Russian President Dmitry Medvedev met on July 14 at his dacha near Sochi with Rashid Gaysanov, who as Ingushetian prime minister automatically assumed the duties of acting president following the June 22 suicide bomb attack that left President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov seriously injured.
Medvedev assessed as successful the ongoing joint operation by Chechen and Ingushetian police and Interior Ministry forces to locate and destroy resistance fighters hiding out in the range of forested hills along the border between the two republics. But at the same time, in a move that will dilute the influence over that operation of Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, Medvedev said the crackdown should be intensified, and that federal forces should also participate.
Immediately after the attack on Yevkurov, Medvedev tasked Kadyrov with coordinating the joint operations by Chechen and Ingushetian police to locate and eliminate armed militants. "I will personally control the operations...and I am sure in the near future there will be good results," Reuters quoted Kadyrov as saying after meeting personally with Medvedev
on June 22.
Kadyrov's announcement that he planned to take command of the anti-insurgency campaign triggered alarm across Ingushetia, even though Gaysanov told journalists on June 24 that he himself would remain in overall charge of the republic, while Kadyrov would only supervise police operations in the area along the border between the two republics.
Following days of media speculation that the power-hungry and ruthless Kadyrov was out to expand his fiefdom by taking Ingushetia under his personal control, Medvedev issued a decree on June 3 formally designating Gaysanov acting president of Ingushetia. Presidential administration head Sergei Naryshkin said that appointment is strictly temporary, until such time as Yevkurov recovers from his injuries and can resume his presidential duties. But Naryshkin also stressed that the decree invests Gaysanov with all relevant presidential powers, and that it is he who bears responsibility for the situation in the republic.
The news agency Regnum
on July 3 quoted Aleksandr Moskalets, who is deputy chairman of the State Duma committee on constitutional law, as saying Medvedev's intention in issuing the decree was to "demolish doubts" and emphasize Gaysanov's official status. But it could equally have been meant as a shot across the bow of those Ingush oppositionists who advocated the temporary appointment of former President Ruslan Aushev to head the republic pending Yevkurov's recovery. Gaysanov served as economy minister under Aushev from December 1999 until Aushev stepped down in the spring of 2002.
Four days after his official endorsement by Medvedev, Gaysanov held a briefing in Moscow during which he discussed the situation in Ingushetia in depth. As summarized by the Russian daily "Vremya novostei
," his comments were thoughtful, moderate, and articulate, in stark contrast to Kadyrov's intemperate, contradictory, and unsophisticated blustering. But he also cast himself as the defender of his republic in the event of any threat to its continued existence as a separate federation subject.
Gaysanov began by spelling out the nature of the "assistance" that Chechen police are providing in the conduct of the joint operation launched by Kadyrov on May 16. He explained that while the Chechen power agencies should continue to help their Ingushetian colleagues battle the Islamic underground, any reunification of Chechnya and Ingushetia into a single republic is out of the question. He added that if the issue of abolishing Ingushetia's status as a separate republic is ever formally mooted, "I shall be among the first to fight it and I am ready to lead that fight."
Gaysanov took a noticeably softer line than Medvedev or Kadyrov with regard to the North Caucasus resistance. True, he repeated their line that the upsurge in recent weeks in militant attacks demonstrates the extent to which support for the resistance is crumbling. But in contrast to recent exhortations by both Medvedev and Kadyrov to show no mercy in eradicating "bandits," Gaysanov argued that while "diehard fighters [he eschewed the term 'bandit'] should bear the responsibility for their acts...the struggle against them should proceed from the unassailable priority of saving a citizen's life."
Alluding to the fact that many resistance fighters are very young, Gaysanov admitted that one of the main factors that drives them to join the resistance is official corruption. "From their point of view there are bureaucrats who consume the national wealth and honest people who fight for 'justice,' in quotes." That black-and-white perception, he suggested, is in part the consequence of shortcomings in the education of an entire generation. (Over half the republic's population of approximately half a million is under the age of 30.)
The government, he continued, is still losing the struggle for the hearts and minds of that generation, but intends to win out in the end by improving living standards and creating jobs. (The official unemployment rate in Ingushetia is 54 percent.)
Gaysanov took a cautious line with regard to the domestic political opposition, appealing to them not to "rock the boat" by convening unauthorized public meetings. At the same time, he affirmed that "the authorities are open for dialogue with any public forces, even those that reflect the interests of only the most minuscule section of the population." The only exception, he went on, is "those who have taken up arms and operate outside the law," and the authorities will seek to win over even them by persuasion.
This is the second occasion on which Medvedev travelled to the North Caucasus and met there with the president of Ingushetia, but not with Kadyrov. The first was in January, three months after Yevkurov was named president. On that occasion, Medvedev announced a huge aid package
for the republic's economy.