On September 15, an Ingush insurgent leader claimed responsibility for planning the September 9 suicide bombing at the central market in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia. According to the leader of Ingush sector, named Adam, the attack was carried out by the Riyadus Salikhin battalion. Calling the Ossetians the main supporters of “the Russian infidels” in the North Caucasus, the author vowed to continue attacking them until they liberate the Muslim lands and stop what the author referred to as anti-Islamic activities (www.hunafa.com, September 15).
This statement by Ingushetia’s insurgency revealed an attempt to portray the insurgents as the champions of the Ingush people’s national interests. By “occupied Muslim land,” they meant part of North Ossetia’s Prigorodny district and North Ossetia’s capital Vladikavkaz, whose ownership the Ingush contest. While the head of Ingushetia, Yunus-bek Yevkurov, had officially proclaimed that Ingushetia would no longer claim these territories, the Ingush insurgency, which is supposedly fighting for these territories, appear to be using this to weaken Yevkurov’s legitimacy in the eyes of the Ingush people.
The suicide attacker who crossed into North Ossetia from Ingushetia is believed to have blown up his car and himself on September 9 near a market place in Vladikavkaz. Eighteen people were killed and over 200 injured in the attack.
Following the explosion, animosity between the two neighboring North Caucasian peoples, the Ossetians and the Ingush, quickly reached the boiling point. On September 11, the first protest action took place in Vladikavkaz, with demonstrators demanding the closure of the administrative border between North Ossetia and Ingushetia, the forcible removal of all ethnic Ingush people from North Ossetia and the resignation of the head of North Ossetia’s government, Taimuraz Mamsurov. Even though the number of protestors was relatively low (an estimated 250 people), the demonstration seemed to have an important impact (Kommersant, September 13).
On September 13, several hundred young Ossetian men carrying placards with nationalist slogans marched from Vladikavkaz to the adjacent Ingush-populated suburb of Kartsa. The police and interior ministry troops sealed off the suburb to prevent clashes. Some people in the crowd reportedly said: “Now the Ingush feel they can kill Ossetians and others who live here with impunity. And they will just receive more money from Moscow for that.” The Ingush who live in Kartsa moved their women and children from the outer parts of the settlement to the inner houses. “Unfortunately, we cannot rely on the local authorities or the help of the police –only Ossetians work there and they do not really care about our safety,” said Sultan Khazbiev, a Kartsa inhabitant. The marchers were stopped by the police and turned back eventually, but the situation remains tense. The organizers of the demonstration said they would wait to see if the authorities would fulfill their promises to provide safety guarantees (Kommersant, September 14).
Vadim Dubnov wrote in a commentary for the Gazeta.ru website that the Vladikavkaz suicide bombing showed the fragility of Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin’s, power vertical as the people do not trust the government and are ready to take action when they feel under threat. According to Dubnov, the Russian president’s envoy to the North Caucasus, Aleksandr Khloponin, ideally would like to replace both the head of North Ossetia Mamsurov and the head of Ingushetia Yevkurov, but has some constraints preventing him from doing so (www.gazeta.ru, September 17).
Meanwhile, the investigation of the terror attack in Vladikavkaz seems to be stalled, given that the investigators quietly released several suspects who had been detained and reclassified them as witnesses. The suspects, all of them from Ingushetia, were treated relatively well by the police, which is a striking contrast with how suspected terrorists are usually treated in the North Caucasus (Kommersant, September 15). This may signify that when ethnic issues are concerned the Russian authorities try to be more careful, even when it comes to terrorism suspects.
On September 17, in a feeble attempt to ameliorate the worsening interethnic situation in North Ossetia, the republic’s Interior Minister, Artur Akhmetkhanov, helplessly stated that “these terror attacks have been committed in order to destabilize North Ossetia by escalating ethnic issues, and this destabilization comes from abroad via the Internet” (www.region15.ru, September 17).
While both North Ossetian and Ingush officials refrained from making statements that would significantly jeopardize the situation, people who are under less constraint traded accusations. A South Ossetian official, Konstantin Pukhaev, proposed that North Ossetia should close its administrative border with Ingushetia to avoid further attacks (www.cominf.org, September 10).
Representatives of Ingushetia’s civil society responded with a bitter open letter addressed to President Dmitry Medvedev and Yevkurov, calling Pukhaev a “Tskhinvali separatist” and accusing the regime of South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity and unnamed Russian officials of money laundering and embezzlement. The Ingush civil society representatives demanded that the Russian leadership stop supporting South Ossetia and provide conditions for the return of Ingush refugees driven out of the disputed areas in North Ossetia during the1992 Ossetian-Ingush conflict. The letter concluded with a call for Ingushetia’s leaders to defend the Ingush people’s national interests the same way other leaders act in their people’s interests. This was an indication of how dissatisfied the Ingush people are with Yevkurov’s leadership (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 16).
The revival of the Ossetian-Ingush controversy is yet another indicator of Moscow’s weakness in the region, as its reassurances to provide safety and security and to punish those who perpetrate crime are not trusted by the local population. It may seem paradoxical, but the instability comes as a direct result of Moscow’s drive to concentrate political power in its hands. With the Russian leadership having abolished elections for regional governors and undermined voting as an institution, people in the North Caucasus have lost significant instruments to improve their lives and thus have increasingly less of a stake in maintaining stability.