Vienna, September 4 – An unnamed official in the office of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told a Moscow newspaper that the status of Ingushetia head Murat Zyazikov was now “very poor” after his opponent Magomed Yevloyev was murdered while in the custody of Zyazikov’s police and that the Kremlin was “thinking” about his future.
In reporting this today, “Vedomosti” has provided the clearest indication that Medvedev may decide that Zyazikov, who has attracted the condemnation of the Ingush people, human rights groups, and Duma deputies, should be dismissed before his actions spark a further explosion in his republic (www.vedomosti.ru/newspaper/article.shtml?2008/09/04/159918).
But even as this comment surfaced, officials in the force structures in the capitals of both Ingushetia and the Russian Federation were working to defend him by seeking to blame the victim and his friends for what happened, apparently mindful of the serious consequences for themselves and their leader Prime Minister Vladimir Putin if Zyazikov is sacked.
In reporting the Kremlin insider’s comment, the Moscow daily added the following comment: So far, Medvedev’s cadres policy has not taken final shape, but Putin in the past did dismiss regional leaders who got in trouble, after waiting a decent interval so that it did not look as if Moscow was making any concession to protesters.
Putin fired Aleksandr Dzasokhov of North Ossetia after the Beslan tragedy, the paper pointed out, and he got rid of Karachayevo-Cherkessia head Mustafa Batdyyev, albeit only three years after government buildings were seized in the capital of the republic he was serving as president.
Whether Medvedev will deal with Zyazikov given the scandal the latter’s actions have created with more dispatch than Putin might have, the paper said. It cited the observation of Moscow political scientist Aleksandr Kynyev who suggested that such a change is “possible” but clearly far from certain.
But even as the Kremlin mulled doing something about Zyazikov, the siloviki were doing what they could to protect him from the consequences of the murder he so clearly arranged. Prosecutors in Ingushetia have opened a criminal case against two Yevloyev supporters to try to shift the blame to them (grani.ru/Politics/Russia/Regions/m.140958.html).
In particular, the Ingushetia prosecutors have indicated that they plan to file charges against Magomed Khazbiyev and Maksharip Aushev for using force against representatives of the state, carrying concealed weapons, and engaging in a conspiracy. If convicted, the two could face as much as 17 years in prison (www.agentura.ru/?id=1220441880).
And it is likely that many of the siloviki in Moscow, including the FSB and the military and possibly their chief patron Vladimir Putin, will work behind the scenes to support Zyazikov lest his dismissal and a serious investigation of what he has done since Putin appointed him create political problems for other siloviki leaders and the prime minister in particular.
Were Zyazikov to be fired quickly, many in the Ingush opposition would likely press for other changes, especially if Moscow tried to impose in his place another outsider or representative of the force structures. And many in neighboring republics and in Moscow would be encouraged to challenge the illegitimate powers such people have amassed.
That makes the stakes high, but there is a reason why the stakes for some in Moscow are higher still. This week, the Voice of Beslan, a social organization that seeks an independent investigation into the Beslan tragedy of four years ago, demanded that prosecutors take a deposition from Putin (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext/news/id/1228417.html).
Not surprisingly, given the current state of power relations in Russia, prosecutors dismissed this call saying that there was no basis for interrogating Putin because he had had nothing to do with Beslan, a statement so at odds with what is known that it has emboldened the Voice of Beslan to demand that the authorities bring criminal charges against Putin.
Unless things change dramatically in Moscow, there is no chance that such charges, however justified, will ever be brought, but public suggestions that they should be, calls likely to increase if Zyazikov and his ilk are fired, will inevitably erode the authority and power of the prime minister.
And consequently, the fight over Zyazikov’s future is about far more than that former FSB general, the republic to which he has done so much harm, or the other non-Russian republics in the North Caucasus who are watching what happens. It is about whether Russian officials who believe they are above the law will be brought to justice -- or remain in power.