Both Russian and Ingush officials tend to blame those attacks on the North Caucasus armed resistance. But the resistance is not the only, nor possibly the most influential player involved. Nor has the deployment to Ingushetia in July of several thousand additional Interior Ministry forces from elsewhere in Russia served to quell the upsurge in violence. On the contrary: the website ingushetiya.ru on September 9 quoted residents of Malgobek Raion as saying that the situation there has deteriorated since the deployment of Interior Ministry forces who have themselves become the target of attacks.
Resistance fighters commanded by radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev staged multiple attacks against police and security personnel in Ingushetia in June 2004, killing some 80 people, and since then, Russian troops have regularly sought to intercept groups of Chechen fighters who use Ingushetia as a rear base. In the summer of 2006, the resistance began systematically shooting ethnic Ingush serving with the republican Interior Ministry, branding them as traitors. But the Ingush jamaat -- one of several operating under the aegis of the Chechen resistance command -- stressed at the same time that in conducting such operations, it takes every precaution to avoid harming "ordinary Muslims" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 18, 2006).
That what is going on is not, however, a simple two-way struggle -- between the resistance and the so-called siloviki -- is clear, despite the propaganda campaign by Russian officials to portray it as such. There appear to be at least two, and possibly more, additional players involved, although it is not entirely clear what their precise agendas are, and from whom they take their orders.
The North Caucasus resistance by its own admission seeks to overthrow the leadership of Ingushetia's Moscow-backed President Murat Zyazikov, and it has launched an impressive number of attacks in recent months. But those attacks, listed chronologically in successive press releases posted on the resistance website kavkazcenter.com, are aimed exclusively at law enforcement, security and border guard personnel and facilities and a few isolated civilian members of the Ingushetian government bureaucracy, and comprise either mortar or automatic rifle fire attacks on stationary facilities, or drive-by shootings targeting police or military vehicles. The Ingush jamaat expressly denied in a statement on September 3 that it was responsible for two killings in the previous two months of Russian families. "If people live peacefully, whether they are Russians, Chechens, Koreans or representatives of other nationalities, we have no grudge against them provided they do not participate in the struggle against Islam," that statement affirmed.
A second category of killings targets civilians from several different ethnic groups. This category includes the two Russian families referred to above; a Korean father and son found shot dead on September 6; a Russian woman doctor killed on September 7; and a father and two sons, identified as gypsies (tsygane), killed on September 11. Galina Gubina, a Russian woman involved in coordinating the return to Ingushetia of Slavs who left the republic during the fighting in Chechnya, was similarly shot dead in June 2006.
These killings, too, are generally reported to be the work of unidentified gunmen traveling in unmarked cars. Russian media declined to publicize the fact that the two men arrested on suspicion of killing the first Russian family (in mid-July) were a Russian and an Ossetian contract serviceman. Isa Merzhoyev, the Ingush Interior Ministry official who went public with that information, was himself shot dead on August 11. And although the Ingush police swiftly announced the arrest of several suspects with Ingush names, Russian pedagogue Vera Draganchuk, who escaped when her husband and two sons were shot dead during the night of August 30-31, was quoted by "Novaya gazeta" on September 6 as saying the gunmen responsible spoke Russian with no trace of an accent. The Ingush suspects were subsequently released, according to ingushetiya.ru on September 15.
And Ingush too -- in particular young men known to be practicing Muslims -- have been targeted. Under the pretext of "anti-terrorism operations," Russian security personnel have gunned down several young men on the street in full view of passers-by, openly planting grenades on or near the bodies to substantiate the case for "neutralizing" a potential terrorist threat (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 4, 2007). An alternative intimidation tactic employed by police and security personnel, most recently in Ali-Yurt in late July, entails cordoning off a village, deploying armor, and then indiscriminately beating the inhabitants, regardless of age or sex.
Ingushetian President Zyazikov has construed the recent killings as an attempt to sabotage efforts to persuade Russians to return to Ingushetia. Local human rights activists are concerned that the shootings are part of a broader campaign to fuel inter-ethnic hostility, possibly by forces intent on engineering a major breakdown in law and order that could be adduced as the rationale either for postponing the upcoming Duma and presidential elections, or for amending the constitution to permit President Vladimir Putin to remain in power beyond the end of his second term.
Some Ingush are inclined to blame the apparently indiscriminate killing of civilians, whether Russians or Ingush, on a shadowy force that seeks to sow fear and discord with the aim of further discrediting Zyazikov, who is loathed and despised by the overwhelming majority of the republic's 480,000 population. (Over the past four weeks, more than 1,500 people of a total of almost 2,000 respondents to an on-line poll have registered their readiness to sign a collective legal action against Zyazikov for corruption and deliberately misinforming Moscow about the true situation in Ingushetia.)
The identify of that particular faction is, however, open to debate. Some suspect an alliance between the Russian military and pro-Moscow Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, under which the military perpetuate instability that creates a cover for the theft of oil and arms and could be adduced as the rationale for abolishing Ingushetia's status as a separate federation subject by subsuming it into a reconstitued Chechen-Ingush Republic administered by Kadyrov. Kadyrov himself on August 30 implicitly accused Zyazikov of being unable to rein in "criminal elements," and he affirmed Chechnya's readiness to offer assistance to the "fraternal Ingush people" in restoring "order," according to Novy Region as reposted on ingushetiya.ru. Kadyrov repeated that offer of help in restoring "order" in Ingushetia in an interview published on September 10 in "Komsomolskaya pravda," and again on September 15 during a meeting in Grozny with Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov. But presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak told journalists on September 8 that assuming the violence in Ingushetia is politically motivated, it will not result in any changes in the republic's leadership, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported.
