Friday, July 03, 2015

Abkhaz Leadership Reacts To Opposition Criticism

According to Amtsakhara, Raul Khajimba and his team still lack any comprehensive short- or long-term plan for tackling the most pressing problems the region faces, including the economy.

Over the past week, the leadership of Georgia's breakaway and largely unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia has moved to address some of the many criticisms leveled against it by leading members of the opposition party Amtsakhara (Keep the Home Fires Burning) at a congress last month. Whether the timing of those measures is purely coincidental is not clear.

In the run-up to the early election in August 2014 in which he was elected de facto Abkhaz president, then-opposition leader Raul Khajimba admitted that he did not have a detailed presidential program, as drafting one would have taken "at least 100 days."

But according to Amtsakhara, Khajimba and his team still lack any comprehensive short- or long-term plan for tackling the most pressing problems the region faces, including the economy, of which, Khajimba admitted in December 2014, "not a single branch is functioning."

Speaking at a party congress on May 22, senior Amtsakhara members accused the new leadership of the very same failings that the Coordinating Council headed by Khajimba had adduced as the rationale for ousting then-President Aleksandr Ankvab in late May 2014 and seizing power. The speakers at the congress cited numerous examples of economic mismanagement, incompetence, corruption, and perceived perversion of justice, and accused the new leadership of conducting a systematic witch-hunt against its critics and denying dissenting voices access to the state-controlled media.

Guest speaker Aslan Bzhania, who finished second in the August ballot to Khajimba with 35.9 percent of the vote, enumerated the criticisms of Ankvab and the demands for change contained in the Coordinating Council's May 2014 ultimatum. He argued that virtually all the points it contains are still relevant, and that the new leadership has failed to fulfill the demands it made of the outgoing government with regard to constitutional reform, the transformation of state television into a public broadcaster, and healing the "split within society," which he argued poses a threat to Abkhazia's survival as an independent state.

Amtsakhara co-Chairman Garik Samanba, a former chairman of the parliamentary commission on defense and national security decorated for his role in the 1992-93 war that ended with the loss of Georgian jurisdiction over the region, highlighted Amtsakhara's role in forcing a revision of the initial draft, which he claimed would have threatened Abkhaz sovereignty, of the Treaty on Union Relations and Strategic Partnership signed with Russia last year.

He also discussed the fiasco surrounding the adoption -- with a three-month delay -- of the budget for 2015, which legislators almost immediately had to ask the president to sequester for lack of funds. The 350 million rubles ($6.69 million) allocated for the presidential fund (more than the entire defense budget) was apparently unaffected by the cuts.

Samanba accused the new Abkhaz leadership having offloaded the entire responsibility for the region's social and economic development on to Moscow, with the result that "the president of Abkhazia looks like the governor of an impoverished polity dependent on subsidies." He also said that the crime situation was fast deteriorating.

The party's second co-chairman, Alkhas Kvitsinia, also discussed the government's poor track record on the economy, specifically its inability to explain to Moscow precisely how the 3.6 billion rubles it will receive in Russian financial aid for 2015 will be spent. Kvitsinia was harsher than other speakers in his assessment of Khajimba, arguing that a man whose earlier actions almost plunged the region into civil war is incapable of unifying the nation. He said the new government's actions show "that its promises to society are worthless, and that [it regards] lies as simply an instrument in the struggle for power and with which to manipulate public opinion."

Anri Jergenia, a member of Amtsakhara's governing council who served as prosecutor-general and then as prime minister in the early 2000s, didn't mince words either. He argued that "the authorities proved to be unprepared to govern, and they weren't interested in doing so. For them the main thing was to seize power." 

Samanba and Kvitsinia criticized the head of Abkhaz State TV and Radio, Emma Khojava, for her allegedly high-handed management style and for firing journalists with whose political views she disagrees. Some 1,200 people have signed a petition, which Khajimba has ignored, demanding her resignation.

