MOSCOW (Reuters) -- The leader of Russia's Muslim republic of Ingushetia, who narrowly survived an assassination attempt in June, conceded on November 22 that widespread state corruption was helping an Islamist insurgency in the region.
He declined to say what proportion of officials were corrupt, but acknowledged the problem was bad enough to fuel a cycle of violence and crime that has put his impoverished region at the heart of mounting violence across the North Caucasus.
"Bandits give money to officials, knowing they can be easily paid off," Yunus-Bek Yevkurov told Reuters in an interview during a trip to the Russian capital. "This in turn means officials are [aiding] the terrorists and militants."
He added that law-enforcement agencies were also behind eight kidnappings this year.
The tall, moustachioed leader, who spent two months in hospital including a fortnight in a coma after a suicide bomber blew up his car in June, said he was banking on a stabilization program including harsher punishment for corrupt officials.
When Yevkurov was appointed just over a year ago, he immediately sacked his entire cabinet, pledging to reduce corruption. He admitted his efforts had yet to show progress.
"We underestimated the situation before and this was a mistake.... But I believe in myself, that I will control it by punishment," he said, adding that more officials still needed to be stripped of the power they had amassed in the previous government.
The decorated paratrooper, who led Russian troops in a showdown with NATO forces at Pristina airport during the Kosovo war in 1999, was chosen by the Kremlin to replace Murat Zyazikov, whom rights groups accuse of murder and corruption.
Yevkurov is largely credited with securing an aid package from the Kremlin worth 32 billion roubles ($980 million) over the next six years.
Over half of Ingushetia's economically active population are unemployed, and 90 percent of the region's revenues are subsidies from Moscow.
He aims to use the aid package to develop the economy and create jobs, in the hope that this will reduce crime.
Armed attacks on authorities and law-enforcement agencies are a near daily occurrence in the region of 470,000 people bordering Chechnya, where Moscow has gone to war with rebels twice in the past two decades.
President Dmitry Medvedev has described the North Caucasus as Russia's biggest domestic political problem, and rights groups and analysts say Ingushetia is at war with Islamist rebels.
But Yevkurov rejected the term, saying the violence stemmed from poverty and easy access to weapons, as well as abuses and corruption by law-enforcement agencies.
He said his biggest challenge was to prevent "disenchanted, disappointed" young men being drawn into the insurgency by creating more jobs and establishing social programs.
Having grown up with a surge in violence that started after the Soviet Union fell in 1991, Ingushetia's youth "know nothing but violence, terrorism, and banditry", he said.