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Analysis: Russian Repression Triggers Backlash In Ingushetia

Local commentators are virtually unanimous in their conclusion that this week's guerrilla raids on strategic targets in Ingushetia in which around 90 people were killed were the deliberate response to the Kremlin's policy.

In the two years since Moscow engineered the election of former Federal Security Service (FSB) General Murat Zyazikov to succeed Ruslan Aushev as Ingushetia's president, the republic has suffered a steep economic decline attributable, some analysts claim, at least partly to Zyazikov's failure to combat corruption and mismanagement. Even more crucial, over the last year, Russian and Chechen Interior Ministry and special forces troops have engaged in the indiscriminate killing or abduction of Ingush civilians. Rashid Ozdoev, a senior official from the Ingushetian prosecutor's office who sought to investigate and put a stop to such abductions, has himself disappeared without trace and may have been executed.

What is not clear is whether, as some analysts have hypothesized, a faction within the Russian leadership deliberately sought, for whatever arcane or venal reasons, to extend the ongoing "antiterrorism" operation from Chechnya into neighboring Ingushetia, or whether the most recent Caucasus crisis is simply the product of inefficiency and lack of insight into conditions in the latter republic. Those inclined to lend credence to the former interpretation have suggested that the Kremlin's ultimate objective may be to create a case for either reincorporating Chechnya and Ingushetia into a single republic, or creating a much larger territorial-administrative unit in the North Caucasus within the framework of a broader streamlining of the Russian Federation that would reduce the number of federation subjects by up to two-thirds.

Eyewitness reports of the raids cited by the independent website suggest that the fighters were overwhelmingly young Ingush men, members of a battalion commanded by Magomet Evloev, aka Asadullah, which is subordinate to radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev. Asadullah reportedly warned last September that unless the ongoing murders and abductions in Ingushetia were stopped, Ingushetia could become a second Chechnya. Basaev warned in a statement last week ( that his men were preparing for a major operation that would inflict considerable military and political damage on federal forces. Writing in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 June, one Russian journalist pointed out that the tactics used in the 21-22 June raids replicated those Basaev used in his attack on Grozny in 1996.

Most Russian officials, however, have identified the raiders as ethnic Chechens plus the usual imputed Afghan and Turkish mercenaries, allegedly operating at the behest of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Maskhadov's official representative abroad, Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Akhmed Zakaev, released a statement on 22 June in which he described the attack as a "popular insurrection" triggered by Russia's "blind [and] suicidal" policy in Ingushetia, in particular the wave of killings and kidnappings of innocent civilians. Zakaev did not, however, specifically absolve Maskhadov from any role in the incursion.