In January, the independent website ingushetiya.ru reported that all Ingush personnel have been or will be dismissed from serving at the six border posts in the Russian republic's Djeyrakh Raion, which borders on Georgia in the south and North Ossetia in the west.
Those Ingush, according to the reports, are to be replaced by Russian and Ossetian border troops.
Relations between the Ingush and Ossetians have been tense ever since violence broke out in North Ossetia's disputed Prigorodny Raion in October-November 1992. According to official data, some 300 Ingush were killed and thousands were forced to flee to Ingushetia as a result.
Ingush commentator Magomed Surkhoyev equated the reported changes, which he said the Ingushetian leadership has not protested, with ceding a further tract of Ingushetia's historic territory to neighboring North Ossetia.
In addition, ingushetiya.ru later quoted Surkhoyev that Ingush residents of the villages of Lyazhgi, Guli, and Olgeti have been offered 2 million rubles ($75,460) per household to vacate their homes and settle elsewhere in Ingushetia.
Surkhoyev suggested that the North Ossetian authorities anticipate an influx of Ossetians from Georgia's breakaway republic of South Ossetia in the event of a new attempt to restore Tbilisi's hegemony over the region.
The reports, although unconfirmed, sparked widespread protests both in Ingushetia and among Ingush elsewhere in Russia who have long been concerned over reports of damage inflicted to historic monuments and the environment by Russian military and border guards in Djeyrakh.
That mountain district has the status of a national park and is the site of national monuments in the form of stone towers dating from the 15th, 16th, and 18th centuries.
On January 22, Ingush students in Moscow met with Issa Kostoyev, Ingushetia's representative on the Federation Council, and asked him to raise the issue with the Russian leadership.
Were the reports deliberately or unwittingly posted as part of a campaign to discredit Ingushetia's president?
Kostoyev reportedly told the students that he did not know of any Ingush who want to serve as border guards, but he offered to help any would-be recruits who want to join the Federal Border Service.
Just days later, ingushetiya.ru reported that an unspecified number of would-be recruits had expressed an interest in serving as border guards in Ingushetia.
Meanwhile, Yury Stredinin, the head of the federal border guard contingent in Ingushetia, reportedly met with Ingush officials to discuss local grievances.
Stredinin admitted during the meeting that unspecified problems have arisen in the past, apparently due to the lack of sensitivity of some officers, according to regnum.ru. He denied that any ethnic quotas exist for recruits to the border service, claiming that some 60 Ingush currently serve as border guards in their home republic, making them the second-largest national contingent there after the Russians.
Stredinin also claimed that only four Ossetians are serving as border guards in Ingushetia. He said it would be "ideal" if the majority of personnel serving on the Ingush border were recruited locally.
On January 24, Senator Kostoyev informed Federal Border Service Director Vladimir Pronichev during a Federation Council session that he has received numerous complaints about damage allegedly inflicted by border guards on the ancient stone towers. Pronichev undertook to look into those complaints. He also came out in favor of an Ingush presence among the border guards serving in Ingushetia.
Apparently in response to Kostoyev's intervention, four days later a delegation headed by Federal Border Service Deputy Director Vasily Redkoles traveled to Djeyrakh to assess the situation on the ground firsthand.
Redkoles and his delegation met with Djeyrakh district administration head Yakhya Mamilov, the figure ingushetiya.ru said was responsible for sounding the alarm over the situation on the border. But faced with top officials from Moscow, Mamilov reportedly denied the existence of any problems and praised the role of Stredinin, according to ingushetiya.ru.
Redkoles for his part was more forthcoming. He was quoted by regnum.ru as saying that it was imperative to react to the "dozens" of petitions, each signed by 30-50 people, complaining about damage to architectural monuments in Djeyrakh. While he noted that not a single such report of border guards being responsible for such damage has been confirmed, he implied that some Ingush may hold the border guards responsible for damage inflicted by regular army troops over whom the FSB has no jurisdiction.
Like Stredinin, Redkoles too came out in favor of recruiting local personnel to guard Ingushetia's border with Georgia. But at the same time, he pointed out that most Ingush are not "psychologically prepared" for such duty.
Finally, Redkoles cited unspecified "security concerns" in an apparent attempt to explain why the whole of Djeyrakh has been designated a "border zone" where passage is restricted, while in other North Caucasus republics the restricted zone extends only 5 kilometers from the frontier. Damage Done
Whether the official statements by Stredinin and Redkoles will succeed in allaying the Ingush misgivings is debatable, however.
Indeed, it is not clear just how accurate and reliable the original unsourced ingushetiya.ru reports of the deployment of Ossetian border guards were. That website has for years highlighted corruption and inefficiency within the Ingushetian leadership, which it further accuses of lacking the courage to defend the interests of the displaced Ingush from Prigorodny Raion.
The question thus arises: did ingushetiya.ru either deliberately or unwittingly post unverified information about the deployment of the Ossetian border guards as part of its ongoing campaign to discredit Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov? Either way, the reports served to compound the mutual animosity between Ingush and Ossetians.
As for the FSB's swift reaction to Kostoyev's request to Pronichev, it simply serves to underscore the importance that agency clearly attaches to ensuring that Russia's border with Georgia is professionally guarded to preclude the infiltration from Georgian territory of volunteers to swell the ranks of the North Caucasus jamaats.