Events unfolding in the North Caucasus continue to be a matter of concern for human rights advocates but not in the least for the local governments acting as the Kremlin’s representatives in their respective republics. To mention just a few, the months-long siege of the mountain settlement of Gimry and the ongoing military action against resistance fighters in Dagestan; the internal tensions between pro-Moscow clans in Chechnya; the increase, for the first time since 1996, in the level of activity of the Chechen resistance movement; the situation in Ingushetia, which has become the de facto epicenter of the entire North Caucasus resistance movement; and events in Kabardino-Balkaria, where one attack against the federal center follows another—all of these taken together, and many other developments, cannot have escaped the attention of analysts who are focused on the region.
All government leaders in Russia and the North Caucasus, without exception, continue to describe the situation in the region as “normal.” One has to wonder if the ongoing raids by separatist forces against federal agencies are now considered “normal.” In effect, the government is trying to convince its people that this indeed is “business as usual” and no improvements should be expected.
To cite one example, opinions offered during an April 15 talk show that was focused on Ingushetia and organized by the reputable Russian journalist Yelena Masyuk, and which brought together federal government representatives as well as human rights advocates at Moscow State University, reinforced that same point of view. Issa Kostoev, who represents Ingushetia in Russia’s Federation Council, described Ingushetia as “a region like any other” and said that the crime level there “does not exceed what is seen elsewhere in Russia” (Kasparov.ru, April 16). Under other circumstances, statements of that sort would be treated as sensational—except when they come from those who speak on behalf of the government in the North Caucasus today. In those parts, it is a long-standing tradition to describe black as white and vice versa.
It appears that in the eyes of Federation Council member Issa Kostoev, incidents like the attack on policemen in Malgobek, which left one man dead and three other wounded (Kavkaz-uzel.ru, April 12), or the assassination of Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Court of Ingushetia Khassan Yandiev in broad daylight the following day (Ingushetiya.ru, April 13), or the widespread attacks on military bases such as the one in Karabulak that targeted OMON on the night of April 16, wounding nine servicemen of an Interior Ministry OMON mobile unit (Apn.ru, April 17), or the early morning gunfire aimed at the residence of Nazran mayor on April 18 (Kavkaz-uzel.ru, April 18), everything seems to be perfectly normal.
The current views espoused by Issa Kostoev, who won a hero’s reputation during the Soviet period for leading the effort to catch the serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, may seem downright extravagant. It was Kostoev who called upon human rights advocacy organizations “to decline the services of The Jamestown Foundation,” thus giving away his lack of awareness that this foundation is not involved in grant-making or, indeed, any other activities in the region, except analysis based primarily on Russian mass media sources (Parlamentri.ru, November 27). It is therefore not surprising that Kostoev had to leave the talk show early when discussion turned to specific statistics of crime in Ingushetia and the government’s response.
Human rights advocates have a very different view. For instance, Memorial Board member Aleksandr Cherkasov rebutted Kostoev’s remarks by stating that “kidnappings perpetrated by members of the federal law enforcement agencies, and not the usually suspected rebel fighters, are quite common in Ingushetia. Over a hundred people have been kidnapped during the last few years” (Novy Region, April 15).
The re-emergence of Ingushetia’s former president, Ruslan Aushev, who stepped down before the end of his term under pressure from Kremlin, came as a surprise to many. After several years of staying away from all public events focused on Ingushetia, he appeared on the talk show, which took place at Russia’s premier university, and said that the real culprit behind the current developments is Russia’s policy in the region, adding that unconditional trust and support for the Moscow-based politicians in charge of Ingushetia is unwarranted. Aushev also noted that the policies should be mindful of the local conditions, including those in Ingushetia, where customs and traditions are not always conducive to every idea and plan conceived by politicians in Moscow (Gazeta, April 16).
Aushev’s re-entry into public life should not be seen as accidental, and it is entirely possible that he will opt for a more active role on Ingushetia’s political scene, thus giving the opposition an opportunity to be heard in Moscow and compensating for the sorely lacking political gravitas of politicians in Ingushetia today.
For the first time ever, Ruslan Aushev’s remarks were highly critical of his successor President Murat Zyazikov. Aushev pointed out that all the talk of alleged construction of new plants and factories in Ingushetia was without foundation because Ingushetia’s current climate does not envisage any private capital investment. Aushev has therefore refuted the main argument Murat Zyazikov never fails to bring up at his meetings with the Russian president—his claim that Ingushetia is undergoing rapid development under his leadership (Rosbalt, April 16). Moreover, Aushev suggested that the federal center should make Ingushetia a federal district, which would effectively end Zyazikov’s political life (Ingushetiya.ru, April 15).
The re-emergence of a political heavyweight like Ruslan Aushev comes as an unexpected setback for the current government leaders who assumed that the first Ingush president had retired from the regional politics for good. It may have been widely understood that his choice to step down was made under duress; however, it is not yet altogether clear what changes have transpired to allow him to re-surface and pass judgment on the current government. It is equally unclear whether the Kremlin will use the same mechanisms to suppress him again, or whether Moscow will let him enter the political arena in his capacity as a regional leader with an undisputed reputation across the entire North Caucasus.
In the meantime, the unfortunate President Zyazikov keeps looking abroad to find the source of his troubles: during the past six months he hasn’t been able to get over a seminar on Ingushetia organized by The Jamestown Foundation in the fall of 2007. He reiterated this point again during an interview with the Federation Council magazine, 100 Nations (100 Nations, #3, March 2008).
The gravity of human rights violations in Ingushetia was also noted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), which adopted a memorandum emphasizing that security forces in Chechnya and Ingushetia routinely violate human rights by kidnapping and torturing people. According to Novaya Gazeta, the memorandum describes the state of human rights in the region as “significantly more alarming” than anywhere else in the 47 member-states of the European Council (Novaya Gazeta, April 17).
The discussion of Ingushetia’s conditions may be applied equally to the regional situation in general, as many factors present in Ingushetia are also encountered elsewhere—perhaps with a few variations or minor divergences. In essence, the issue at hand is that the entire North Caucasus region is a permanently active volcano that from time to time begins to erupt and destroy everything in its vicinity.