But since Aushev was replaced in a rigged election in April 2002, the republic has become increasingly unstable. Aushev's successor, career Federal Security Service (FSB) General Murat Zyazikov, promptly set about appointing his relatives and allies to prominent positions, Ingushetia's economy has nosedived and corruption has skyrocketed. Ingushetia depends on subsidies from Moscow for 88 percent of its annual budget; unemployment is estimated at 65-70 percent.
Moreover, Zyazikov has done nothing to support the demands to be permitted to return to their abandoned homes of the thousands of Ingush forced in October-November 1992 to flee the disputed Prigorodny Raion of neighboring North Ossetia to escape vicious reprisals at the hands of Ossetians backed by Russian Interior Ministry forces.
And, possibly taking advantage of Zyazikov's indifference, Interior Ministry and FSB personnel based in North Ossetia have over the past several years snatched scores of Ingush men, many of whom are never found either alive or dead. The human rights organization Memorial estimates that 400 people vanished without trace in Ingushetia between 2002-06.
All these factors have combined to generate an intense and widespread hatred of Zyazikov personally and of the regime he heads. Over the past three years, over 2,000 people (of a total population of some 467,000) have signed an electronic petition demanding that Zyazikov resign.
And of the 735 respondents to date to an opinion poll launched in mid-July by the website ingushetiya.ru, only 11.7 percent gave a positive assessment of Zyazikov's track record, compared with 83 percent whose perception was negative.
Many young men, especially those whose relatives were abducted and disappeared, have flocked to join the ranks of the Chechen resistance, and took part in the multiple attacks in June 2004 on police and security facilities in which some 80 people died.
In recent weeks, attacks by militants aligned with the Chechen resistance on government and police facilities and the killings of local and republican government officials have become an almost daily occurrence. On July 21, gunmen opened fire on Zyazikov's motorcade in Magas, and on July 27, militants opened fire with mortars on an FSB base, killing at least one Russian serviceman.
Domestic political opposition has, however, been muted until very recently. A former Zyazikov ally, Republic of Ingushetia parliament deputy Musa Ozdoyev, mobilized supporters in a series of protest demonstrations in the spring of 2005, but Ozdoyev suspended those protests after several months to give Zyazikov more time to reach agreement with Moscow on the return of the Ingush displaced persons to Prigorodny Raion.
But the antipathy to Zyazikov has now apparently spread to the republic's political elite. Efforts in mid-June to engineer Zyazikov's election to head Ingushetia's chapter of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party failed at the first attempt: Moscow had to intervene to annul the election to that post of a rival candidate.
And in late July, 21 of Ingushetia's 32 parliament deputies signed an extensive open letter addressed to the U.S. Congress, the Senate Committee for Foreign Relations, and the U.S. Senate Helsinki Commission detailing the oppression to which the region was subjected by successive Russian leaderships since being incorporated into the Tsarist empire in the 17th century.
The letter focuses in particular on the 1944 deportation of the Ingush to Central Asia, the transfer of Prigorodny Raion to North Ossetian jurisdiction, and what it terms the "primitive and colonial" policies implemented by the Russian Federation leadership in the North Caucasus over the past 15 years, including Moscow's tacit support of the reprisals by Ossetians against Ingush in Prigorodny Raion in 1992.
It concludes with an appeal for help in bringing to justice those persons responsible for the 1992 violence. Although the signatories stopped short of criticizing him personally, President Zyazikov excoriated them at a July 19 government session in Magas, ingushetiya.ru reported on July 20.
Loudest Voice Not Always Reliable
The situation in Ingushetia is unique in the North Caucasus in that one single media outlet, the opposition website ingushetiya.ru, appears to play a disproportionate role in disseminating information, and in forming and mobilizing public opinion. In addition to reposting news reports from republican media and articles from the Russian press, it served in 2005 as Ozdoyev's mouthpiece; reports on official talks on Prigorodny Raion and the periodic protests by Ingush campaigning for the right to return there; and posts endless extensive essays discussing the legal, political, and moral implications of Ingushetia's claims to Prigorodny Raion. Whereas one year ago, on average eight to 12 people were logged on to that website at any given time, today the number is rarely less than several dozen.
But the information ingushetiya.ru provides cannot always be independently confirmed. One puzzling case was that of a young Ossetian, Chermen Tedeyev, whom ingushetiya.ru identified in August 2006 as heading a movement in North Ossetia that argues that the republic should cede Prigorodny Raion to Ingushetia to avert the danger of a renewed armed conflict between Ingush and Ossetians. All efforts by RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service over a period of several months to locate and interview Tedeyev failed; nor has any interview with him appeared in any other Russian media outlet.
And ingushetiya.ru has not hesitated to go public with information that could have serious repercussions for its interlocutors. For example, last month, in the first instance of a senior official being held responsible for suspected corruption, a criminal case was brought against former Interior Minister Beslan Khamkhoyev for allegedly misappropriating hundreds of thousands of rubles in overtime and special-duty payments intended for police officers.
In an interview posted on ingushetiya.ru on July 22, Khamkhoyev was quoted as saying that it was Zyazikov personally who issued lists of which police officers should receive how much in such payments, and what proportion was to be returned in kickbacks. Khamkhoyev claimed he paid Zyazikov between $30,000-$60,000 every month in kickbacks through Zyazikov's close aide and relative, Ruslanbek Zyazikov.
Some observers have questioned whether ingushetiya.ru may be funded by wealthy Ingush in Moscow who regard Zyazikov as a liability and hope to engineer his disgrace and dismissal. The website's registered owner and editor, however, deny pursuing any such explicitly political agenda.
In an interview posted on March 22, the website's owner, Magomed Yevloyev, defined its raison d'etre as the consolidation of Ingush society, promoting discussion of, and trying to find solutions to, existing problems, and providing objective information about developments within Ingushetia.
Islam In The North Caucasus
SIMMERING TENSIONS: Fatima Tlisova, former North Caucasus editor for the Regnum news agency and a former North Caucasus-based freelancer for RFE/RL, AP, and others, told an RFE/RL briefing that the Russian government is cracking down hard on mosques and Islamic organizations throughout the region.
LISTENListen to the entire briefing (about 70 minutes):
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Filmmaker Documents Chechen Villagers' Sad Fate
Rights Activist Discusses Difficulties Of Working In Chechnya
Ministry Admits Chechen Resistance Still Poses 'Serious Threat'
RFE/RL's complete coverage of Russia's war-torn Republic of Chechnya.