Jergenia and Samanba also questioned the rationale for the criminal case for tax evasion brought against Southern Construction Company (YuSK) head Vadim Matua. 

The Amtsakhara congress adopted a resolution enumerating the party's grievances and posing a series of demands, including the replacement of the current government by a coalition government headed by "an opposition politician" -- meaning an Amtsakhara member. The formation of such a coalition government was one of the pledges enshrined in an agreement that all four candidates in last summer's presidential ballot signed.

The congress also demanded the immediate dismissal of Khojava and Prosecutor-General Aleksey Lomia.

Whether or not in response to Amtsakhara's criticisms, on May 29 Abkhazia's Supreme Court acquitted Matua and YuSK's chief bookkeeper, Timur Otyrba, of the charge of tax evasion. Supreme Court Chairman Roman Mushba has since announced his resignation on the grounds that his term is almost at an end.

Then on June 1, the Abkhaz parliament passed in the final reading no fewer than 41 draft legislative acts. Some individual draft laws pertained to reform of the judiciary and setting up a constitutional court. The others included amendments to the existing laws on presidential and parliamentary elections and on banks, the media, the Prosecutor-General's Office, and state secrets; and to the Civil, Criminal, Criminal-Procedural, and Customs codes.

While those various laws go part way toward resolving some of the issues highlighted by the Coordinating Council over a year ago, they do not touch on the key issue of constitutional reform, specifically the redivision of responsibilities and powers between the president and the parliament. Khajimba had termed such reform essential in an interview immediately after his election victory.

Moreover, the hasty adoption of amendments to the laws on presidential and parliamentary elections renders irrelevant the demand in the Amtsakhara congress resolution for the creation of a working group, on which the party would be represented, to draft such amendments.

It remains to be seen whether Khajimba will adduce the package of laws as evidence of the authorities' willingness to respond to criticism, and/or whether Amtsakhara will be encouraged by the official response to its demands to step up its pressure on what it considers a regime devoid of legitimacy.

-- Liz Fuller


North Caucasus Insurgency Selects New Leader

Previous leader Doku Umarov was killed in 2013.

Magomed Suleymanov, aka Abu Usman Gimrinsky, has been chosen as the new leader of the Caucasus Emirate proclaimed in 2007 by Doku Umarov, who led the insurgency until his death in 2013. Suleymanov replaces Aliaskhab Kebekov (Ali Abu-Mukhammad), Umarov’s successor as North Caucasus insurgency head, who was killed in a counterterrorism operation on the outskirts of the Daghestani town of Buynaksk in April. 

The news of Suleymanov’s appointment originated with Islamic Committee of Russia chairman Geydar Dzhemal, who had earlier identified him as Kebekov’s most likely successor. The website Caucasus Knot later quoted an unidentified relative of Suleymanov as confirming the report and saying his appointment will be formally announced "soon."

Suleymanov is currently qadi (supreme religious authority) of the so-called Vilayet Daghestan, one of the virtual territorial-administrative units into which Umarov divided the Caucasus. He has simultaneously been emir (military commander) of the Mountain Sector which includes the district of Gimry for at least the past two years.

Like Kebekov, Suleymanov is an Avar, and according to Dzhemal studied theology with him under the same teacher, Murtazali Magomedov. His address on the occasion of Kebekov’s death can be seen here.

The choice (if formally confirmed) of a second consecutive non-Chechen to head the insurgency underscores the extent to which the surviving Chechen militants, once the backbone of the insurgency, have been sidelined by the vast army of security personnel subordinate to Kremlin-backed Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov. The film The Family, recently released by former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s organization Open Russia, estimates the total manpower of those forces at 80,000.

Addressing police personnel on May 28, Kadyrov implied that young Chechens are more likely to join the militant group Islamic State (IS) than the North Caucasus insurgency.

