For years, analysts and journalists have chronicled in laborious detail the failings which, they argue, render Yunus-Bek Yevkurov unfit to remain any longer in the post of Republic of Ingushetia head.
But Yevkurov's second term is not due to expire until September 2018, and the consensus is that in the run-up to his own anticipated reelection in March, Russian President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to risk precipitating political upheaval in Ingushetia by dismissing him. That widely-held perception has not, however, deterred Yevkurov's longtime critics, several of whom have publicly endorsed the demand by human rights defender Magomed Mutsolgov in February that Yevkurov and the republican government resign.
The criticisms leveled against Yevkurov fall into three main categories. The first is the inefficiency of the police and security services, in particular their clumsy and brutal response to the threat posed by Islamic militants. The second is the region's stagnating economy, and the third, Yevkurov's apparent lack of sound judgment.
It was the exponential rise in the mid-2000s of abductions by Interior Ministry and FSB personnel from both Ingushetia and neighboring North Ossetia of young Ingush men, and the targeted killings in retaliation of Ingush police and security personnel by Ingush militants aligned with the Chechen resistance, that impelled then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to appoint Yevkurov, a career military intelligence officer, as Ingushetia's leader in October 2008.
Since then, despite a failed car bomb attempt to assassinate Yevkurov in June 2009, the level of violence has fallen dramatically, from 134 fighters and security personnel killed and 192 wounded in 2010 to just 15 killed in 2016. Ingush Interior Minister Lieutenant General Aleksandr Trofimov claimed credit for that trend on more than one occasion.
Those statistics, however, masked several parallel disquieting trends: the Interior Ministry's failure to crack down on endemic corruption and rising crime; its poor record in solving crimes; the continued abductions and subsequent disappearances of suspected “Islamic militants”; and arbitrary and disproportionate police brutality.
It was a high-profile death under police interrogation that finally served as the catalyst for Trofimov's dismissal in early May. In July 2016, Magomed Daliyev, 50, died in a police precinct after reportedly having been beaten and subjected to electric shocks during questioning about a robbery at the bank where his wife worked as a teller. Yevkurov's request that the federal Interior Ministry Main Directorate for the North Caucasus launch a probe into the circumstances of Daliyev's death led to the arrest of three Interior Ministry personnel, including Timur Khamkhoyev, head of the Ministry's Counterextremism Center.
It could be argued in Yevkurov's defense that the interior ministries of the various federation subjects answer not to the governor of the republic head in question, but to Moscow. The same cannot be said, however, for other members of the republic's government, in particular those responsible for the economy.
One of the smallest of Russia's federation subjects, with a population of under half a million, Ingushetia is partly mountainous and has little in the way of natural resources except for modest quantities of oil that Rosneft is engaged in extracting.
For years, the sporadic low-level fighting in Ingushetia and neighboring Chechnya served as a deterrent to investment. True, since Yevkurov's appointment the level of federal subsidies in the annual budget has declined from 96 percent in 2009 to 82 percent in 2015. And in 2016, the region notched up 11.7 percent GDP growth and a 16 percent increase in agricultural output, Yevkurov informed Putin during a meeting in January 2017. But those increases have done little to reduce Ingushetia's lag behind other republics. And unemployment, although down, is still over 30 percent.
The limited opportunities for economic development are further undermined by widespread official corruption and inefficiency. In summer 2013, Ingush oppositionist Daud Garakoyev cited statistics compiled by Russia's Audit Chamber revealing the embezzlement of 350 million rubles ($6.16 million) allocated for investment in agriculture and a further 30 million rubles earmarked for youth programs, with 600 million rubles to reduce unemployment unaccounted for. In a subsequent interview, Garakoyev estimated the total amount stolen over the previous five years at 20 billion rubles, or more than Ingushetia's annual budget of 18 billion rubles.
One year later, in the summer of 2014, the Audit Chamber calculated that in 2013 and the first quarter of 2014, a total of 1.3 billion rubles in subsidies from the federal center was spent for purposes other than those for which it had been allocated.
Efforts to minimize such large-scale theft and waste have had little effect. Over the past 12 months two senior officials -- former Security Council Secretary Akhmed Dzeytov and Construction Minister Mustafa Buruzhev -- have been charged with embezzling 6.4 million rubles and 54 million rubles, respectively. The construction by a company affiliated with then-Prime Minister Abubakar Malsagov of housing for orphans that proved to be unfit for habitation may have contributed to Yevkurov's decision in November to dismiss the entire cabinet and appoint a new prime minister. (The reason he cited was that many ministers were "tired" and no longer able to discharge their duties effectively.)
Whether Malsagov's successor, Ruslan Gagiyev, will prove a more effective economic manager is an open question: he is an expert lawyer whose most recent position was deputy parliament speaker. One of Gagiyev's first moves was to insist that in future all orders should be issued in written form, not orally.
That cabinet reshuffle reportedly encompassed one of the bizarre and inappropriate decisions to which Yevkurov is seemingly prone: he is said to have appointed an Ossetian, Vadim Tsarakov, as one of Ingushetia's seven deputy prime ministers. The Ingush still harbor a collective grievance against the Ossetians dating back to the conflict in late 1992 in which hundreds of Ingush were killed and thousands more expelled at gunpoint from North Ossetia's Prigorodny Raion. That district had been part of the territory of the Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic until the deportation to Central Asia in February 1944 at the behest of Soviet leader Josef Stalin of the entire Chechen and Ingush nations, and many Ingush families had resettled there following their return from exile.
The unconfirmed reports of Tsarakov's appointment triggered outraged protests on social media, after which Yevkurov publicly denied having even considered it.
Other initiatives by Yevkurov have proven similarly ill-judged. A prime example is his stated intention in early 2016 to force the resignation of Ingushetia's chief mufti, Issa-hadzhi Khamkhoyev, and abolish the muftiate, neither of which was within his competence.
In early May, Putin named Major General Dmitry Kava, a Russian from Siberia, to succeed Trofimov as Republic of Ingushetia interior minister. If Kava succeeds in putting a stop to the worst excesses committed by his subordinates and reversing the steady increase in serious crime, that may be enough to ensure that Yevkurov remains in his post until September 2018. Whether Putin will propose him for a third successive term, as he did Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov last year, is questionable, however.
Meanwhile, Ingushetia's two main opposition forces, the Mekhk Kkhel or shadow parliament established in 2008 and the more recent Council of Teyps (extended clans) of the Ingush People, have announced their merger. Their publicly stated rationale is to promote the development of civil society, but it is no secret that in the event that direct elections for the post of republic head are reinstated, they will nominate their own candidate.