Vienna, September 12 – The government of Ingushetia has collapsed over the last week, a development presents unprecedented challenges not only to the embattled regime of Murat Zyazikov but to the central government in Moscow whose man Zyazikov very much is, according to one of Moscow’s most thoughtful observers of the North Caucasus.
In a commentary posted online yesterday, Sergei Markedonov of the Moscow Institute of Political and Military Analysis says that Moscow must recognize that there has been “in fact a collapse of republic power” in Ingushetia and “the downfall of the policy of the government” there (www.yugregion.ru/power/comments/32731.html).
And in unusually frank language, he warned that if the central Russian government does not face up to this new reality and immediately set about to change it, others will, in ways that could threaten Moscow’s control not only in Ingushetia but across the North Caucasus and possibly elsewhere as well.
Ingushetia has been a troubled republic for many years, Markedonov points out, but the situation there has deteriorated in the last several years and especially in the last month. Indeed, since the murder of Magomed Yevloyev, for which many hold Zyazikov personally responsible, “it has simply passed out from under the control of the republic authorities.”
Unfortunately, Zyazikov has not faced up to just how serious things are – he said four days ago in Moscow that any problems in Ingushetia were the work of American agents – and because Moscow has not focused on the situation, the central Russian government has not gotten involved as quickly or massively as it should.
The notion that the Zyazikov should be forgiven on all counts because he is fighting Moscow’s enemies “does not work and cannot work. It is already time to do something inside the republic, to change things in a serious way, and not to continue to talk about” American agents or the inventions of the Western media.
“Even in Soviet times,” Markedonov continues, “”such a situation would have been simply impossible,” even though people often “justly cursed the powerlessness of those in power.” Some senior official would have taken action, but then, he adds, the “administrative class at that time was more literate and capable.”
If Moscow might have been able to let things slide in Ingushetia until recently, the Russian intervention in Georgia means that the entire international community is watching what it does not only there but in the adjoining regions and republics of the North Caucasus. Consequently, the elaboration of “a sensible nationality policy” is now “issue number one.”
Unfortunately, Moscow’s choices are not as free as many in the Russian capital or elsewhere assume. The central government cannot simply remove Zyazikov because of “public pressure.” If it did, a country-wide “Pugachevshchina” would emerge, as groups in many areas would engage in demonstrations to force Moscow’s hand.
But to allow Zyazikov to remain in office and continue to act as he has “is already not possible,” Markedonov says. Were Moscow to do that, Zyazikov would not only continue to offend the Ingushetian population but also guarantee that over time, popular anger against him would be transferred to the central Russian government as well.
Since 1991, Ingushetia has had two kind of republic leadership. Under Zyazikov’s predecessor Ruslan Aushev, the regime there was not as subservient to Moscow as many in the Russian capital would have liked, but it did engage in a “dialogue with the population,” something that helped keep the situation under control.
Under Zyazikov, Moscow has acquired “a super loyal figure” but one who has no popularity or support in the population and who survives by the use of force, either his own –legal or illegal – or that of his backers in the Russian Federation security services and military units.
It should be possible to find “a certain variant in between these two,” Markedonov argues, a leader who is open to discussion with the population but who is also loyal to the central government. That is all the more so, he argues, because the Ingush do not have as yet a well-organized pro-independence movement.
But the Kremlin continues to try to run the Caucasus indirectly and without paying much attention as long as the leaders it appoints declare their loyalty and prevent secession. That may have worked in the past, but such a policy “is already not working” in Ingushetia and arguably it will not work elsewhere as well.
Any instability in Ingushetia or elsewhere in the North Caucasus in the wake of the events in Georgia, Markedonov says “will be considered as separatism” whether it is or not, and such judgments will have an impact on the way in which Western governments will interact with Moscow on a wide variety of issues.
But the real danger of Moscow’s hands-off approach in Ingushetia, Markedonov concludes, is not so much that Ingushetia will seek independence but rather it will become a center of Islamist fundamentalism and state failure, a place where mullahs and clans rather than anyone else is in charge.