Republic of Ingushetia head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov's days in office may be numbered. Ingushetian opposition leader Magomed Khazbiyev has formally submitted
to Russia's Investigative Committee a request that Yevkurov be questioned in connection with the murder two years ago
of prominent public figure Maksharip Aushev, for which no one has yet been arrested and charged. Meanwhile, speculation has started
about Yevkurov's most likely successor.
Yevkurov, 48, is a contentious figure. A former career Russian military intelligence (GRU) officer, he was named in October 2008 by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to succeed the corrupt, discredited, venal, and incompetent Murat Zyazikov as Ingushetian president. Initially, Yevkurov made a good impression on the population at large, and on the numerically tiny but vociferous opposition, whose views he immediately sought.
But within months, Yevkurov managed to alienate his co-ethnics by pushing through parliament legislation defining the republic's borders and administrative districts that failed to list as Ingushetian territory the Prigorodny district of neighboring North Ossetia that until the 1944 deportation was part of the then-Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.
Then in June 2009, Yevkurov was seriously injured in a suicide car bombing for which the North Caucasus insurgency claimed responsibility, and which journalists who regularly attend his press conferences say has affected his reasoning.
Over the past 18 months, the opposition has repeatedly criticized him for failing to take definitive action to eradicate endemic corruption or kick-start the republic's stagnating economy and create new jobs. The opposition also accuses him of repeatedly acting in violation of the law, as, for example, when he engineered Khazbiyev's release from custody
after a protest in March, and his intervention in late July to annul the outcome
of a local council election.
Aushev, a prominent businessman who entered local politics only after his son and nephew were abducted by security forces operating out of Chechnya in 2007, had initially supported Yevkurov's efforts to promote civic harmony, and was publicly less critical of him than Khazbiyev. But in an interview two months before his death, Aushev said that Yevkurov had proven unable to hold his own against corrupt holdovers from the Zyazikov regime and those "power" agencies that considered brute force the answer to all problems.
A written statement surfaced after Aushev's death in which he said he no longer supported Yevkurov's policies. He warned that he would hold the authorities and the "power" agencies responsible for any attempt on his life
or those closest to him.
Aushev died on October 25, 2009, when unidentified gunmen opened fire on his car on the outskirts of Nalchik. The opposition website ingushetiyaru.org
had reported just weeks earlier the receipt of "reliable information" about a planned special operation to kill Aushev somewhere outside Ingushetia, and he narrowly escaped abduction by armed masked men in September 2009.
Khazbiyev said on the day of Aushev's killing that the blame lay squarely on Yevkurov and the republic's leadership. At the same time, he recalled that Zyazikov had tried more than once
to hire hit men to assassinate both himself and Aushev.
The investigation into Aushev's death was shelved in October 2010 "in light of the impossibility of determining those responsible," even though Aushev's elderly father had publicly stated in September that he knew who killed his son.
quoted Magomed-hadji Aushev as saying: "I know which section of which 'power' agency organized Maksharip's killing. That section has already been disbanded. It was based in Nalchik. According to our information, the band of killers was commanded by an ethnic Nogai. Apart from him, Ingush, Chechens, Daghestanis, and Russians were involved in my son's death.... There are indications that the order to kill him was given personally by [then-Russian Deputy Interior Minister Colonel General Arkady] Yedelev."
Medvedev had publicly criticized the Ingushetian Interior Ministry after the attempt to assassinate Yevkurov. Yedelev was then tasked with the deployment
to Ingushetia of police detachments from elsewhere in the Russian Federation.
Yevkurov initiated a meeting with Magomed-hadji Aushev in mid-September 2010, at which Aushev agreed to make available the findings of the parallel investigation the family had conducted into Maksharip's death. The Ingushetian authorities then set about verifying
It seems implausible that Khazbiyev remained unaware of Magomed-hadji Aushev's statement implicating the federal Interior Ministry in Maksharip Aushev's murder. The question thus arises: why has Khazbiyev now formally requested that the Investigative Committee probe Yevkurov's imputed role? Was he pressured into doing so? Or did he feel the need to reassert himself as the most authoritative voice of the opposition to Yevkurov in the wake of a protest earlier this month in which Republic of Ingushetia residents left their car headlights on
for three days to demand a change in economic policy?
Whatever Khazbiyev's motives, his efforts to discredit Yevkurov may inadvertently play into the hands of whichever faction in Moscow is protecting former Federal Security Service (FSB) Colonel Zyazikov, who following his dismissal as republican president was named an adviser to Medvedev. Zyazikov's name figures on a list of five purported possible candidates to replace Yevkurov, together with current Ingushetian Prime Minister Musa Chiliyev and Rashid Gaysanov, who served as acting president during the summer of 2009 while Yevkurov was recuperating
in the hospital.
Whether, in light of the imputed Ingush propensity for "pont" (hot air or empty boasting), the Ingush would rise up en masse
in an Arab-Spring-style revolt if after his return to the Russian presidency next year Vladimir Putin were to reappoint fellow FSB veteran Zyazikov head of the Republic of Ingushetia is an open question.