Militant Attacks Increase In Ingushetia As Cracks Emerge Within Leadership
By Liz FullerAugust 1, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Devotees of John le Carre's novels will recall how with uncanny foresight he chronicled in "Our Game," published in 1994 just months before the war in Chechnya erupted, the aftermath of a major uprising against Russia in Ingushetia.
Even though the two republics are contiguous and their peoples close ethnic kin, and despite the clear sympathy for his Chechen counterpart, Djokhar Dudayev, evinced by Ingushetia's President Ruslan Aushev, Ingushetia was not drawn into the Chechen war, although it provided refuge to a huge number of Chechens fleeing the fighting.
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.
Sides In Frozen Conflicts 'Need To Talk'TBILISI, July 31, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union's special representative to the South Caucasus, Ambassador Peter Semneby, was in Georgia on July 26-28 to wrap up some discussions with the Georgian government on the EU's contribution to the confidence-building and the peace processes in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
He also took the opportunity to meet newly appointed State Minister for Conflict Resolution Davit Bakradze. Semneby further noted the intention of the Georgian government to invite external partners to take part in the work of a new commission on South Ossetia. RFE/RL's Georgian Service correspondent Nino Gelashvili met with Semneby afterward and asked a few questions.
Peter Semneby: I have been concerned and I know there are others also that are concerned about the stalemate that we have seen in the conflict-resolution process and the dialogue between the parties in Abkhazia. The fact that there is very little going on in terms of actual contacts between the parties is the source of great concern.
There are some incidents in the course of the last few months that have also caused attention and concern. The incident that took place in the Kodori Valley on March 11 is a source of great concern. Whatever the exact circumstances were, it was a serious and quite dangerous attack that could have had very far-reaching consequences. And we very much understand and support the profound concerns and disquiet of the Georgian government regarding this incident.
RFE/RL: You mentioned the lack of direct dialogue between the Georgian and Abkhaz sides. There is a lack of direct dialogue between Georgia and South Ossetia, too. You met with government representatives, also representatives of the parliamentary majority. How do they explain the reasons for that?
Semneby: It is a fact that the existing body that we have for contacts between the parties, the Joint Control Commission [JCC], has not been working well lately. There may be several reasons for this. If you are asking in terms of the Georgians' explanations, there is the dissatisfaction on the Georgian side that it's structured in such a way that it may not bring the issues forward in a productive way. The disagreements over the course of the last few months also about the two parallel authorities that we have in Tskhinvali and Kurta [the rival separatist and pro-Georgian administrations] have also created deadlock in the JCC.
Against that background I have some expectation that we are now able to move beyond this. There is a meeting of the Joint Control Commission planned for the next few weeks. There have been statements from the Russian Federation of a more flexible view in terms of the composition of the Georgian delegation and that's a result.
I think there is a desire also on the part of the Georgian side in good faith to use this format for what it can achieve. It will not be able to resolve the big issues but I believe we are at the situation at least where the limited potential that this format gives will be used also by the Georgian side.
In terms of the larger issues, the longer term that will be a later issue, I hope that the initiative on the Georgian side to launch [this] commission, to involve all parties in an inclusive dialogue will also yield results and that this work will also be carried out in good faith and that all measures, all steps will be taken on the part of the Georgian government to make sure that this dialogue, this consultation process is a truly inclusive one. It is a big step. It's an important step that the strategic direction here is a restoration of the autonomy of South Ossetia, since the origin of the conflict 15 or 16 years ago was precisely the abolishment of the autonomy of South Ossetia.
RFE/RL: Did Georgian government give the EU any deadline to answer their request about participation in the commission on the status of South Ossetia?
Semneby: The request was sent very recently, and by the time I left Brussels I had not received it, the formal request. So, we will of course look at the request. We may have some follow-up questions to the Georgian side and I am not in a position to comment on any modalities.
RFE/RL: When Mr. Bakradze was appointed to the post of state minister, almost the only point he made in the beginning was that he would work to give Europe a more active role in resolving the conflicts in Georgia. What did he mean? What did he tell you, if it's not a secret, at the meeting?
Semneby: Well, Mr. Bakradze has a very strong vision of Georgia as a European country, as a country with a very strong European vocation and link with the European Union. And against that background, with that relationship being perhaps the central one in Georgia's foreign policy it's also natural to look towards Europe for, in the short-term, facilitation of various kinds (and I mentioned, we have discussed that) but also as a source of inspiration for finding models -- historical and current -- for how to deal with similar situations.
RFE/RL: You must have read the latest report by the UN on the bombing in the Kodori Valley. The investigation is not completed, that was written at the end of the report. But what was your impression about the work that was done to prepare that report?
Semneby: I think it was painstaking work that was done. It doesn't give the full picture of what actually happened, but it gives a clear enough picture to make the conclusion that this was a very dangerous incident and very dangerous attack that took place.
RFE/RL: Let's go back to the issue of a direct dialogue, let's go back to the conflicts again. Two years ago, the Georgian-Abkhaz Coordinating Council was restored, but for a very short time. Do you see any perspective for restoring the process again, because I remember some working groups were planned to meet and work on certain issues?
Semneby: There are several levels where I hope the dialogue should be restored. The Coordination Council is one, the dialogue at the political level between Sukhumi and Tbilisi is another one. It's a curse, I would say, in the cases like this. There are often conditions being presented for this dialogue to continue and to take place.
Our recommendation is, and very strong view (and I most recently communicated this when I was in Abkhazia few weeks ago), is that the dialogue itself -- the conduct of the dialogue itself should not be the subject of negotiations and conditions because then we will run into very complicated situation where it will be almost impossible to untie the knot and move forward. The parties need to talk.