As tensions rise in Ingushetia, the former president of that troubled Russian republic, Ruslan Aushev, says he is ready to temporarily reassume leadership while current President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov recovers from injuries sustained in an assassination attempt. Aushev, a highly decorated career military officer, served as Ingushetia’s president from 1992 to 2002. He now lives in Moscow but remains very popular at home. For his part, the leader of neighboring Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, claims that Moscow has tasked him with restoring order in Ingushetia. The Kremlin has so far remained silent. RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Lyudmila Telen interviewed Aushev to get his perspective.RFE/RL: Are you really prepared to return to Ingushetia as leader of that republic?Ruslan Aushev:
In the situation that has emerged following the attack on Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, every single resident of Ingushetia -- and I, in particular, as the republic's first president -- has an obligation to consider what he can do for his homeland.
My fellow countrymen began to contact me and asked me to come to Ingushetia and assume the leadership of the republic at this difficult time. I realized that I had to come to a decision, and I did so. I said, "I am ready to come."RFE/RL: To whom did you say that?Aushev:
To the people who live in Ingushetia. I announced it through journalists who contacted me after the tragedy in Nazran and asked me to evaluate the situation. (Editor's note: The suicide bomb attack on Yevkurov
occurred on June 22.) But I was counting on that response being heard in Ingushetia.
My position was that I am ready to return and head the republic temporarily as acting president -- with the appropriate powers -- until Yunus-Bek Yevkurov recovers and returns to resume his duties. RFE/RL: How could this be arranged legally? Aushev:
It must be done by the president of the Russian Federation [Dmitry Medvedev].RFE/RL: Has the president of the Russian Federation reacted to your statement?Aushev:
No, he is in Africa.RFE/RL: I doubt that the president is incommunicado.Aushev:
There has been silence so far.RFE/RL: How do you interpret that silence?Aushev:
My decision was based on one single consideration. In this situation, I had to say that I was ready to assume responsibility. It was my duty to do so. And I made that statement before the appointment [of Prime Minister Rashid Gaysanov] as acting president of Ingushetia. If the present leadership of Ingushetia can cope with the problems the republic faces, good luck to them.RFE/RL: Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov harshly criticized your announcement. He argued that you have no legal right to return to Ingushetia.Aushev:
I said from the very beginning that I could assume the duties of leader of Ingushetia only if the appropriate legal framework were created. Today that framework is not elections but a document signed by the Russian president.RFE/RL: Kadyrov also said a couple of days ago that he is ready to take responsibility for restoring legal order in Ingushetia, leaving the acting president of Ingushetia free to concentrate on the economy. Is that a fair division of labor?Aushev:
The authorities of a republican leader should not be divided up. The president, or the person who is substituting for him, should answer for everything -- for public security, for the economy, and for social issues. When people start trying to divide up responsibility, you end up with a swan, a crayfish, and a pike (Editor's note: an allusion to a Krylov fable in which those three creatures try to move a cart but all pull in different directions).
There is one more thing. What legal dispensation does Kadyrov have to try to restore order on the territory of Ingushetia? That is not in line with the constitution.
To be honest, I do not think it was Kadyrov's decision -- someone else put the idea into his head. And being young, he flew off the handle. I simply cannot understand why he needs this. RFE/RL: Some people think there is a certain logic behind what Kadyrov is doing. They think he aspires to become the head of a reunited Chechen-Ingush republic.Aushev:
People have been talking about reuniting Chechnya and Ingushetia for ages, even while I was still president. Of course, what Kadyrov is doing is an alarm signal for the people of Ingushetia. All we can do is hope that it doesn't come to that.
If you remember, that idea first surfaced when the situation in Chechnya was bad, and things were better in Ingushetia. Now it is the other way around: Chechnya is more stable. And so the idea emerges of folding unstable Ingushetia into Chechnya. The logic here is odd.
And I must add that despite their brotherly feelings for the Chechen people, Ingushetia will never accept the idea of unification. Everyone knows this. Even former President Murat Zyazikov understood this, although he was willing to do anything else Moscow ordered him to do.
