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Yunus-Bek Yevkurov (file photo)

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.

Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov (right) and Ingushetian leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov in the Stavropol region on August 2, 2016.
Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov (right) and Ingushetian leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov in the Stavropol region on August 2, 2016.

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.

Ingushetian leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov (left) walks with the republic’s Mufti Issa-haji Khamkhoyev at the memorial to the 1944 deportation victims in Nazran on February 23, 2015.
Ingushetian leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov (left) walks with the republic’s Mufti Issa-haji Khamkhoyev at the memorial to the 1944 deportation victims in Nazran on February 23, 2015.

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.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL

The prosecutor has demanded prison terms of up to 20 years for eight young men from Kabardino-Balkaria on charges ranging from illegal possession of arms and establishing an illegal armed group to the attempted killing of a police officer, the news portal Caucasian Knot reported on May 19.

At the same time, the prosecution proposed dropping the most controversial charge against the eight: that of plotting to overthrow the republic's leadership and establish an Islamic caliphate.

The accused, some of them Kabardians, some Balkars, all pleaded not guilty and said in court that they confessed to the charges against them only after being beaten and subjected to protracted electric shocks. The presiding judge ordered a probe into the torture claims in April that failed to substantiate them. The alleged leader of the group, Oleg Miskhozhev, a keen amateur wrestler, claimed in court that for 18 months he had needed a cane to walk because "they did my back in."

The defense lawyers say the case against the eight men is not backed by hard evidence. They also pinpoint inaccuracies in the indictment, specifically with regard to when and where the eight were first detained, and note that the pretrial testimony of several of the accused is virtually identical in style and content.

Some witnesses for the prosecution fully or partially retracted their initial testimony in court on the grounds they were not permitted to read through their purported statements before signing them, or that they signed only under duress, or that the statements read out in court did not accurately reflect what they said.

The eight young men accused are: Miskhozhev, Akhmed Balkarov, Islam Shogenov, Ruslan Kipshiyev, Kantemir Zholdashev, Artur Karov, Zaur Tekuzhev, and Ruslan Zhugov. Also charged were Zalimkhan Tkhamokov, who died before the start of the trial in August 2016, and Ibragim Gugov, who was reportedly killed resisting arrest. All lived in the same district of Nalchik, the capital of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic, but not all of them knew all the others, even by sight.

According to the prosecution, following the killing in June 2013 of a group of Islamic militants, Tkhamokov tasked his friend Miskhozhev with recruiting a new group of fighters under the aegis of the so-called and now-defunct Caucasus Emirate proclaimed in 2007 by insurgency leader Doku Umarov. Miskhozhev duly complied and was elected the group's commander. Their objective was allegedly similar to that imputed to the young fighters who attacked police and security facilities in Nalchik in October 2005: to seize control of the Nalchik city hall in August 2014 and proclaim an Islamic caliphate.

The men are also accused of plotting to kill a police officer by blowing up his car. The most bizarre charge, and the only one to which they pleaded guilty, is of disinterring Aleksandr Popov -- a Russian convert to Islam and one of the fighters killed in June 2013, whose family had had him buried in a Russian Orthodox cemetery -- and reburying him according to Muslim rites.

Defense lawyers for the accused take issue with the prosecution's claim that the eight are adherents of the radical Salafi Islam favored by the Caucasus Emirate. They concede that some, including Miskhozhev, were indeed practicing Muslims, but say they espouse the strain of Sunni Islam widely practiced in the northwest Caucasus. (Testifying in Shogenov's defense, one of his childhood friends made the point that Shogenov opted for a civil wedding at which alcohol was consumed, rather than a religious ceremony, which would not have been the case if he were indeed a radical Islamist.)

Miskhozhev, one of the first to be arrested (in January 2014 together with Balkarov while on their way to Friday Prayers), has pointed out that initially he was only charged with the alleged failed attempt to kill a police officer and setting up an illegal armed group. The charge of plotting to seize the Nalchik city hall, he continued, was brought only after the subsequent arrests of Kipshiyev and Karov, and on the basis of their pretrial testimony. (Like Miskhozhev, both say they were tortured to induce them to "confess.")

Miskhozhev's formal denial that he recruited a militant group was substantiated in court by a witness with ties to one of the fighters killed in 2013.

Their lawyers further argued that the charge of possession of marijuana brought against all the accused is incompatible with the claim that they espouse Salafism, given that Salafi Muslims regard the use of narcotics as anathema. Their lawyers also ask why, after Miskhozhev and Balkarov were allegedly found to be in possession of hand grenades, other weapons, and marijuana at the time of their arrest, other members of the purported militant group were rash enough to venture out into the streets with such incriminating objects on their persons, which were allegedly found when they were detained and searched and adduced as evidence against them.

As for the imputed plan by Miskhozhev, Balkarov, and Shogenov to kill police Colonel Artur Tembotov by attaching an improvised explosive device (IED) to the underside of his car, the accused and their lawyers point out that video footage of Tembotov driving up to a Nalchik police precinct where the IED was allegedly removed and rendered harmless has been edited and does not show those crucial episodes. They also argue that a device of the dimensions specified by the prosecution could not have been securely attached to the underside of the vehicle with the type of magnets allegedly used for that purpose.

Shogenov, who was said to have tailed Tembotov's Ford for weeks before the IED was discovered on December 26, 2013, has never learned to drive a car, and has an alibi: he was in college daily in December 2013 studying for an IT exam. Miskhozhev, too, has an alibi for December 26: he was engaged in construction work on an apartment building.

The prosecution has nonetheless demanded a 20-year sentence for Miskhozhev, 19 years for Balkarov, and 15 years for Shogenov.

The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL

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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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