Prague, 4 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The day after Ruslan Aushev was reelected president of Ingushetia in March 1998, he affirmed that Ingushetia would never seek to secede from the Russian Federation, even if neighboring Chechnya was internationally recognized as an independent state.
But in an indication of just how rapidly Moscow's authority in the North Caucasus is eroding, Aushev warned in an interview with "Vremya-MN" last week that if the Russian government continues with what he termed its imperialist "divide and rule" policy towards the North Caucasus, Ingushetia would quit the federation.
Although Aushev did not spell out his precise grievances against the federal center, he made it clear that he resents Moscow's inclination to classify the peoples of the North Caucasus as either "reliable" or "unreliable." The former category includes the Ossetians, and the latter -- those ethnic groups, including the Chechens and Ingush, which were deported to Central Asia on Stalin's orders in 1944.
"We shouldn't," Aushev said, "be a deported nation indefinitely."
The repercussions of the 1944 deportation continue to poison Ingushetia's relations with the neighboring Republic of North Ossetia - Alania. After the deportation of the Ingush, the Prigorodnyi district of what was then the Chechen-Ingush ASSR was transferred to North Ossetia.
When the deported Ingush were allowed to return in the late 1950s, they were subjected to discrimination and hostility by the Ossetians. That mutual enmity erupted into violence sporadically, and in outright battles in October 1992, when up to 700 people were killed in six days of fighting between Ingush militias and North Ossetian security forces backed by Russian Interior Ministry and army troops.
Hundreds of hostages were taken by both sides, and thousands of homes, mostly belonging to Ingush families, were destroyed. Almost the entire Ingush population of the district -- estimates range from 34,000 to 64,000 people -- were forced to flee.
The Russian government's repeated pledges of financial help for those fugitives have remained on paper: only approximately 2,000 of them have returned to their homes in Prigorodnyi raion. Thousands still live in temporary trailer accommodations in Ingushetia.
Some observers have suggested that the cost over the past six years of the Russian government's Temporary State Committee for the resolution of the North-Ossetian-Ingush Conflict, which comprises several hundred staff, would have been more than adequate to finance new accommodation for the Ingush displaced persons.
Aushev implied in his interview that the "reliable" nations receive an unfair advantage in the allocation of limited funds from the central budget. He also criticized as shortsighted the Russian government's 1997 decision to abolish the "offshore economic zone" in Ingushetia and its concomitant refusal to compensate for the resulting loss of income by increasing subsidies from the federal budget.
It should be noted that better use could probably have been found for at least part of the income generated by the offshore zone than building Magas, the grandiose new capital that Aushev unveiled last weekend. Adding insult to injury, Moscow is now considering creating such a free economic zone on the border between North and South Ossetia.