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Website Owner's Killing Could Compound Instability In Ingushetia

  • Liz Fuller

Demonstrators following Yevloyev's death: "Why is the Kremlin protecting Zyazikov?"

The death on August 31 in an as-yet-unclarified shooting of Magomed Yevloyev, the Moscow-based owner of the independent Ingushetian website ingushetiya.ru, has served to focus attention both within Russia and abroad on the catastrophic breakdown in law and order in Ingushetia since the election in 2002 of Murat Zyazikov as president. Whether popular anger at Yevloyev's killing will serve as the catalyst for the emergence of a structured and effective opposition movement remains unclear, however.

Over the past two years, the security situation in Ingushetia has deteriorated to the point that shootings, explosions, and abductions have become an everyday occurrence. Indeed, Ingushetia has overtaken Chechnya and Daghestan to become the least stable of the seven North Caucasus republics. The Russian leadership, for its part, appears either unwilling to acknowledge the accelerating breakdown in law and order or at a loss how to reverse it.

The current crisis dates from June 2004, when Chechen and Ingush fighters under the command of Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev launched attacks on police and security forces in Ingushetia, killing up to 80 people in retaliation for the detention by security forces over the previous two years of numerous young Ingush men, most of whom have never been found. Since then, the resistance has continued to target Ingush police and other law enforcement officials who are viewed as collaborators, Russian Interior Ministry Internal Troops deployed to Ingushetia, and members of other security bodies, including border guards.

Such attacks have become progressively more frequent; so far this year, at least 48 police and security officials have been killed and 97 wounded; the figures for April-December 2007 were approximately 33 killed and 40 wounded. Possibly because of that increased risk, as of mid-August more than 1,300 police officers had submitted their resignations; a further 44 have reportedly done so in the wake of Yevloyev's killing. Members of the official clergy too are regularly targeted, and the homes of government officials subjected to gunfire or mortar or grenade attack. There have been five such attacks so far this year.

Police and security forces, both local and those deployed temporarily to Ingushetia from elsewhere in the Russian Federation, have responded with a series of so-called counterterror operations directed almost as frequently at innocent civilians and their families as at genuine resistance fighters. In one such operation in November 2007, special forces stormed a home in the village of Chemolga in Sunzha Raion where they suspected an armed militant was hiding and shot dead a 6-year-old child. Unarmed young men are frequently gunned down on the street during "counterterror" operations, and then weapons are placed by their bodies to provide photographic "evidence" of the authorities' competence in containing the threat posed by radical Islam.

Warnings by NGOs and public figures that such indiscriminate violence on the part of law enforcement agencies is counterproductive have had little or no effect. Even a February 2008 appeal by Ingushetian parliamentarians to the Prosecutor-General's Office to dispatch to Ingushetia a task force to investigate human rights violations committed by the police and security services failed to produce a response.

The authorities' indifference only serves to reinforce and compound a broader sense of alienation, frustration, and anger among the republic's population of 480,000. Both Zyazikov and the republic's government are widely perceived as corrupt, venal, unscrupulous, self-serving, inept, and incapable of solving the serious social and economic problems that plague the republic. In addition to the breakdown in law and order, those problems also include economic stagnation (industrial production in Ingushetia fell by 27 percent during the first six months of this year; by contrast, Daghestan registered an 18.5 percent increase), 67 percent unemployment, and the unresolved dispute with neighboring North Ossetia over Prigorodny Raion.

Zyazikov appears nonetheless to have succeeded in convincing Moscow that the republic's economy is flourishing, that the population wholeheartedly supports the national leadership, that the overall situation is "stable," and that the threat posed by Islamic militants has been grossly exaggerated by the Russian media.

Silencing Ingushetiya.ru

Over the past year, Yevloyev's website has evolved from being simply an important (but not the only) source of information about developments in Ingushetia, including corruption and the ongoing war of attrition between the resistance and the security forces, to become a political actor in its own right. That shift is reflected in the exponential increase in users logged onto the site at any given time: until mid-2006, that number was frequently in single digits; one year later, it averaged a few dozen; now it is rarely less than 80-120.
Ruslan Aushev is no longer seen as the answer.