In addition, two of the most experienced and respected Chechen insurgency commanders have transferred their allegiance to the militant group IS. So too have several of their Daghestani counterparts, and also the popular Salafi preacher Nadir Abu Khalid (Nadir Medetov).

Medetov, 30, is a graduate of the Islamic University in Medina whose sermons focus on questions of morality and monotheism. Medetov’s popularity, especially among the younger generation, is reflected in the number of subscribers to his account on the social network VKontakte (over 40,000) and the fact that his sermons on YouTube have received between 30,000 and 60,000 hits.

He was detained in Makhachkala in October 2014 on suspicion of possession of arms and placed under house arrest for two months, but not formally charged with any crime. He was summoned by police for questioning two months ago in the wake of a counterterrorism operation in the Makhachkala apartment building in which he lives in which five people were killed.

Journalist Magomed Magomedov described Medetov’s oath of loyalty to IS as "unexpected," and attributed it to intensifying pressure on Daghestan’s Salafi minority. He pointed out that Medetov’s emergence as a preacher coincided with the period in which the North Caucasus armed insurgency was a serious force to be reckoned with, but for years he chose not to align with it. Islamic scholar Abdulla Rinat Mukhametov for his part predicted that Medetov could play the role of ideologist for IS just as successfully as Said Buryatsky did for the Caucasus Emirate in 2007-2010. But even if he does not, he will be a serious rival to Suleymanov in the battle for the hearts and minds of Daghestan’s Muslims. To that extent, the survival of the Caucasus Emirate remains an open question.

Meanwhile, the Council of Muftis of Russia has adopted a “social doctrine” intended to elucidate the “correct” attitude of believers to issues ranging from ecology and sport to jihad and the state. Its primary objective is reportedly to deter young Muslims from leaving Russia to swell the ranks of IS. But according to Ali Charinsky, who heads the For the Rights of Muslims public movement, it is unlikely to have the desired effect as long as the authorities continue to "threaten to kill Muslims under the guise of fighting terrorism, destroy mosques, forbid the reading of books [about religion], and kill and imprison Muslim theologians."

-- Liz Fuller

One Nation, Two Polities, Two Endangered Ossetian Languages?

Efforts to expand the use of Ossetian online have been hampered by the Caucasian language's widespread use of the character æ, which does not exist in Cyrillic.

Last updated (GMT/UTC): 28.05.2015 13:16

Efforts to save the Ossetian language are running up against a host of problems on both sides of Russia's border with a breakaway Georgian republic, contributing to fears that both forms of Ossetian might ultimately slip into obscurity.

And with a history of dispute over its dialects, disregard under the Soviet-era Georgian education system, and competing visions of its place in public life, Ossetian is likely to continue to pose obstacles to cooperation on the language front between North and South Ossetia.

Over the past decade, officials and intellectuals in both Russia's Republic of North Ossetia-Alania and Georgia's breakaway and largely unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia have expressed concern over the steadily dwindling number of people who actually speak Ossetian. 

Reflecting that decline, UNESCO in 2009 designated the language as "vulnerable," the first category in its four-tier classification of languages at risk of disappearing.

But Ossetians in the two polities in fact speak different forms of the language, which creates obstacles to cooperation between them to avert the danger that in time both dialects will become extinct.

Ossetian is an Indo-European language, belonging to the eastern branch of the Indo-Iranian group, with an estimated 450,000-500,000 speakers, the overwhelming majority of them in North Ossetia.

Of the two Ossetian dialects, Digor is spoken in the west of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania and in neighboring Kabardino-Balkaria, and Iron in the east of North Ossetia and in South Ossetia. Speakers of Iron reportedly outnumber speakers of Digor by 5 to 1.

Divided By A Common Language

The two Ossetian dialects are sufficiently different as not to be mutually comprehensible. There are, for example, some 2,500 words in Digor that do not exist in Iron.  Until 1937, Digor was in fact considered a separate language, and some North Ossetian scholars still argue that Iron and Digor are both full-fledged languages, rather than mere dialects. The phonetic, morphological, and lexical differences between them appear to be greater than between Chechen and Ingush, according to Aslan Doukaev of RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service.

