The North Caucasus continues to churn uneasily, despite all of Moscow’s cheerful assurances to the contrary. It is hard to miss how the Russian leadership desperately tries to find a way out of the situation, but as usual, Moscow tries to rely only on its own power, rather than admit that the problem is much deeper. In a recent press conference, Dagestan president Mukha Aliev admitted that those who work to destabilize the situation in the North Caucasus “will be around for the long term” (www.rosbalt.ru, June 26). It seems as though the central authorities agree, since the formation of two new army mountain divisions is in full swing. One division will be stationed near the village of Botlikh in Dagestan, near the borders shared with Chechnya and Georgia, while the other will be located near the village of Zelenchukskaya in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, near Abkhazia and Georgia. These divisions will include anti-chemical and biological weapons technicians, signal corps, medical personnel, repair facilities and logistics structures, totaling 4,000 men.
Given this information, the news from Ingushetia in July reminds one of a series of frontline dispatches. Dagestan has long been seen as the powder keg of the region and even a short list of the potential problems in that republic shows just how complex the situation there actually is. There is, for example, the ongoing conflict between the government and the opposition “Sharia” jamaat, along with criminal conflicts amongst the highest government officials, and clan-based disagreements over the division of land in the lowland region of the republic; all leading to countless ethnic-based armed brawls and blood-lettings. Despite these issues, Dagestan has moved into the background over the course of the last month, handing the laurels for the most disturbances to Ingushetia. Unlike other ethnically-based republics, Ingushetia has no real inter-ethnic problems—similar to Chechnya during the last decade, Ingushetia is fundamentally mono-ethnic—or severe problems with crime. Even clan rivalries do not play a large part in the life of the younger and smallest of the North Caucasian republics.
The former minister of internal affairs of Ingushetia, Beslan Khamkhoev, has been removed from his post by a Presidential decree of Vladimir Putin and replaced by lieutenant-colonel Musa Medov. Khamkhoev took charge of the ministry after the famous attack undertaken by Shamil Basaev and his men on June 22, 2004, when a majority of the high-ranking security officers and members of the attorney general’s office were killed. For almost six months he was considered a temporary minister (the official appointment was announced only on November 27, 2005), suggesting that the Kremlin was not completely sure of the appropriateness of this step. Before this particular appointment, Khamkhoev was head of the republic’s OMON and was not considered to be particularly close to Ingush president Murad Zyazikov. Beginning in the summer of 2006, rumors about the new appointee’s upcoming replacement started to spread, with Musa Medov being considered a likely successor (www.regnum.ru, April 4, 2006). Following the abduction of one of his close relatives, Zyazikov had an unshakeable reason for demanding Beslan Khamkhoev’s resignation.
Changes in the leadership of the local ministries of internal affairs are fairly frequent occurrences, especially in those areas that border Chechnya (RIA Novosti, July 28). Candidates for these posts are selected solely on the basis of the Kremlin’s trust of their ability to unquestioningly carry out all of Moscow’s directives, rather than obeying the local authorities. Thus, the local ministries of internal affairs are under Moscow’s direct command, with the local leadership being unable to do anything except send complaints to the Kremlin or try to support the security apparatus in the hope of securing an ally against potential opposition forces. Given the current events in Ingushetia, it was unsurprising that a new minister of internal affairs was appointed. As always, Moscow needed months to find a new candidate and to deal with the excuses and explanations provided by the old office holder. Tradition dictates that those officials being removed from a high post will be transferred to a new posting, generally of a comparable level, as a way of not offending a former governmental servitor.
If we look at the events of the last two weeks, we will clearly see that life in the republic is full of incidents that go far beyond simple criminality. The issue is a level of socio-political tension that is higher than in any other part of the region.
June 16 – According to the central authorities, Ruslan Aushev (who shares his name with the former president of the republic), one of the leaders of the Wahhabite underground, is slain in the village of Surkhakhi. The villagers, however, see the issue differently and hold demonstrations denouncing the “abuse by the Federal forces.” According to a local policeman, the slain man was not on the lists of potential suspects and no compromising information about him was known (Kommersant, June 29).
June 19 – The ministry of internal affairs of the republic declares that a new attack on the republic might be imminent. Armed groups are seen moving in the forests, with police and military personnel taking measures to guard the capital and the airport, while additional checkpoints are set up on the republic’s main highway. The population becomes increasingly nervous as no one in the leadership provides explanations of any kind. Zyazikov, as is customary, immediately flies to Moscow, leaving the republic for the duration of the potential disturbances (Kavkazky Uzel, June 19).
The night of June 19 to June 20 – The OMON headquarters are attacked. Two hundred officers manage to hold off seven guerrillas, with the firefight continuing for several hours.
June 21 – An armed attack on a staff member of Russia’s Attorney General’s Office is made in Nazran.
June 25 – Unknown assailants explode two F-1 anti-tank grenades in a slot-machine equipped café in the village of Ordzhonikidzevskaya in Ingushetia.
June 25 – A source in the Ingush police reports that a car with a team of detectives was fired upon by unknown assailants using automatic weapons in the center of Nazran.
June 26 – A building housing border guards in Nazran is fired upon; there are casualties and fatalities, including one dead girl, the daughter of one of the guards.
June 27 – The inhabitants of the village of Surkhakhi manage to rescue Khalid Aushev from a team of FSB investigators. Since it is now common for those arrested by the FSB to simply disappear or be declared one of the leaders of the Ingush jamaat, the villagers took the matter into their own hands in order to rescue one of their own. The local police and even the republic’s OMON backed the locals, preventing the removal of the potential victim by the FSB.
June 28 – Unknown persons shoot at the building housing the Nazran border guards, presumably from a car, and also fire in the direction of the guard’s headquarters (Interfax, June 28).
All of the examples above demonstrate the unsolved nature of the Chechen problem, which now flares up in violence all across the North Caucasus. Having failed to solve this complex issue, the central authorities are unable to fully control the situation, especially when a new generation is willing to stand up for their views with weapons in hand.
In Ingushetia itself, no obvious changes toward a stabilization of the situation can be expected, at least during the period of Murad Zyazikov’s presidency. The leader of Ingushetia has no policy; he fully expects to maintain his post thanks to Moscow and his ties in the FSB, meaning through Putin’s people. Murad Zyazikov cannot fail to see that people from the FSB are increasingly coming into the leadership of the country, which means the aim of building a vertical structure based on people exclusively loyal to Putin is increasingly relevant for Russia. This implies that his importance forces Moscow to shut its eyes to the fact that they have essentially lost the Republic of Ingushetia from the moment Ruslan Aushev was forced to resign under pressure from Moscow. The Ingush jamaat is today one of the most battle-worthy in the North Caucasus, on a level with the Dagestani [jamaat], and its [the Ingush jamaat’s] activities in the republic is evidence that the problems for Murad Zyazikov and for the Russian leadership in that region of the North Caucasus will remain relevant in the immediate future. 2007 will not be a turning point for Ingushetia; everything thus far suggests that all sides in the conflict are preparing for a future absolute collision, in which the winner will be not a person, but an idea.