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North Caucasus: Is A Chechnya-Style Conflict Brewing In Ingushetia?

June violence in Ingushetia (file photo) A group calling itself the Supreme State Council of Ingushetia (Majlis Al-Shura) has issued a statement on the Internet declaring a "jihad" against the Russian government in the republic of Ingushetia. Who speaks for the self-styled Supreme State Council is unclear. But the message has sent a chill through the republic, which neighbors Chechnya and has been subject to growing instability in recent months.

Prague, 12 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The declaration of jihad by the Supreme State Council of Ingushetia appeared on 10 July on the website. Its tone is uncompromising.

The statement calls on every able-bodied Muslim in Ingushetia to drive what it terms "Russian invaders" from the republic until Ingushetian land is cleansed of infidels and injustice. It warns that "everyone who cooperates with the invaders" will be punished by death.
Despite the apparent lack of popular support for holy war, experts say the battle cry should still be cause for concern.

Reaction on the streets of Ingushetia's capital Nazran has been one of alarm and disgust. RFE/RL correspondent Aslanbek Dadaev did not find anyone ready to accept the call for jihad. One woman he spoke to put it this way: "Of course I am very much opposed to this. I don't think people will support this. They are very worried and very much fear war."

Another man also condemned the call for jihad. "I think that statements of this kind -- whoever issues them, whether they are made by Ingush fighters or come from somewhere else -- are not aimed at the welfare of the Ingush people," he said. "This statement is clearly aimed against the Ingush people."

Despite the apparent lack of popular support for holy war, experts say the battle cry should still be cause for concern. Thomas De Waal, a Caucasus expert at the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting, told RFE/RL that the Internet message, coming just three weeks after a series of deadly raids by armed insurgents across Ingushetia, is yet another sign that the republic's pro-Moscow government, led by President Murat Zyazikov, is losing control.

"I think it's a symptom of what's going on in Ingushetia, which is basically a loss of control by the local government, which is loyal to the [Russian] Federation, and an increase in violence and an increase in Islamism, I think," he said.

De Waal pointed to the resignation last week of Ingushetia's chief mufti, Magomed-hadji Albogachiev -- who complained that the government is doing little to combat an epidemic increase in corruption, abductions, and unemployment -- as yet another indication that the government seems to be losing support.

Events in Ingushetia appear to have gone from bad to worse ever since the Kremlin installed former Federal Security Service (FSB) General Murat Zyazikov as the republic's president two years ago. The war in neighboring Chechnya has for years put tremendous tensions on the republic's leadership.

But unlike his popular predecessor, Ruslan Aushev, Zyazikov has not been able to manage the different factions in the republic, according to De Waal. As a result, a power vacuum has developed, allowing different factions to test how far they can go and for violence to spread.

"Ruslan Aushev was brilliant in doing a balancing act in which he kept different elements [cooperative.] He kept up relations with Moscow, he kept [Ingushetia] inside the federation, he had business interests, he kept in touch with people like [separatist Chechen leader Aslan] Maskhadov, and one way or another, Ingushetia stayed afloat. Obviously now, in retrospect, [it seems] that Zyazikov broke that balance and that there was a lot of seething discontent. And we've now seen that, with the raids last month inside Nazran and now with all this public discontent being expressed against Zyazikov," De Waal said.

Although few expect the situation in Ingushetia to deteriorate to a Chechen-style war, some observers caution that Moscow's heavy-handed tactics could help feed a local insurgency -- instead of calming it. Ruslan Martagov, a former press and information minister in the pro-Moscow Chechen government, spoke to RFE/RL.

"Naturally, there are reliable tactics for dragging nations into war even if they oppose it. These are tactics dating back to tsarist times and they have not changed. First, under the guise of fighting terrorism, you conduct massive repressions against the local civilian population and in this way you awaken their resistance. This is what we saw in Chechnya during the first and second wars. One could say that the actions of Russia's military -- and I emphasize the well-planned actions -- aimed at promoting conflict; these actions are putting young men on the path of war," Martagov said.

(RFE/RL's North Caucasus and Russian services contributed to this report.)

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