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Ingushetian Leader Faces His Critics

Ingushetia's President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov commemorates the victims of the 1944 deportation of Chechens and Ingush from the North Caucasus in Nazran on February 23.
Ingushetia's President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov commemorates the victims of the 1944 deportation of Chechens and Ingush from the North Caucasus in Nazran on February 23.
Yunus-Bek Yevkurov met for three hours last week with the revamped opposition Mekhk Kkhel, the alternative parliament established in early 2008 that has repeatedly denounced him to the Russian leadership. It's not clear from the published reports of those talks whether the two sides succeeded in reaching agreement on any of the issues over which they are at odds.

According to Mekhk Kkhel Chairman Idris Abadiyev, Yevkurov sought the opposition's "support" for the upcoming March 4 Russian presidential election. Abadiyev did not elaborate, but presumably he meant that Yevkurov wanted a pledge from the opposition not to challenge openly the outcome of the ballot the way they questioned the official results of the December 4 elections to the Russian State Duma.

The Mekhk Kkhel for its part made public after last week's meeting its list of 11 steps its leaders believe Yevkurov should take to win back public trust.

Ingushetia's population of a little under half a million initially greeted with exultation the appointment in October 2008 of Yevkurov, a career military intelligence officer, to replace incumbent President Murat Zyazikov. Zyazikov was bitterly detested for having condoned massive corruption and inefficiency that compounded economic stagnation, and for having fuelled the ongoing low-level fighting between police and security forces and the North Caucasus insurgency by giving the former carte blanche to abduct and kill any young men suspected of links to the latter.

Yevkurov has indeed succeeded in stabilizing Ingushetia: the incidence of fighting has declined dramatically over the past two years, even though Yevkurov himself narrowly escaped death in a car bombing in June 2009. But young men are still sporadically abducted and either vanish or turn up dead, and Yevkurov has admitted that the security forces in all likelihood are behind at least some of those abductions.

Yevkurov has been less successful, however, in eradicating the endemic corruption that was a hallmark of the Zyazikov leadership, or in galvanizing the republic's stagnating economy, reducing its dependence on subsidies from the federal budget, and creating desperately needed new jobs. Moreover, some of Yevkurov's critics consider him and his family just as corrupt and untrustworthy as the previous leadership. The recent scandal involving a distant relative of Yevkurov who swindled dozens of villagers out of 5 million rubles ($170,000) with fraudulent promises of grants doubtless contributed to that perception.

Getting Back Prigorodny

Yevkurov made a point of meeting with opposition representatives soon after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev named him republic head. But he alienated them within months by pushing through the republican parliament a law on municipalities that did not designate the disputed Prigorodny district of neighboring North Ossetia as part of Ingushetia.

Until the 1944 deportation, Prigorodny was part of the then-Checheno-Ingush ASSR. Redrawing the current border between the two republics to return it to Ingushetian jurisdiction, in line with the 1990 U.S.S.R. law on the rehabilitation of the deported peoples, has long been one of the opposition's primary demands. Indeed, a recent article goes so far as to claim that the only criterion by which Ingushetia's population judges the republic head is his stance on winning back the territories Ingushetia "lost" to North Ossetia and Chechnya.

Clarification of Yevkurov's position vis-a-vis Prigorodny and of how he intends to secure implementation of an agreement he signed in 2009 with his North Ossetian counterpart, Taymuraz Mamsurov, on the return to Prigorodny of Ingush who fled their homes there during a brief but bloody conflict in late 1992 figured prominently in the list of 11 demands the Mekhk Kkhel made public last week.

The first of those demands, however, focused on last December's simultaneous elections to the Russian State Duma, the republic's parliament, and to local municipal councils. According to the official State Duma election results, voter turnout in Ingushetia was 88 percent, of whom the overwhelming majority cast their ballots for the pro-Kremlin United Russia party. The Mekhk Kkhel claims to have evidence that those figures bear no relation to reality, and that no more than 6-15 percent of the electorate turned out to vote. It is demanding the parliamentary election results be annulled and a repeat ballot scheduled for the fall of this year.

Prominent oppositionist Magomed Khazbiyev sought unsuccessfully to induce Ingushetia's Shari'a Court to summon Yevkurov and Central Election Commission Chairman Musa Yevloyev to answer for the imputed vote-rigging under Shari'a law. Mufti Isa Khamkhoyev countered that such issues do not fall under the court's jurisdiction. At the same time, the opposition began collecting signatures from persons who say they did not vote: to date they have amassed some 27,000 signatures.

The election debacle served as the catalyst for a congress of the Mekhk Kkhel in late December attended by some 300 delegates who elected Abadiyev as its new chairman. The following day, the republic's Interior Ministry searched Abadiyev's home on the pretext that his son was a suspect in a robbery, and briefly detained him for questioning.

Over the past two months, the Mekhk Kkhel has addressed three successive appeals to Russian President Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin outlining their grievances, but has apparently not received a response to any of them. Meanwhile, speculation is intensifying that once Putin is reelected Russian president, he may move immediately to replace Yevkurov, whose term as republic head expires in October.

It is therefore understandable that Yevkurov may have tried last week to co-opt the Mekhk Kkhel to endorse publicly whatever percentage of the vote Putin is said to garner in Ingushetia on March 4, rather than risk Putin bringing back Zyazikov (who like Putin, made his career in the KGB/FSB) to replace Yevkurov as republic head. Zyazikov emerged from obscurity last week to publish a glowing endorsement of Putin.

If this is indeed what Putin has in mind, then given the hatred and mistrust many Ingush harbor toward Zyazikov, Putin will need to engineer Zyazikov's return to power before the proposal to bring back direct elections for the heads of federation subjects is voted into law and implemented.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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