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Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (left) admitted in a TV interview that the Chechen "force" agencies were partly to blame for the attack.

More than two months after six National Guardsmen were killed in an attack on their base in northern Chechnya, it remains unclear precisely what happened.

On May 25, the Russian daily Kommersant reported that Investigative Committee staffer Colonel Igor Sobol had identified the mastermind behind the attack as a local resident, Ali Bakiyev, who allegedly fled abroad two days before it took place. But that unconfirmed information does little to clarify the glaring discrepancies between the official version of the attack and details subsequently made public by Russian media.

The official version, according to statements by Chechen police and security personnel, is that eight young Chechens from the settlement of Naurskaya armed with knives and firearms attacked the control post at the entrance to the base in the early hours of March 24. Six of them then forced their way into the base, where they were killed in an hourlong shoot-out in which six guardsmen were also killed and three injured. The other two attackers reportedly escaped. Naurskaya resident Ibragim Dzhamalov, 21, was detained on March 31 and subsequently said to have confessed to taking part in the attack.

Some 20 other local men were detained for questioning later on March 24, as was Grozny resident Rizvan Minazov; all were subsequently released.

Russian media, however, tell a quite different story. Novaya Gazeta reported on March 25 that the six attackers were armed only with knives, axes, and staves, and that they were not killed in a gunfight but execution-style by a shot to the head at close range. The paper published photos of two of the dead men showing those head injuries. One of the two also had abrasions on his left wrist that might have been left by handcuffs, possibly suggesting that he had been overpowered before being killed.

A more detailed picture of the attack emerged on March 29 and 30 from follow-up reporting by Novaya Gazeta and the website RBK. The eight attackers are said to have scaled a fence and made their way to a control post, the doors of which were open. They allegedly cut the throats of two sentries who were asleep on duty, purloined their automatic rifles and rubber truncheons, then waylaid and opened fire on a patrol that initially failed to recognize them as intruders, possibly because it was pitch-dark and foggy. Novaya Gazeta suggested weather conditions cast doubts on a statement RBK attributed to a National Guard officer who said the head wounds sustained by the six assailants were inflicted by a sniper.

That alternative account of events calls into question the professionalism of the guardsmen at the base. Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov too openly affirmed in a TV interview that the Chechen "force" agencies were partly to blame for the attack. "We weren’t expecting something like this to happen," he said. A spokesman for the National Guard, however, insisted the guardsmen at the base reacted appropriately, in accordance with their orders.

Also unclear are the motive for the attack and the political and religious affiliations of the perpetrators. The Islamic State (IS) extremist group claimed responsibility for the attack within 24 hours, but as RFE/RL’s Kavkaz.Realii pointed out, IS appeared to get the number of assailants wrong. The news portal Caucasian Knot quoted Denis Sokolov, head of the analytical center Ramson, as saying that not all Russian analysts believe IS was involved. Sokolov suggested that "we are witnessing the beginning of a revival of armed national protest movements" that have no connection either with IS or with the now-defunct Caucasus Emirate that coordinated armed resistance to Moscow from 2007-13.

Akhmed Zakayev, the head of the independent Chechen Republic Ichkeria government in exile, similarly told Kavkaz.Realii that he was absolutely certain the Naurskaya attackers had no ties to IS or to any other terrorist group. He suggested, as did Russian journalist Orkhan Dzhemal, that they were motivated by sheer desperation by the blanket oppression and arbitrary violence that are the hallmarks of the Kadyrov regime.

That same hypothesis was also aired with regard to the attacks in December in Grozny by young men and women who targeted individual police officers to lay hands on weapons.

And yet, as former Investigative Committee staffer Feliks Tsokov explained to the website OnKavkaz after the March attack, it is not difficult even today for Chechens to obtain firearms. That suggests that both the Grozny and the Naurskaya attacks were undertaken spontaneously, rather than meticulously planned in advance.

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

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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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