Yunus-Bek Yevkurov understands this, too. I hope that there are still responsible people within the federal leadership who understand what will happen if a move is made toward such unification.RFE/RL: Do you think that someone's personal ambitions are behind the idea of unification, or Moscow simply doesn't understand the situation?Aushev:
I suspect that someone within the federal center is pushing the idea and trying to implant it in the heads of the country's top leaders. Those people are simply using Kadyrov.Message From MoscowRFE/RL: This is someone's personal initiative?Aushev:
We don't know what their intentions are -- whether these people want peace or, on the contrary, an even greater conflagration in the Caucasus. I have been connected hand and foot with the Caucasus since 1992, but I still cannot comprehend what Moscow wants from this region. Everyone talks about peace, but acts in such a way as to make the situation even worse. RFE/RL: What specifically are they doing?Aushev:
Take recent history: The conflict between Ingushetia and [North] Ossetia [in the fall of 1992] had to happen so Moscow could resolve the Chechen problem.
Then there was the first Chechen war. Why? It would have been easy to resolve all problems at the negotiating table; [then Chechen President Djokhar] Dudayev was ready to do so. But no, they said, "We'll fight the bandits." They turned the whole republic upside down. How many people died?
Then in 1999, there was another war. Up till then, everything that happened was confined to the borders of Chechnya. But now? Look at what is happening in Daghestan, in Ingushetia, and in Kabardino-Balkaria, which used to be peaceful.
New religiously motivated armed groups have sprung up, and their number is growing. And their objective is no longer independence for one single republic, their plans go much further.RFE/RL: Is this in your view a direct consequence of what the federal center is doing?Aushev:
It is the result of our entire policy in the Caucasus. In the past we created a situation in Afghanistan that gave rise to the Taliban, who have destroyed everything, and the best armies in the world are powerless against them. That is what comes of the use of force.
Magas MattersRFE/RL: How do you assess President Yevkurov's policies?Aushev:
The most important thing is that he embarked on a dialogue with the people, which Zyazikov rejected as a matter of principle. And the hope emerged that it would be possible through a joint effort to deal with the problems the republic faces, which cannot be resolved without popular support. And if they are not resolved, the result will be resistance, a partisan war, and you cannot win such a war.
You can utter threats from morning until night: "We shall destroy them all. We shall exact harsh retribution. We shall impose control."
But nothing will come of it if you don't have popular support. If the people do not support the leader, nothing will help. [What is needed is] not people for the leader, but a leader for the people.RFE/RL: Whose toes did Yevkurov step on?Aushev:
There are numerous hypotheses. I cannot say which of them is most plausible.RFE/RL: If you return to Ingushetia, you won't rely on "force" methods?Aushev:
I was president for 10 years and I relied on the people in implementing my policy.RFE/RL: How will you be able to act independently if, as you say, the federal center does not understand -- or does not want to understand -- what is happening in the Caucasus?Aushev:
You have to try to make it clear to the center that Moscow's policy is wrong. Zyazikov used to tell Moscow only what top officials there wanted to hear. And what was the result? Abductions, acts of terrorism, policemen and judges killed, corruption on a monstrous scale....
And all that time Zyazikov kept reporting how much housing was being built, how gas supplies were being extended to every village, and all the authorities' other achievements. By the way, I advised Yevkurov to invite the Audit Chamber to send people to Ingushetia to check on what had been done before he was appointed president.RFE/RL: Do you have a good relationship with Yevkurov?Aushev:
He came to see me several times, to introduce himself. That is the accepted way we do things, both as Vainakhs [Chechens and Ingush] and in the army. I knew him way back when he was still a senior lieutenant. And we celebrated when we was awarded the Hero of Russia medal.RFE/RL: This question may seem inappropriate to you as an army general. Aren't you afraid to return to Ingushetia?Aushev:
The one thing I'm afraid of is bringing shame on myself. If it falls to me to perform the duties of president, then of course I shall do everything I can to do so honorably.