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Russia Backs Soldier To Quell Violent Ingushetia Region

Yunus-Bek Yevkurov arrives in Magas.
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- The new man appointed to run Russia's violent Ingushetia region is a tough paratroop commander whom the Kremlin is counting on to drag the region back from the brink of civil war, an analyst has said.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on October 30 dumped Murat Zyazikov as president of Ingushetia, and appointed Yunus-Bek Yevkurov to head the mainly Muslim region bordering Chechnya.

The region has slipped into a cycle of almost daily gunfights, ambushes, and explosions, alarming the Kremlin, which is anxious to avoid a repeat of the separatist conflict in Chechnya in which thousands of people were killed.

Yevkurov commanded the Russian troops who in 1999 took control of Pristina's airport before advancing NATO troops in Kosovo could reach it -- an operation that angered Washington but was seen at home as an audacious coup.

"From what I hear, this is a tough guy, very tough," says Aleksei Malashenko, a security analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, a think tank.

"He is an energetic person, young, and, since he will have complete 'carte blanche' from Moscow, I think he will restore order."

Yevkurov is a 45-year-old career soldier and ethnic Ingush who led operations against Chechen rebels during the fighting there. He has been decorated a Hero of Russia, the country's highest honorary title.

A Russian officer who served under Yevkurov's command during the Pristina operation told Reuters, "He is a very respected person in the army."

A Reuters cameraman at Ingushetia's Magas Airport said Yevkurov flew into the region on October 31 and was greeted by members of the local opposition performing traditional dances. He will for now serve as acting leader.