Most speakers of Digor can understand Iron, but not vice versa. The North Ossetian constitution mentions both dialects as the state language, but, for reasons that remain unclear, the republican parliament has still not passed the law on the state languages drafted in 2005. North Ossetian State TV launched a program in Digor four years ago. 

At the time of the 2010 All-Russia census, there were 459,688 Ossetians in North Ossetia, of whom 455,328 claimed a knowledge of "Ossetian."  But an informal survey conducted by journalists in Vladikavkaz, the North Ossetian capital, last year casts doubt on those statistics. Of an unspecified number of people whom they questioned on the street, 36 percent claimed to speak Ossetian fluently, 32 percent to speak it well, and 11 percent to speak it badly. But when addressed in Ossetian rather than Russian, even some of those who claimed to speak the language fluently proved unable to reply coherently in Ossetian. 

Cognizant of the danger that the Ossetian language could die out within a couple of generations, the North Ossetian authorities have adopted two successive programs (2008-12 and 2013-2015) to promote the study of the Digor variant of Ossetian among the younger generation, whose parents in many cases do not speak the language themselves and are thus unable to hand it on to their children. Ossetian is a compulsory subject in all schools and kindergartens, and a vast range of new textbooks in Digor has been commissioned in preparation for selected schools to switch to Ossetian as the language in which all other subjects are taught.

Missing Vowel

The second (2012-15) state program envisaged expanding the use of Ossetian online. This is proving problematic, however, given the widespread use in Ossetian of a character (æ) that does not exist in Cyrillic. Philologist Tamerlan Kambolov explained that the most commonly used software both in North Ossetia and elsewhere in Russia is Microsoft, and only the Russian government is empowered to request the creation of a special program that would reflect the nuances of the Ossetian alphabet. Currently, Ossetian language materials, such as the online version of the newspaper Ræstdzinad (Truth) substitute a different vowel for the character in question.

South Ossetia, too, has adopted a state program for the development of the Ossetian language that, like its North Ossetian counterpart, focuses in the first instance on intensive teaching of the language in kindergartens. Other planned initiatives, such as the publication of the third volume of an Ossetian dictionary and the launch of a TV talk show in Ossetian aimed at the younger generation, have apparently been shelved due to lack of funds. The republic is heavily dependent on subsidies from Moscow, which recognized South Ossetia as an independent state in the wake of the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war.

The Treaty on Union Relations and Integration signed by the Russian Federation and the Republic of South Ossetia in March obliges Russia to provide assistance to South Ossetia in developing Russian and Ossetian, both of which are designated in South Ossetia's Constitution as state languages. But, as noted above, the differences between Iron and Digor constitute a major obstacle to cooperation on the language front between North and South Ossetia. In that respect, the long-term survival of Iron currently appears more precarious than that of Digor, even though it is spoken by a larger number of people.

-- Liz Fuller

* This article has been corrected to reflect the locations of where the Ossetian dialects are spoken, as well as other minor changes throughout.

Ingushetian Finance Minister Suspected Of Misuse Of Budget Funds

Ingushetia's leader, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, is apparently no longer prepared to tolerate financial scandals that are grist to the mill of a political opposition that never lets slip an opportunity to implicate him personally in corruption.

Russia's Investigative Committee has opened a criminal case against Republic of Ingushetia Finance Minister Ruslan Tsechoyev. Tsechoyev, 55, is suspected of abusing his official position by using funds allocated from the federal budget for a purpose other than that for which the money was earmarked.

Specifically, the republican prosecutor's office determined last month that in December 2014, Tsechoyev used over 1.9 billion rubles ($38 million) intended to pay the wages of public-sector employees to balance the budget deficit. Tsechoyev was fined 350,000 rubles ($7,000), and a criminal case opened against him on suspicion of large-scale misuse of budget funds, which carries a penalty of up to seven years' imprisonment.