Following the December 2007 elections to the Russian State Duma, in which the Ingushetian authorities reported voter turnout of 98 percent, ingushetiya.ru collected signed statements from over 54 percent of the total electorate, denying that they cast ballots. In the run-up to the March 2008 elections for a new republican parliament, ingushetiya.ru posted what it claimed was a list of the new deputies whom Zyazikov had decided should be "elected," which subsequently proved largely accurate. It also publicized in advance gatherings of Ingushetia's most important teyps (clans), which in February chose their own representatives to an alternative, popular legislative body, the Mekhk Kkhel. Then in April 2008, it launched a campaign to lobby the Kremlin for Zyazikov's ouster and the return of his predecessor as president, Afghan war hero Ruslan Aushev. On August 4, opposition representatives submitted to the Russian presidential administration a petition to that effect with some 80,000 signatures.

Over the past 18 months, at Zyazikov's behest, the Ingushetian authorities repeatedly lobbied the federal center to ban ingushetiya.ru on the grounds that it engaged in "destructive and extremist activities." A Moscow district court finally did so in June 2008, and the Moscow Municipal Court upheld that ban in early August, but the site continued to function.

Yevloyev flew from Moscow to Ingushetia's Manas Airport on August 31 in order to visit his parents. (A large sum in cash he planned to give his father to finance the construction of a house was missing when his body was found.) In an interview published in "Kommersant-Vlast" on September 15, Yevloyev's father Yakhya confirmed earlier reports that Zyazikov was traveling on the same plane, but cast doubt on allegations by Yevloyev's associates that there was a heated altercation between the two men. Some Ingush reports have alleged that Zyazikov felt so insulted by Yevloyev that he issued orders to Interior Minister Musa Medov to apprehend Yevloyev once the plane landed.

Yevloyev was indeed taken into custody, ostensibly for questioning as a witness in a criminal case. Official reports claim he was fatally shot "by accident" during a struggle with a police officers while being driven to Interior Ministry headquarters. Yevloyev's family and friends reject that scenario, which presupposes that one or more police officers had deliberately released the safety catch of their personal weapon. They also say the gunshot wound that killed him could have been inflicted only by a pistol held directly to his head.

How Yevloyev's killing is likely to affect the overall political situation in Ingushetia remains unclear. Zyazikov has called for a thorough investigation into his killing in the course of which the prosecutor's office should, Zyazikov said, probe Medov's role. At the same time, the pressure on Maksharip Aushev (no relation to Ruslan) and Magomed Khazbiyev, the two young businessmen who coordinate opposition activities, continues. Criminal charges have been brought against them of seeking to take small arms and documents by force from two police officers, and their homes were searched on September 15. Aushev has acquired the website ingushetiya.ru, which continues to provide information as before.

Opposition Continues

But former Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev's failure to publicly denounce Yevloyev's killing demolished support and sympathy for him virtually overnight. As a result, there is no clear and acceptable alternative to Zyazikov around whom the despairing population could close ranks. That is not to say that evaporation of popular support would deter the Kremlin from installing Aushev as president anyway should a consensus emerge that Zyazikov is irrevocably compromised, but that scenario seems unlikely at present.

The only other potential candidate to replace Zyazikov, according to "Russky Newsweek," is Belan Khamchiyev, who represents Ingushetia in the Russian State Duma. He is said to maintain contact with both Zyazikov and the opposition; in statements posted on September 10 and 16 on ingushetiya.ru, Khazbiyev and the site's chief editor, Roza Malsagova, appealed to Khamchiyev to make a public statement in connection with Yevloyev's shooting.

The Mekhk Kkhel, which already in August signaled its intention to step up its activities as a coordinator of popular discontent, aligned in early August with Maksharip Aushev and Khazbiyev. The shadow parliament further announced on September 17 that it has established a commission that will collect data on corruption among government officials.

At the same time, Yevloyev's death has highlighted the extent to which traditional codes of behavior, in particular the blood feud, still inform politics in Ingushetia. In accordance with that custom, the relatives of a murdered man request a local imam to accompany them to the home of the family of the suspected killer and inform them that a revenge killing will ensue. Thus on September 2, two days after Yevloyev died, two of his male relatives together with the imam of the Malgobek mosque delivered such a warning to the family of Interior Minister Medov, who was present at Yevloyev's arrest, "Russky Newsweek" reported on September 16. A similar warning was conveyed to Zyazikov's family by the imam of the Nazran mosque; on September 10, Zyazikov's cousin Bekkhan was shot dead in Nazran.

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