Just nine months after his reelection for a second term as Republic of Ingushetia head, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov is once again facing allegations of corruption and mismanagement on the part of the regional government.
Such allegations are not new: for years the opposition Mekhk Kkhel (shadow parliament) bombarded Moscow with denunciations of Yevkurov and his entourage, and pleas to replace him. Then, in June 2013, 17 political parties and groups convened a congress in Moscow at which delegates demanded not only Yevkurov's resignation, but also the holding of a referendum on whether the republic head should be elected by popular ballot or by the parliament.
This time, however, the criticism of Yevkurov came neither from the Mekhk Kkhel nor the broader informal congress, nor from indefatigable oppositionist Magomed Khazbiyev, but from Akhmed Belkhoroyev, an Ingush parliamentarian who began his career in the Interior Ministry, and Israil Arsamakov, a former advisor to Yevkurov.
Belkhoroyev, 28, is the sole representative in the Ingushetian legislature of the A Just Cause party. In May 2013, he was the only lawmaker to vote against amending the republic's constitution to abolish direct elections for the post of republic head.
One month later, he told the Moscow daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that it was endemic corruption and the republican leadership's inability to bring about any improvement in socioeconomic conditions in Ingushetia, which are among the worst in the entire Russian Federation, that impelled some 50,000 Ingush (out of a total population of 412,500) to sign a petition demanding such direct elections in the hope of voting Yevkurov out of office.
The Ingushetian human rights organization MASHR designated Belkhoroyev as one of its 2013 "heroes of civil society" for "decency in discharging his official duties."
Belkhoroyev repeated his criticisms of Yevkurov earlier this month. On June 9, he was quoted by the daily "Izvestia" as accusing Yevkurov of devoting his entire energy to undermining his political opponents rather than focusing on improving the socioeconomic situation.
Belkhoroyev said the republic is mired in corruption; that embezzlement of federal funds is "the norm;" that both the Russian Constitution and the law are routinely ignored; and that official statistics are falsified to show a steady decline in unemployment.
Arsamakov, for his part, told "Izvestia" that the process of creating a civil society has not even started in Ingushetia. He said the lack of employment prospects impels young men to "head for the forest" to join the Islamic insurgency, while government officials ignore the region's problems rather than seek solutions to them.
A commentary in "Moskovsky komsomolets" titled "Is Yevkurov Losing Control?" characterized the situation in even more apocalyptic terms as "an undeclared civil war" replete with "the killings of innocent civilians, abductions, interclan conflicts and political intrigue."
Belkhoroyev's allegations of corruption and embezzlement are apparently not unfounded. Just days earlier, "Izvestia" had reported that a probe conducted early this year by the North Caucasus Federal District Directorate of the Russian Prosecutor General's office revealed "a whole series of gross violations" in the use of budget funds that could jeopardize the successful implementation of a 79-billion-ruble ($2.23-billion) federal development program for Ingushetia approved by the Russian government in 2009.
Bekhoroyev has since appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin for protection, claiming to have received threats from Timur Khamroyev, head of the Interior Ministry Center for Combatting Extremism. Both in his appeal to Putin and in a separate letter to the Investigative Committee at the Prosecutor General's office, Belkhoroyev enumerated three instances of the recourse to torture by Republic of Ingushetia Interior Ministry personnel.
Meanwhile, Yevkurov convened a meeting with senior siloviki, parliamentarians and Security Council officials at which he made pejorative comments about Belkhoroyev and Arsamakov, thereby indirectly corroborating the former's charge that he spends too much time and energy trying to neutralize his political opponents.
The recently published effectiveness ratings for the heads of the 85 federation subjects nonetheless suggests that the Russian leadership is still inclined to believe Yevkurov's version of the state of affairs in Ingushetia.
Yevkurov ranked in joint 35th-38th place in that rating, in the second category (a score of 65-75 out of a maximum 100), after Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov (7th-9th place with a score of 92), Rashid Temrezov (Karachayevo-Cherkessia, 19th-20th ) and Ramazan Abdulatipov (Republic of Daghestan , 21st-22nd), but ahead of Aslanchery Tkhakushinov (Republic of Adygheya, 46th-48th), Yurii Kokov (Kabardino-Balkaria, 65th-69th) and Taymuraz Mamsurov (North Ossetia, 75th).
At the same time, it is conceivable, as this blog has hypothesized once before, that as long as the Kremlin continues to regard Yevkurov as a valuable counterweight to Kadyrov, any efforts to undermine him are a waste of time and energy.
Sergei Melikov, whom President Putin appointed in early May to head the North Caucasus Federal District, is currently touring the region and meeting one on one with republic heads. He has not yet visited Magas, but when he does, the published reports of his talks with Yevkurov may yield some indication of how seriously the Kremlin takes Belkhoroyev's corruption allegations.
-- Liz Fuller