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Violence Pervades Ingushetian President's First Year In Office

Yunus-Bek Yevkurov -- his greatest achievement as president may be actually surviving the first year.

Yunus-Bek Yevkurov -- his greatest achievement as president may be actually surviving the first year.

On October 31, 2008, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev named Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, a colonel in military intelligence, to succeed Murat Zyazikov as president of Ingushetia.

Yevkurov's greatest achievement over the past year is arguably that he is still alive, having made a remarkable recovery from injuries sustained in an assassination attempt on June 22.

But he also secured a huge financial aid package from Moscow intended to kick-start the republic's moribund economy, reduce unemployment, and alleviate social problems. And he has made every effort to reach out to, and win the trust of, a population alienated and disgusted by the corruption and inefficiency that flourished under Zyazikov.

Yevkurov has been less successful, however, in improving the efficiency of the republic's government, tackling economic stagnation and unemployment, and stemming the ongoing attacks by the Islamic resistance on police and security personnel. The October 25 murder of respected moderate oppositionist Maksharip Aushev led several observers to question whether and to what extent Yevkurov is in control of developments in Ingushetia.

Shaking Up Government

Yevkurov's initial moves following his appointment as president were encouraging. He immediately dismissed the entire cabinet, vowing that the sole criteria for selecting new ministers would be professional competence and honesty.

He duly named as his new prime minister a young economist, Rashid Gaysanov, who had served as economy minister under Zyazikov's predecessor, retired army General Ruslan Aushev. And he proposed that ministers should serve a probation period of one year, during which they would be required to draft a detailed program for developing the specific sector for which they were responsible.

Within days of his appointment, Yevkurov met with the parents of Magomed Yevloyev, the Moscow-based owner of an opposition website who was detained by police and shot dead two months earlier on his arrival at Magas airport. Yevkurov also convened a meeting with representatives of the republic's small but vocal opposition, some of whom, including Maksharip Aushev, subsequently agreed to join his team.

Yevkurov launched an energetic crackdown on corruption, even making public the number of his mobile phone and encouraging citizens to call him directly to report cases of unfair dismissal or failure to pay salaries on time. He met regularly with members of the public to discuss their grievances. Several weeks ago, he established an informal council comprising the heads of Ingushetia's various teyps (clans) in the hope of mobilizing their help and support in his struggle against corruption and to halt the steady flow of disenchanted young men to join the resistance ranks.

But Yevkurov's twin objectives of political stability and national reconciliation were undermined by ongoing daily shootings and explosions, on the one hand, and by a combination of inefficiency and passive resistance within the republic's government, on the other. Possibly the most fateful example of that incompetence was the failure of the Interior Ministry to prevent the suicide car-bomb attack on August 17, despite reports that a terror attack was imminent.

In early October, Yevkurov dissolved the government, citing as his rationale for doing so the failure of unnamed ministers to resolve pressing social and economic problems, and corruption. He then selected to succeed Gaysanov as prime minister a Russian career Federal Security Service (FSB) officer, Aleksei Vorobyov, whom he had named Security Council secretary in January.

Reuters in late January quoted medical personnel as saying that during Yevkurov's first months in office, there had been a noticeable drop in the incidence of attacks by Islamic militants on law enforcement personnel. But that trend proved only short-lived. During the first six months of this year, there were no fewer than 58 resistance attacks on members of the police and security services, of whom 37 were killed and 79 wounded. In addition, more than 39 civilians were killed, and of 10 people abducted, four were found dead.

As in Chechnya and Daghestan, there has been an increase in the number of civilians abducted, killed and subsequently branded without any evidence as resistance fighters. The argument, adduced repeatedly by human rights activists and by Ingushetian oppositionist Magomed Khazbiyev in a May 10 interview with Ekho Moskvy, that such arbitrary reprisals only drive more young men to join the resistance, is clearly lost on those officials in Moscow with the authority to order a halt to such tactics.

Chechen Factor

Whether and to what extent meddling by security organs in neighboring Chechnya has fuelled instability in Ingushetia remains unclear. Following a suicide bombing in Grozny in mid-May, Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov secured Yevkurov's support for a counterterrorism operation by Interior Ministry forces from both republics in the region that straddles the border between them.

Some observers construed Kadyrov's move as the first step in a campaign to undermine Yevkurov and thereby bolster the argument, floated at intervals by Kadyrov's subordinates over the previous three years, that Chechnya and Ingushetia should again be combined into a single republic (of which Kadyrov would be named head).

In the wake of the attempt to kill Yevkurov in late June, Kadyrov announced that Medvedev had transferred to him sole responsibility for coordinating the joint counterterrorism operation, but Ingushetian Interior Minister Ruslan Meyriyev reportedly refused to take orders from Kadyrov.

Chechen involvement in the killing of Maksharip Aushev just days before the first anniversary of Yevkurov's appointment as president cannot be excluded, for two reasons. First, it would serve Kadyrov's imputed desire to discredit, sideline, and then supplant Yevkurov.

And second, Aushev had incurred the enmity of police and security forces in Chechnya by making public the involvement of Chechen Interior Ministry forces in the abduction two years ago of his son and nephew. When police in Ingushetia claimed it was impossible to locate the two men, Aushev launched a private investigation and finally managed to rescue them from an unregistered prison in Chechnya's Urus Martan Raion. "Novaya gazeta" has pointed out that such a facility could not have existed without Kadyrov's knowledge and approval.

In one of his last interviews, Aushev argued that Kadyrov shares the blame for the deterioration of the situation in Ingushetia in recent years because Chechen security forces under his control participated in the wave of abductions and killings of young men known to be practicing Muslims. Aushev said that "the whole of Ingushetia is against Kadyrov.... I shall be the first to oppose him if he enters Ingushetia."

Yevkurov praised Aushev on October 27 as having been "a real help," most recently in ensuring that the October 11 local government elections passed without incident. He said Aushev's murder "dealt a blow to my authority." At the same time, Yevkurov vowed that "I will not step down as president and return to Moscow...because to do so would be an act of cowardice."

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.