Such financial irregularities are not uncommon in a republic that is dependent on subsidies from Moscow for 86 percent of its annual budget, and has long been a byword for corruption. In August 2014, for example, the federal Audit Chamber made public the findings of its probe into how Ingushetia's government spent the federal subsidies it received in 2013 and the first quarter of 2014.

It established that in 2013 over 1.3 billion rubles was spent for purposes other than for which it had been allocated, while the republic's debt skyrocketed by 65 percent to reach 2.38 billion rubles. Part of the money was reportedly found to have landed in the bank account of a company controlled by Ingushetia's prime minister, Abubakar Malsagov.

Tsechoyev, whom Ingushetia head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov appointed as finance minister a year ago, is the third person to hold that position in the past four years. His immediate predecessor, Magomed-Bashir Aushev, lost his job for his failure to monitor whether budget funds were transferred to the correct recipient.

Yevkurov is apparently no longer prepared to tolerate financial scandals that are grist to the mill of a political opposition that never lets slip an opportunity to implicate him personally in corruption. Commenting last month on the criminal investigation opened against Tsechoyev, Yevkurov publicly acknowledged that "we realize that the money wasn't stolen, but everyone needs to understand that people must be held responsible for violating the provisions of the budget code."

Analysts note that since then-President Dmitry Medvedev named Yevkurov republic head in October 2008, Ingushetia's dependence on federal subsidies has fallen by only 8.7 percent, and its unemployment rate is still one of the highest in Russia. At the same time, as a result of a systematic crackdown on tax evasion and the shadow economy, budget revenues are increasing by 15-20 percent annually, albeit from an extremely low base.

In addition, the region's leaders are actively and assiduously soliciting foreign investment, not without success. Following almost 10 years of negotiations, they recently reached agreement with Chinese investors who plan to grow organic produce in Karabulak and may also embark on a joint venture with state-owned Rosneft to revive oil production, which has plummeted since the turn of the century from approximately 200,000 tons per year to just 63,600 tons in 2013.

But some Ingush commentators have voiced concern that reviving the oil industry will not benefit Ingushetia financially (it is not clear where the oil extracted will be refined), and carries serious environmental risks. In addition, one blogger has expressed resentment at Yevkurov's reported decision to rename one of the central squares in the new capital, Magas, China Square.

-- Liz Fuller


What Lies Behind Daghestani Mufti's Sudden Popularity?

Akhmad-hadji Abdulayev is seen here on the left with then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2011.

For the past several years, the independent Daghestani weekly Chernovik has conducted an annual poll in which readers are encouraged to vote by SMS for whomever from a short list of 10-15 political figures they would like to see as "People's President."

This year's surprise winner was Akhmad-hadji Abdulayev, chairman of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Daghestan (DUMD). In second place was last year's winner, Saygidguseyn Magomedov, who heads the Daghestan subsidiary of the Federal Treasury, followed by former Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov.

Chernovik admits the title "People's President" is misleading insofar as the objective of the poll is not so much to try to measure relative popular support for potential presidential candidates as to identify which political figures possess the political and economic resources, and the requisite support from Moscow, to influence the outcome of a popular election, should such a ballot take place.

The logistics of the poll are as follows. The weekly enumerates those political figures whom it considers potential presidential material and invites readers to vote for them over a five-week period by sending a text message to a specific phone number. The number of text votes each candidate receives is tallied separately each week. The total number of votes each candidate receives is then divided by five to give the "average" rating. Any anomalies (disproportionately high or low numbers within a given time period) are factored out. If more than one vote is sent from the same phone number, the second and any subsequent votes are automatically rejected. The exercise is predicated on the assumption that the politicians in question will issue orders to their respective entourages to ensure they receive the optimum number of votes (in addition to bona fide votes from Chernovik readers).

