Vienna, September 1 – The opposition in Ingushetia has tried to work within the Russian political system to replace republic head Murat Zyazikov, but now, following the death of a website owner there yesterday from wounds he suffered while detained by Zyazikov’s militia, it has decided that it has no choice but to consider pursing independence for that republic.
Even though it has become one of the hottest of the Russian Federation’s “hot spots” in recent months, with disappearances and killings an increasing feature of public life, that North Caucasus republic had been notable for its lack of a serious opposition group interested in pursuing independence.
But now over the last few days, one has begun to crystallize. On Saturday, Ingushetiya.ru reported that the unrecognized People’s Parliament of Ingushetiya Mekhk-Kkhel would meet to discuss beginning to collect signatures calling for independence, after which the site was attacked and has been inaccessible (www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=16347).
And on Sunday, after Magomed Yevloyev, the owner of that Internet news portal which Zyazikov has sought to close, died from wounds he received at the hands of the local militia, even the more moderate Ingush opposition leaders have decided to pursue independence, and both the Kremlin and Zyazikov, the Kremlin’s man there, have no one to blame but themselves.
Magomed Khazbiyev, the head of the committee that collected more than 80,000 signatures demanding that Moscow replace Zyazikov, said on Ekho Moskvy yesterday that the killing of Yevloyev had radicalized public opinion and was leading ever more Ingush to demand an investigation and think about independence (newsru.com/russia/31aug2008/haz.html).
“We must ask Europe or America to separate us from Russia. If we don’t fit in here, we do not know what else to do,” he said, adding that those who killed Yevloyev must be brought to justice and that “the genocide of the Ingush people” being conducted by the Kremlin must be stopped.”
He said that the Ingush opposition would call a meeting to decide what to do next, adding that some Ingush living in Europe plan to hold a demonstration in front of the building where European leaders are discussing sanctions against the Russian Federation for its aggression in Georgia.
Khazbiyev and his fellow Ingush opposition figures are clearly reluctant to cross this Rubicon. Indeed, Kavkazcenter.com, a website that supports independence for the entire North Caucasus, reported the reaction of the Ingush opposition to the murder of one of its active leaders almost with scorn (kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2008/08/31/60674.shtml).
In his concluding remarks on Ekho Moskvy, that site said, “the anti-Zyazikov opposition figure could not find anything better to say than to ask the Kremlin again “to finally turn its attention to that lie about the flourishing Ingushetia which Murat Zyazikov has been dishing out to the entire world.”
But however that may be, the death of Yevloyev after he was taken into custody on his return to Ingushetia from Moscow is so transparently the result of official actions and the explanations Zyazikov’s officials have offered are so transparently false that even more Ingush are certain to be radicalized in the coming days.
Yevloyev was in perfect health when he was seized by the militia as he deplaned, something he had warned of only last week, and he was so severely wounded in the head when Zyazikov’s interior ministry officers dropped him off at a hospital that there was no possibility that he could recover.
And the official explanations, which include suggestions that there was a struggle between militia officers and Yevloyev over a gun which went off accidentally, are so patently absurd that there are reports that prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation. But few Ingush expect it to be an honest one (www.echo.msk.ru/news/537600-echo.html).
Instead, it is widely assumed that prosecutors will seek to limit blame to the officers directly involved rather than investigate the possibility, even likelihood that more senior figures including republic Interior Minister Musa Medov and Zyazikov himself were behind what many are already calling “a political murder.”
The Ingush human rights organization Mashr has already carried out its own investigation, and its leaders told the Regnum news agency that if the testimony of witnesses with whom they spoke was true, then there was every real to suspect that Zyazikov and Medov were directly involved (www.regnum.ru/news/fd-south/ingush/1048564.html).
And Mashr’s conclusions have been seconded by Russian-wide human rights organizations like the Moscow Helsinki Group, Memorial, Human Rights Watch, and AGORA, something that should help keep the pressure on officials to do something and to raise the political temperature in Ingushetia (www.sobkorr.ru/news/48BAC3E87106D.html).
This case creates a real problem for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. If they sacrifice Zyazikov who is close to both men, they would certainly calm the situation in Ingushetia but could trigger demonstrations elsewhere among those unhappy with the Moscow appointees who run their republics and regions.
But if they do not, Ingushetia almost certainly explode, creating a vastly more serious security problem for the Russian authorities not only across the North Caucasus but behind what is now Moscow’s new front line in Georgia and the breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.