Russian President Dmitry Medvedev today dismissed
Ingushetia's acting interior minister, Colonel Valery Zhernov, thereby calling into question Ingushetian President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov's assertion in an interview
earlier this year that the work of the police is improving, and popular trust in them is growing.
Medvedev simultaneously named to head the ministry Major General Viktor Pogolov, whose most recent post was head of the criminal police in Saratov Oblast. Pogolov has previous experience of the unique conditions and problems the police face in the North Caucasus: He was part of a team that successfully freed a Saratov woman taken hostage in Chechnya in 2005.
Pogolov's new job will not be an easy one. For the past several years, Islamic insurgents have regularly and ruthlessly targeted police officers in Ingushetia in retaliation for indiscriminate reprisals by police and other security personnel against peaceful civilians, especially young men known to be practicing Muslims.
The pressure, compounded by the systematic withholding of wages and hazardous-duty allowances, became so intense that in the early summer of 2008, over 1,300 police officers reportedly submitted
More recently, 25 people, most of them police officers, died and over 100 were injured when a militant suicide bomber drove a truck into the main compound of the Interior Ministry headquarters in Nazran last August. Yevkurov attributed that attack to negligence and fired Interior Minister Ruslan Meyriyev. Yevkurov subsequently lambasted
police for lacking "professionalism" and announced a reassessment of the level of competence of all ministry personnel, warning that officers deemed incapable of performing their duties would be fired.
Former Deputy Interior Minister Mukhtar Buzurtanov, now a deputy speaker of the Ingushetian parliament, recently attributed
the growing strength of the Islamic insurgency over the past five-six years to a lack of both coordination and trust between the various law enforcement agencies. He said the police themselves sometimes violated the law.
Buzurtanov further claimed the police were interested primarily in creating the impression that they are combating the insurgency efficiently -- "in reporting to those higher up that they have liquidated however many militants."
Yevkurov has admitted, however, that some police and security forces personnel secretly abet the insurgents, providing them with arms. Five of the 16 suspected militants taken into custody in the wake of the counterterror operation
in Ekazhevo on March 2 were police officers.