The paper freely admits that its methodology is not scientific and is open to abuse. It also acknowledges that in a genuinely free and fair ballot, none of its candidates would stand much chance of winning, given that the population at large has a negative perception of politics and politicians.

Abdulayev, 55, was born into a religious Avar family (his grandfather was a venerated Sufi sheikh) and began studying Islamic theology at an early age. After serving as an imam in Kizilyurt and as rector of Daghestan's Islamic Institute, he was elected mufti in 1998. But despite (or possibly because of) the cozy relationship between the DUMD and the Republic of Daghestan leadership, Abdulayev never enjoyed the veneration and respect accorded to some of those Sufi sheikhs who do not fall under the board's jurisdiction.

Abdulayev has nonetheless improved his rating in a second Chernovik informal poll, this one to identify those political figures perceived as most influential. In 2013, Abdulayev ranked 20th. A year later, by which time his fellow Avar Ramazan Abdulatipov had been named republican head in place of Magomedsalam Magomedov (no relation to Saygidguseyn), a Dargin, he had risen to 15th place; this year he ranked 10th.

Chernovik attributes that upward trend to the "hothouse" conditions created for the DUMD by the republican leadership, including some key members of the police and security forces keen to bolster its standing as a counterweight to the Islamic insurgency. That policy may have helped Abdulayev become "People's President" the first year he figured on the short list.

The poll was launched on April 10. At the end of the first week, former Makhachkala Mayor Amirov was in first place, followed by Saygidguseyn Magomedov and Sagid Murtazaliyev, head of the Daghestan subsidiary of the Federal Pension Fund. Abdulayev was fourth. By the end of the second week, Magomedov was in first place, closely followed by Abdulayev, Amirov, and Khasavyurt Mayor Saygidpasha Umakhanov.

During the third week of voting, however, Aliasakhab Kebekov, the erudite and articulate Avar theologian chosen last year as head of the Caucasus Emirate proclaimed in 2007 by then-Chechen Republic Ichkeria President Doku Umarov, was killed in a counterterror operation on the outskirts of Buynaksk.

Within days, Abdulayev had shot into the lead of the race and remained there for the duration. Sheer happenstance? Or did Daghestan's siloviki simply avail themselves of a heaven-sent opportunity to enhance the perception of Abdulayev as the republic's unchallenged and respected religious leader?

-- Liz Fuller

How Much More Money Will Moscow Throw At Daghestan?

Daghestani leader Ramazan Abdulatipov

The Russian daily Kommersant has reported that the federal Ministry for the North Caucasus is mulling a separate program of financial support for Daghestan under which that republic would receive a total of 170 billion rubles ($3.4 billion) over the 10-year period from now until 2025. Some analysts doubt, however, whether that would be enough to resolve the chronic social and economic problems the region faces. And officials from the federal Finance Ministry are reportedly wary of setting a precedent that could lead other North Caucasus republics to demand similar privileged treatment.

The separate program for Daghestan has reportedly been under discussion for two years, which suggests that it was the brainchild of current Republic of Daghestan head Ramazan Abdulatipov, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin named to that post in early 2013. Abdulatipov publicly stressed the need for such a program last fall, complaining that many federal politicians responsible for the North Caucasus "don't know...what problems we face."

The rationale cited by the North Caucasus Ministry for a separate financial program for Daghestan stressed the need for sustained and dynamic economic growth in order to reduce poverty and unemployment, which currently stands at 10.7 percent, according to official statistics, but in all likelihood is at least double that figure.

The ministry also noted that oil and gas extraction in Daghestan has been declining steadily over the past few years, with a concomitant fall in the sum the sector contributes in taxes to the republican budget. At Abdulatipov's behest, a Daghestan State Oil and Gas Company was established in March 2014 to attract investment into that sector and thereby reverse the decline in its contribution to budget revenues.

