Prague, 22 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin today called for security forces in Ingushetia to track down and either kill or capture those who carried out coordinated attacks in the republic overnight that resulted in the deaths of nearly 50 people, including government officials.
Several bands of militants claiming to be subordinate to radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev launched the attacks on the Interior Ministry building in Nazran, the former capital, and several other targets in Ingushetia, leaving at least 48 people dead and many others wounded.
"They must be found and destroyed," Putin said. "Those whom it is possible to take alive must be handed over to the courts." Putin summoned security officials to the Kremlin for an emergency meeting after the attacks.
Other targets included two police posts in Sunzha Raion and local police stations in Karabulak and Ordzhonikidze. The assailants, who Basaev's website claims were predominantly Ingush, withdrew after gunbattles lasting several hours. Among those killed was acting Ingush Interior Minister Abubakar Kostoev, his deputy, and two local prosecutors. Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov said at least five people from the Ingush Prosecutor General's Office were killed also. The attackers also set fire to the Interior Ministry building in Nazran. The Chechen website kavkazcenter.com claimed that the death toll was considerably higher. It reported that 30 Ingush police were killed in Nazran alone, and that the dead also included Russian military and Federal Security Service (FSB) troops.
So far, federal forces in Ingushetia have not reported killing or capturing any of the attackers. Local authorities said the attackers fled to the forest area along the Chechen-Ingush border.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said today in Primorskii Krai that "units from the Ministry of Defense forces for the North Caucasus have already been dispatched to Nazran. We already set up a military field hospital to assist the wounded."
He added: "I do not think that we will have to send in the army. I don't think that, but we have already dispatched, overnight, a military field hospital and, just in case, units to reinforce the Interior Ministry troops and border guards
The raids are a further blow to the reputation of embattled Ingush President Murat Zyazikov, a former FSB general who has been repeatedly criticized in recent weeks for condoning corruption, embezzlement, and the largescale falsification of the results of the voting in Ingushetia in the 7 December Russian State Duma elections. More crucially, the fact that the majority of the assailants were reportedly ethnic Ingush fighting under the command of a Chechen field commander will undoubtedly fuel the arguments by members of the Russian military who some observers believe seek a pretext to extend the "antiterrorism" operation in Chechnya westward into Ingushetia. Russian military spokesmen in the North Caucasus have for the past few months sought to portray the situation in Ingushetia as inherently unstable. The kazkavcenter.com website on 8 March accused the Russian media of engaging in "cheap propaganda" by reporting developments in Ingushetia in such a way as to suggest the region is already a war zone. Independent Ingush observers have, however, questioned the veracity of Russian reports that young Ingush men are flocking to fight under the banner of their Chechen kin.
Basaev's website reported the incursions into Ingushetia in considerable detail, but Basaev himself has not yet claimed formal responsibility for them. He did, however, warn in a statement last week that his men were preparing for a major operation that, he predicted, would inflict serious military and political damage on federal forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2004). Basaev's role remains unclear and controversial, with many observers convinced that he has acted on at least one occasion at the behest of the FSB, possibly as the result of a "false flag" recruitment.
The secretary-general of the Council of Europe, Walter Schwimmer, condemned the raids at a news briefing in Strasbourg today: "Yesterday night's attacks on official buildings and police stations in Ingushetia, with more than 40 people killed, cannot be but firmly condemned. Terrorism and violence do not lead to a political solution, which is the only
possible solution. Only the full restoration of democracy, rule of law, and human rights in Chechnya will put an end to the suffering in this part of the Russian Federation and the Council of Europe is, in the framework of the programs I have agreed with the Russian foreign minister, contributing to this aim and I hope we can accelerate the implementation of these programs."