from the post of United Russia’s local leader, Aleksei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center told Gazeta that “…this is one of the ways that the Kremlin uses to remove people from power.” On March 18, the Supreme Court of Russia rejected a demand by the prosecutor’s office in Ingushetia for the closure of the main voice of the anti-Zyazikov opposition in the region, the Ingushetiya.ru website. That same day, the State Duma refused to support an appeal by the Ingush parliament for a ban on broadcasts in the republic by the REN-TV channel. Several days earlier, REN-TV had broadcast a documentary on the Ingush opposition.
It is clear that Zyazikov and the local power structures that he controls, including the parliament and the republican prosecutor’s office, are trying to step up activities against the political opposition, but the Kremlin, which previously took the side of the Ingush leader in his standoff with the opposition, is now trying to distance itself from the struggle between Murat Zyazikov and his opponents. It looks like the Russian authorities are slowly beginning to realize that it would be better to deal with the legal non-violent opposition in Ingushetia, which can be controlled from Moscow, than with the powerful insurgency, whose aim is to separate, at least de-facto, the republic from Russia and to create an Islamic state in the region.
The Kremlin does not want to sack Zyazikov because everybody would think that it was done under duress. Nevertheless, in the face of active rebel forces, Moscow wants to intensify the search for a possible successor to the Ingush president. Zyazikov completely satisfies the Kremlin because he is a perfect puppet, who never protests or resists the federal center. However, it is clear to Putin and his team that something needs to be done to improve the situation in Ingushetia and not to allow the rebels to take power there.
The Kremlin is looking for a candidate for the Ingush presidency who can propose new effective methods in fighting the local insurgency but at the same time agree to be a puppet like Zyazikov. It is very difficult to find such a candidate, given that high-profile Ingush politicians are demanding more autonomy from Moscow in order to pacify the region. For example, one of the possible candidates, Mukharbek Aushev, the former leader of United Russia in Ingushetia, told Vremya Novostei that the Russian authorities should “abandon General Yermolov’s methods in Ingushetia [Yermolov was the Russian general famous for his cruelty against civilians during the Caucasian war of the 19th century—AS]. One should get access to militants very cautiously, the way Akhmad Kadyrov did it or Razman does it. Rebels should surrender under reliable guarantees” (Vremya Novostei, January 18).
In other words, Aushev sees only one way to solve the problem of the rebels in Ingushetia: to allow the Ingush themselves to negotiate with the separatists.
Musa Keligov, a former deputy to the presidential envoy in the Southern Federal District who some call the “purse” of the anti-Zyazikov opposition, also says that only military units comprised of ethnic Ingush can find and destroy the guerrillas. “One battalion is needed to destroy the rebels but this battalion should consist of the Ingush only,” he said. “Only the Ingush should restore order in Ingushetia.” Keligov promised to speed up the development of Ingushetia’s economy by building new refineries in the region (Vremya Novostei, February 11).
The Kremlin knows the proposals made by Keligov, Aushev and others very well. The problem is that nobody is certain that, in the event that Keligov or Aushev becomes Ingushetia’s president, they will indeed find ways to change the situation for the better. At the same time, it is also clear that Zyazikov is politically impotent and can do nothing, while the FSB has serious problems in Ingushetia. The result is that nobody in Moscow knows exactly what should be done with Ingushetia now.