The federal Economy Ministry, however, considers a separate program for Daghestan inexpedient, according to Kommersant. Ministry officials fear other North Caucasus republics might demand similar programs, and point out that Daghestan is already scheduled to receive 3 billion rubles in 2015 from the separate South of Russia federal program and a further 2.1 billion rubles in 2016.

Meanwhile, the news agency Regnum quoted Mikhail Chernyshev of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute for Market Problems as arguing that spread over a period of 10 years, the sum earmarked for Daghestan under the new program is insufficient to bring about the desired economic breakthrough.

None of the media comments on the proposed new program mentions the risk that a sizable proportion of the funds allocated will be embezzled.

Assuming that the new financial program for Daghestan goes ahead, it will be funded from the Socio-Economic Development Program for the North Caucasus 2012-25 approved in December 2012, under which Daghestan was to receive 33 billion rubles. The dimensions of that program were progressively cut from 3.89 trillion rubles in the initial draft in early 2011 (of which Daghestan was to have received 1.2 trillion) to 2.55 trillion.

But even if the federal Economy Ministry succeeds in nixing the planned new financial program, Daghestan is still in line to receive an additional 1 billion rubles from a nonbudget fund established last fall to promote the development of cities dominated by a single branch of industry. That money will be channeled toward the cost of developing infrastructure in the industrial zone of the town of Kaspiisk, southeast of Makhachkala. Abdulatipov's son Dalgat occupies a senior position in the Kaspiisk municipal administration.

-- Liz Fuller

Yevkurov Says Insurgency 'Defeated' In Ingushetia

Yunus-Bek Yevkurov cautioned that the 14, who he claims were trained by foreign intelligence services, can draw on a network of support personnel and relatives.

Ingushetian leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov claimed in a recent interview that the North Caucasus insurgency in Ingushetia had been "defeated," and currently numbered just 14 men. At the same time, he said, "there is still a long way to go" before it can be said to be completely destroyed.

Yevkurov cautioned that the 14, who he claims were trained by foreign intelligence services, can draw on a network of support personnel and relatives. In addition, he said, they had their own excellent counterintelligence network, maintained strict radio silence, and avoided the use of mobile phones in order to minimize the likelihood of capture or killing. In that respect, according to Yevkurov, "they are technologically ahead of the game."

Casualty statistics for 2014 complied by the news agency Caucasian Knot indicate that there has indeed been a decline in insurgent activity in Ingushetia, with the total number of casualties falling by more than 60 percent, from 94 to 37. Two civilians, four members of the security forces, and 15 militants were killed, and 16 security personnel wounded, according to the statistics.

One of the militants killed was Artur Gatagazhev, aka Emir Abdullah, head of the Ingushetia insurgency wing, who police believe was responsible for the killing in August 2013 of Republic of Ingushetia Security Council head Akhmed Kotiyev. The identity of Gatagazhev's successor as insurgency commander is being kept secret for security and operational reasons, but the decline in militant attacks over the past year may in part be a direct consequence of his death.

In addition, Yevkurov said that 80 young fighters had been persuaded over the past four years to lay down their arms, and had been amnestied.

There is, however, a further possible reason why neutralizing the insurgency in Ingushetia -- a small North Caucasus republic sandwiched between Chechnya and North Ossetia -- is proving an uphill struggle. Addressing the republic's parliament two months ago, Ingushetia's interior minister, Aleksandr Trofimov, disclosed that the insurgency wing and its support personnel included "several" police officers. He said one of the five men killed together with Gatagazhev in May 2014 was a policeman who had previously helped his fellow fighters and sheltered them in his home.

The comparative lull of the past year may, moreover, be drawing to an end. According to a recent blog post reposted on the Ingush website, the commander of Ingushetia's insurgents will soon release a video clip in which he will pledge his allegiance to the Islamic State militant group.

-- Liz Fuller


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.