Vienna, October 20 – The situation in Ingushetia as it has evolved over the last several days “recalls the situation in the Chechen Republic at the end of the 1990s,” when Moscow decided it had no choice but to intervene massively to crush challenges to its power, according to a Moscow analyst.
At the end of last week, Ingush militants openly attacked federal troops. That action, which Moscow says cost only two Russian lives but which some local media outlets say may have claimed as many as 50, was “the first case of an open attack of militants on federal forces” since the end of the Chechen war, according to RBC’s Irina Tsaregorodtseva.
In an analysis posted on the RBCDaily.ru site today, she argues that this attack and the decision of the federal and pro-Moscow Ingush authorities to respond with massive force represents “a declaration of war” by both sides, creating a situation much like the one Vladimir Putin made against the Chechens in 1999 (www.rbcdaily.ru/2008/10/20/focus/386603).
Thus, Tsaregorodtseva argues, as a result of what she says has been “the lack of sufficient attention” by responsible officials in the Russian government to what is going on in that North Caucasus republic, “the ‘Chechenization’ of Ingushetia was inevitable,” and” it has now been achieved.”
The RBC Daily analyst speaks about the Chechenization of Ingushetia to refer to what she sees as a situation that is increasingly out of the control of either Moscow or Moscow’s representatives on the scene and one that requires the massive introduction of Russian military force in order to restore central control.
But there is another meaning of the Chechenization of Ingushetia to which she does not refer but which may be more important both for what happens in that republic and for the decisions Moscow takes, especially since the situation in Ingushetia even now is fundamentally different than that in Chechnya a decade ago.
This second meaning of Chechenization refers to Putin’s arrangement with republic leaders in which they are allowed to run their own republics often brutally and with little or no regard to law or the Russian constitution as long as they continue to declare their loyalty to the Kremlin.
That is certainly what Ingush President Murat Zyazikov has done, pleasing Russia’s top leaders with constant declarations of slavish subservience and hyperbolic falsification of election returns even while suppressing the independent media, beating or even killing opponents, and participating in massive corruption and other illegalities.
But his actions, instead of creating an effective authoritarian regime like the one Ramzan Kadyrov has erected in Chechnya, have alienated the population, driving ever more people into the political opposition and some into nationalist and Islamist bands that are now prepared to take up arms against Moscow and Nazran.
And that trend in itself calls attention to the three most important differences between Chechnya in 1999 and Ingushetia now. First, unlike the Chechens in1999, most Ingush are not interested in pursuing independence. They simply want to have a government in their republic which respects them and the law.
Second, the problems Moscow faces in Ingushetia now are even more than the problems it faced in Chechnya thus ones of its own making. By allowing Zyazikov and his team to behave the way they have, the Russian government has created a problem, transforming one of the most loyal nations in the region into one now at odds with Moscow.
And third, Moscow’s preferred method of resolving all problems in the region – the application of force – almost certainly will be less effective in Ingushetia than it was in Chechnya earlier in this decade. On the one hand, the strength of the Islamist element is greater in Ingushetia now than it was in Chechnya earlier.
And on the other, even if it does introduce massive force, it won’t win back the loyalty of the population unless it is prepared to make some important political changes, including getting rid of its man on the scene. If it doesn’t, Moscow may find that in using force, it is fighting a grease fire with water, something that will only spread the conflagration.