Against a backdrop of systematic reprisals by security forces against the civilian population, oppositionists in Ingushetia have sought over the past year, with minimal success, to pressure Moscow to face up to, and to take action to curtail, blatant corruption, embezzlement, mismanagement, and downright disinformation on the part of the republic's leadership, in particular Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov.
In the wake of Moscow's disinclination to acknowledge, let alone condemn, the flagrant falsification of voting in Ingushetia in the elections in December 2007 to the Russian State Duma and in March 2008 for a new Russian president and Ingushetian parliament, the opposition has launched a campaign to return to power Zyazikov's predecessor, retired Lieutenant General Ruslan Aushev, who stepped down in 2002. Aushev, who served with the Soviet Army in Afghanistan and was elected Ingushetia's first president after the split into two parts of the Checheno-Ingushetia ASSR in the summer of 1992, is widely, but not universally, viewed as the sole political figure capable of putting an end to the ongoing indiscriminate violence, endemic corruption, and economic collapse.
On April 27, the opposition website ingushetiya.ru launched an online poll in which respondents were asked to say whether they would approve Aushev's reinstallation as president. As of May 30, of a total of 3,741 respondents, 85.2 percent (3,188 people, of a population of approximately 480,000) answered in the affirmative, while 10.3 percent (384 people) said "no."
By contrast, as of April 2007 only 1,958 people had appended their signatures to an earlier petition launched by ingushetiya.ru three years earlier to demand Zyazikov's resignation. At the same time, the website set about collecting signatures in support of Aushev's return to power, providing a downloadable form in both Microsoft Word and PDF format for signing, and as of May 30 had collected 50,000 signatures. On May 16, ingushetiya.ru reported that "thousands" of car drivers have taken to displaying portraits of Aushev either on the windshield, the hood, or the dashboard of their vehicles (see ingushetia.org/news/14393.html).
The Ingushetian authorities also tried unsuccessfully to ban the sale of the latest issue of the monthly Russian-language journal "Dosh" (Word), which contained an interview with Aushev, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported on May 24, citing the journal's editor in chief Abdulla Duduyev. In that interview, Aushev expressed concern over the current situation in Ingushetia, but was careful not to utter any direct criticism either of Zyazikov or of Moscow.
He rejected the suggestion that the Russian leadership is not aware how serious and unstable the situation in Ingushetia really is, adding that the federal center will only intervene to restore order if and when it considers it expedient to do so. "The power vertical was not created in order to address the population's grievances," he observed. Aushev likewise rejected the suggestion that he could act as mediator between the Ingushetian authorities and the population at large, saying that "no one is going to listen either to me or to the demonstrators."
In mid-April, the Chechen separatist website kavkazcenter.com reported, first, that Aushev had openly and harshly criticized the Ingushetian leadership during an address to students in Moscow, and second, that members of Russian President-elect Dmitry Medvedev's staff had approached Aushev as a possible replacement for Zyazikov. Those reports were never confirmed, but within weeks the republican authorities began circulating leaflets denigrating Aushev.
At the same time, as indicated above, the domestic political opposition, or more precisely the opposition website ingushetiya.ru, launched its campaign to bring back Aushev as president. Whether the opposition truly believes that option is realistic, or whether they simply seek to use Aushev's name to mobilize popular support and pressure Zyazikov and his team is unclear, however.
On the one hand, Aushev is a known quantity with a national reputation, in contrast to other opposition figures whose influence, popularity, and mutual relations are opaque. Several political figures identified as possible future leaders are based in Moscow, including Mukharbek Aushev (no relation to Ruslan), who represented Ingushetia in the Russian State Duma; Musa Keligov, a former vice president of LUKoil International and a former inspector within the office of the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District; and Issa Kostoyev, who represents Ingushetia on the Federation Council.
Two prominent opposition activists, Maksharip Aushev and Magomed Yevloyev (not to be confused with the eponymous owner of ingushetiya.ru), were arrested in the wake of an abortive mass protest in Nazran on January 26 and have been held in detention since then in Nalchik; they launched a hunger strike on May 23 after their pretrial detention was extended for a further two months.
Since their arrest, coordination of further protest demonstrations has devolved on a young businessman, Magomed Khazbiyev. But Khazbiyev has continued the tactic adopted last fall, repeatedly announcing the date for a planned mass protest and then calling it off or postponing it. Thus, a meeting provisionally scheduled for February was postponed until March, then April, then May.
No convincing explanation has been offered for those postponements, and it remains unclear whether the organizers fear attendance will be so low as to discredit them, or that police and security forces will resort to violence to prevent any such mass gathering, or whether the intention is simply to maintain constant pressure on the authorities.
On May 29, it was finally announced that five simultaneous rallies -- in Nazran, Magas, Malgobek, Ordjonikidzevskaya, and Karabulak -- will take place on June 6, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. And whereas earlier protests focused simply on the demand for Zyazikov's resignation, on June 6 participants will demand Aushev's reinstatement as president, the website quoted Khazbiyev as saying.
Meanwhile, the various Ingush teyps (clans) have selected their representatives to the Mekhk Kkhel, a traditional national assembly intended to function as an alternative to the republican parliament elected on March 2, and in which the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party holds 20 of the 27 mandates. Its objectives, as enumerated in the draft statutes posted on ingushetiya.ru on March 30, focus on mobilizing the population to ensure the democratic implementation of all legal decisions made by the republican authorities to restore political stability.
On the other hand, a small minority of Ingush remain unconvinced that Aushev is a convincing alternative to Zyazikov, although some concede he could serve as an interim leader. Those skeptics point out that Aushev too turned a blind eye to corruption (albeit not on the current scale), and that his efforts to galvanize the republic's moribund economy, for example through the special economic status the republic enjoyed from June 1994-July 1997 under which it paid no taxes to the federal center, failed to achieve the desired result.
Ingushetia currently has the highest unemployment rate -- 67 percent --of any federation subject, and as of 2005 it was the most heavily subsidized republic, relying on funds from Moscow for 88 percent of its annual budget.