It is conceivable that fugitive former Russneft head Mikheil Gutseriyev, an Ingush who has been tentatively identified as the putative sponsor of the anti-Zyazikov website ingushetiya.ru, could have played a role in recent events. Gutseriyev's brother Khamzat, a former Ingushetian interior minister, was barred on a technicality from contesting the presidential election five years ago that brought Zyazikov to power (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 8, 2002). The Kremlin went after Russneft on tax evasion charges in January 2007, and eventually forced Gutseriyev to agree to the sale of his company to Oleg Deripaska's Base Element. While there is no concrete evidence of a link between Gutseriyev and ingushetiya.ru, other influential Russian oligarchs -- including Vladimir Gusinsky and Mikhail Khodorkovsky -- were subjected to pressure, reprisals and legal action in retaliation for their political engagement in support of the opposition to President Putin.
It is unclear whether there is a connection between the recent execution-style killings of young Ingush and the abductions of several hundred Ingush men over the past three-four years. Many Ingush are convinced that those abductions are the work primarily of North Ossetia's siloviki, presumably acting at the behest of the republic's leadership, which in turn is unlikely to take any decisions without tacit, if not explicit, approval from Moscow. The abductions are seen as part of a long-term war of attrition waged by North Ossetia with the objective of coercing the Ingush to abandon their dogged campaign for the repatriation of Ingush displaced persons to their homes in the neighboring Prigorodny Raion of North Ossetia and for designating that region part of Ingushetia. Prigorodny Raion was part of the then Checheno-Ingush ASSR until that territorial unit was abolished in the wake of the deportation of the Chechens and Ingush to Central Asia in 1944, and remained part of North Ossetia when the Checheno-Ingush ASSR was reconstituted following then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's exoneration of the "deported peoples" in 1956. In October-November 1992, Ossetians backed by Russian Interior Ministry forces clashed with Ingush who had returned spontaneously to settle in Prigorodny Raion. According to Russian statistics, 150 Ossetians and some 300 Ingush were killed in two weeks' fighting and tens of thousands of Ingush forced to flee to Ingushetia.
The alternative hypothesis that the abductions of Ingush by Ossetians are intended as revenge for the September 2004 Beslan hostage is spurious insofar as the spate of disappearances dates from 2003, over a year earlier. And the North Ossetian police have no interest in killing Russian civilians: the nominally Christian Ossetians are widely regarded by their Muslim neighbors as Moscow's fifth column in the North Caucasus. North Ossetia would, however, presumably not be averse to the abolition of Ingushetia's status as a separate federation subject, as such a move would weaken the tenuous legal arguments advanced by the Ingush in support of their claims on Prigorodny Raion.
Ingush officials have blamed the spate of killings and shootings in recent weeks on "external forces." Ingushetian Deputy Prime Minister Bashir Aushev, for example, on September 5 described them as part of a concerted campaign orchestrated from outside Ingushetia with the aim of "destabilizing the situation," and on September 7, Ingushetia's Interior Minister Musa Medov claimed that the gunmen responsible infiltrated Ingushetia from Georgia. That accusation is implausible insofar as the Russian border guard presence on the Ingush stretch of the Russia-Georgia border has been intensified over the past year, angering many Ingush (see "Ingushetia: Talk Of Ingush Border-Guard Replacement Causes Uproar," rferl.org, February 9, 2007), although analogous claims by Moscow five years ago that Chechen militants, including the group subordinate to field commander Ruslan Gelayev, were using Georgia's Pankisi Gorge as a base for operations ultimately proved to be true.
Curiously, however, federal bodies in Moscow, in the first instance the Russian Foreign Ministry, that would normally seize on any shred of evidence with which to blacken Georgia, have not repeated the Ingushetian officials' allegations.
"Vremya novostei" and the Chechen resistance websites chechenpress.info and kavkazcenter.com on September 12 quoted unnamed Ingushetian security officials as claiming on September 11 that the recent spate of killings in that republic were perpetrated by a band of young militants recently recruited by three Arab emissaries of Al-Qaeda. The Arabs are said to have paid individual fighters between $2,000 - $5,000 for each assault. The Ingush security service claimed to have evidence suggesting that the militants are merely using Ingushetia as a base from which they plan to launch a major attack elsewhere in the North Caucasus, possibly in the neighboring Kabardino-Balkaria Republic.
Meeting on September 13 in Nazran with Zyazikov and Russian Deputy Interior Minister Colonel General Arkady Yedelev to assess the situation, presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Kozak excoriated the Ingushetian Interior Ministry, accusing its officers of corruption, failing to take timely action, not coordinating their activities with the federal Interior Ministry contingent deployed to Ingushetia in July, and collaborating with the armed resistance, the daily "Kommersant" reported on September 14. Whether that criticism heralds the imminent dismissal of Interior Minister Medov, who has held the post only for a few months, is not clear, but simply replacing him is unlikely to bring about a fundamental improvement in the security situation.