On January 20, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made a previously unannounced 90-minute visit to Magas, capital of the Republic of Ingushetia.
Meeting with Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, whom he selected in late October 2008 to replace the discredited and ineffective Murat Zyazikov as republican president, Medvedev pledged 29 billion rubles ($877.8 million) in economic aid.
Medvedev did not specify how the money would be spent, but suggested it would be used to improve socioeconomic conditions and aid coordination of security forces fighting an ongoing rebel insurgency in the region, where soldiers and police are regularly attacked. Medvedev described the situation as "difficult" and said that "emergency measures" were needed.
Some Caucasus experts, however, believe the aid is a bribe to the Ingush to shelve their claims on Chechen territory
Medvedev acknowledged that Ingushetia faces numerous social and economic problems that "arose over a period of years" -- a veiled jibe at Zyazikov, who regularly reported to Moscow on the completion of nonexistent production projects and the successful fulfillment of economic targets the republic had in fact not met.
Medvedev mentioned specifically slow economic growth rates (industrial production in Ingushetia plummeted during the first six months of 2008 by 27 percent, according to regnum.ru on August 1); insufficient investment; and high unemployment. Economic Development Minister Viktor Basargin, who accompanied Medvedev to Magas together with Federal Security Service head Aleksandr Bortnikov, estimated unemployment in Ingushetia at 57 percent.
Ingushetia has in fact been an economic basket case since it split from Chechnya in the summer of 1992: the status of a "free economic zone" that it enjoyed between 1994-97 yielded little tangible benefit except for the new capital. The economic stagnation that was the hallmark of Zyazikov's six years as president, together with the blatant corruption to which he turned a blind eye, contributed in no small measure to the alienation of the population of 490,000.
Ingushetia currently enjoys the dubious distinction of being the most dependent of all federation subjects on federal subsidies, which account for over 80 percent of its annual budget. Prime Minister Rashid Gaysanov told the republic's parliament on January 19, that he believes that figure can be reduced to 30 percent, but he did not explain how. Searching For Security
Yevkurov, who is a career Russian military intelligence officer, singled out at the most serious problems facing the republic as official corruption, the mistrust of the government to which that corruption has given rise, and unemployment.
Although the heads of Ingushetian law enforcement and security agencies were present at his meeting with Medvedev, Yevkurov was not quoted as mentioning the ongoing wave of violence that has plagued the republic over the past two years. In 2008 alone, according to kavkaz-uzel.ru on January 7, there were no fewer than 61 acts of terrorism in which over 70 police and military personnel were killed and 167 injured. Twenty civilians were also killed and 46 wounded.
Most observers are convinced that the primary factor that impels young Ingush men to join the ranks of the armed resistance is arbitrary police brutality and the abductions of young men known to be devout but peaceful and law-abiding Muslims.
Medvedev on January 20 implied that the actions of the Ingushetian police may have contributed to the attacks of recent years: he called for focusing "particular attention" on the work of the Interior Ministry and confirmed as its new head Ruslan Mayriyev, who was named acting interior minister on November 25 to replace Zyazikov crony Musa Medov. Despite his imputed involvement in the August 31 killing of Magomed Yevloyev
, owner of the independent Ingushetian information website ingushetia.org, Medov has just been named to a senior position within the federal Interior Ministry.
Grigory Shvedov, the chief editor of the Internet news agency kavkaz-uzel.ru, was quoted by gazeta.ru on January 21 as interpreting Medvedev's visit to Magas as an expression of confidence in Yevkurov's abilities. At the same time, Shvedov expressed doubt whether there is a large enough pool of qualified managerial personnel for Yevkurov to draw on, and said he would be well-advised to try to persuade the most competent Ingush who left the republic to return.
Russian press accounts of Medvedev's flying visit do not specify whether and in what depth the domestic political situation was discussed. A nationwide congress of the Ingush people is scheduled for January 31, to which Yevkurov, together with Zyazikov and Zyazikov's immensely popular predecessor Ruslan Aushev, have been invited. One of the main issues to be raised at that congress is the need to delineate the republic's borders with Chechnya and North Ossetia prior to holding local elections later this year.
It is in that context that Ingush nationalists launched a campaign last fall for parts of what is now the Chechen Republic to be transferred to Ingushetian jurisdiction, along with the disputed Prigorodny Raion of North Ossetia, which is Yevkurov's birthplace. In an ongoing poll on ingushetia.org, almost 60 percent of respondents to date said they do not believe that the republic's parliament will adopt a law on municipalities that does not designate Prigorodny Raion an integral part of Ingushetia.
Medvedev's offer of massive investment in Ingushetia's ramshackle economy is almost certainly a sop to induce the republic's leaders to drop any territorial demands on either North Ossetia or Chechnya.