Vienna, October 31 – Russian President Dmitry Medvedev yesterday replaced embattled Ingush President Murat Zyazikov with the deputy chief of staff of the Volga-Urals military district, a step intended to calm the increasingly unstable situation in Ingushetia but that may exactly the opposite effect not only there but across the North Caucasus.
Zyazikov was allowed to say that he had left the position at his own request and “in connection with his transfer to other work,” but no Moscow politician or analyst has expressed any doubt that he was in fact fired because of the deteriorating security situation. However, there is a great deal of disagreement over whether this act will make the situation better or worse.
Those who believe that the firing of Zyazikov will improve matters make the following argument. On the one hand, they argue, the removal of Zyazikov eliminates from the scene a man so hated by the population of his republic and that alone gives the new government the chance to win support simply because he is no longer part of it.
Indeed, those arguing in this way can point to the statement of former Ingush President and darling of the Ingush opposition Ruslan Aushev that the firing of Zyazikov opens the way for progress and that the selection of a military man as his successor is the best possible choice to gain control of the situation (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1050086).
And on the other, they insist, the new acting president, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, although an Ingush, is not tied to any of the clans now fighting in Ingushetia. Moreover, they note, he has experienced with counterterrorist operations in the North Caucasus and thus knows how to suppress violent rebels (On Yevkurov’s career, see rian.ru/politics/20081030/154137499.html). But those who think that Zyazikov’s departure counter with three arguments. First, they say, the problems of Ingushetia, like those of the North Caucasus cannot be reduced to a single leader. If the Ingush government to make progress, Moscow has to chance policies rather than change leaders, something the center has been unwilling or unable to do.
Issa Kostoyev, who serves as Ingushetia’s senator in Moscow, argues that “the problems which exist [in Ingushetia] can be resolved only by the federal center, and until it does so” – something Moscow has given no indication it is prepared to do -- there will not be peaceful work and stability there” (www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=17543).
Second, they note, the appointment of a military man with no broader political experience suggests that at least some in the Russian capital continue to believe that force enough will be sufficient to cope with the problems of Ingushetia and the northern Caucasus. In fact, that is like throwing water at a grease fire and will have the same result.
Ivan Mel’nikov, the Communist Vice Speaker of the Duma, said as much when he remarked that the firing of Zyazikov was “a bucket of cold water over a smoking fire.” If enough “water” is applied, it might cool the situation, but if it isn’t – and “a bucket” may not be sufficient -- the region could burst into flames (www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=17541).
Another person sharing this view is journalist Yuliya Latynina, who pointed out that force alone won’t work, noting that Moscow has already lost almost as many soldiers in Ingushetia as it did in Georgia and has not calmed the situation in the former at all (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext/news/id/1232343.html).
And third, they suggest, the Ingush opposition which is celebrating Zyazikov’s ouster as a triumph of their own campaign against him are neither likely to be entirely happy with the appointment of a silovik as head of their republic and may continue to press their case for greater freedom and democracy.
Both the victory of the Ingush opposition this week and such moves in the future will not be lost on other republics, many of whom may see statements about the Kremlin now being willing to listen to the opposition as an invitation to become more insistent in making their demands as well, something that could mean Moscow will face more challenges not fewer.
Among those making these latter points was Lev Ponomaryev, the head of the For Human Rights Movement in Moscow. He noted that the sacking of Zyazikov was “a wise step” because it “gives a signal to society that [the Russian president] is listening to it,” a shift that invites society to speak out (rian.ru/politics/20081030/154142315.html)
But at the same time, the human rights activist pointed out, Moscow’s decision to install a military man so rapidly and without consultation creates problems too. He called for the organization of “a round table” including representatives of the government and the Ingush opposition to try to overcome the crisis.
Not surprisingly, many of those talking about Zyazikov’s firing were more interested in what it says about politics at the highest levels in Moscow or what it portends of Moscow’s approach to other regions of the country.
Dmitry Oreshkin, a leading Russian political scientist, noted that Vladimir Putin has never wanted to sacrifice his appointees in the face of popular opposition, thus raising the question as to whether Zyazikov had tried his patience once too often or whether Medvedev played a larger role (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext/news/id/1232343.html
And Geydar Dzhemal, the head of the Islamic Committee of Russia, argued that Zyazikov’s firing represented “a clear defeat of the party of the siloviki.” Indeed, he said, the Ingush leader’s departure reflects “a sharpening of the struggle in the upper reaches of the Kremlin” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext/news/id/1232343.html).