For a period of six weeks this summer, Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov and his Ingushetian counterpart, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, engaged in a protracted and acrimonious public polemic, until ordered
by presidential envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District Aleksandr Khloponin to desist.
An initial disagreement
between the two over the circumstances of the death on Ingushetian territory of two senior Chechen fighters mushroomed into a dispute over the administrative border
between their respective republics.
Following a two-month hiatus, Kadyrov has now issued a new public statement taking issue with Yevkurov's criticism of a ruling earlier this month by Chechen mufti Sultan Mirzayev that slain insurgents may not be given a religious funeral
and buried in official cemeteries.
Mirzayev's stated rationale was that "criminals who are guilty of the death of other Muslims should not be buried in cemeteries alongside normal people." He added, "The bodies of terrorists and murderers can be buried only outside cemeteries."
Russia's law on terrorism precludes handing over to their relatives for burial the bodies of "terrorists." But the Chechen authorities tend to apply that term indiscriminately and subjectively to many insurgents who do not strictly speaking fall into that category: Kadyrov routinely brands all insurgents "terrorists" and "Wahhabis." Mirzayev, however, did not explicitly affirm that all fighters are terrorists.
The family of Chechen Republic-Ichkeria President Aslan Maskadov has repeatedly appealed to the Russian government since his death seven years ago
to hand over his remains, but to no avail. The bodies of some of the men killed during the multiple attacks on police and security forces in Nalchik in October 2005 were clandestinely cremated, even though their participation in the assault on the Kabardino-Balkaria capital was open to question
While Kadyrov consistently urges the Chechen security forces to track down and kill every last insurgent, Yevkurov has adopted a less draconian approach, one that former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev openly commended. Over the past three years, Yevkurov has repeatedly appealed to young insurgents to lay down their arms and return to civilian life. He has even made public his phone number
to enable them to call him personally, promising that they will be treated fairly.
Last year, Ingushetia followed the example of Daghestan and set up a government commission
to provide advice and assistance to those fighters who want to surrender. In line with that emphasis on clemency, Yevkurov suspended the ban on handing over the bodies of "terrorists" to their families, arguing
that "there is no point in making people bitter."
Clash Of Philosophies
Yevkurov returned to the subject in a blog post
on November 8 that was clearly pegged to Mirzayev's statement, although he did not mention Chechnya or identify Mirzayev by name. While stressing the relevant article of the law on terrorism should be complied with, he said that in other cases, meaning dead insurgents who had not engaged in terrorist activities, the bodies should be handed over to their families for burial, if for no other reason than "as a warning to their siblings not to commit similar crimes." Failure to do so, Yevkurov argued, only serves to fuel terrorism. What, he asked rhetorically, is the point of fighting the dead?
Kadyrov, predictably, seized on Yevkurov's blog post to reiterate his earlier accusations that Yevkurov is too soft on terrorists and their families, and that his half-hearted approach to fighting the insurgency creates security problems for the region. In Chechnya, the homes of fighters' parents are routinely torched
Kadyrov claimed that the Chechen population approves of the ban on granting slain insurgents a religious burial. But the website Kavkaz-uzel.ru quoted two men who criticized the ruling on religious and ethical grounds, saying it only compounds hatred
. Kadyrov also rejected as untrue Yevkurov's assertion that the bodies of some dead fighters are not buried in unmarked graves, but preserved in barrels of brine.
Yevkurov responded the same day, stressing that his remarks should not be construed as criticism of Chechnya, but merely his personal opinion. He said he would not be drawn into an argument
because "many people" (whose identity he declined to specify) "are waiting for me to do so in order to use anything I say to make the situation worse."
Whether the Russian authorities favor Kadyrov's merciless approach to fighting the insurgency or Yevkurov's more lenient one is not 100 percent clear. It is conceivable that Kadyrov's methods are considered appropriate in Chechnya, especially considering that the head of the self-styled Caucasus emirate, Doku Umarov, is a Chechen, and the insurgency in Chechnya is more organized, disciplined, experienced, and deadly effective than the fighters in either Ingushetia, Daghestan, or Kabardino-Balkaria. But even if some senior Russian officials have reservations, Kadyrov's influence in Moscow is such that public criticism of him is highly unlikely.
By the same token, Yevkurov's policy seems to be yielding results. No fewer than 17 fighters and 25 support personnel surrendered last year
, and the number of attacks by insurgents on police and security personnel has fallen steadily since 2009. Insurgents killed just 19 members of the police and security forces in Ingushetia in 2011
with 40 in 2010 and 92 in 2009.