Vienna, November 8 – Having succeeded by their protests in convincing the Kremlin of the need to fire Murat Zyazikov as president of their republic, the Ingush opposition is not only pleased that his campaign of terror and lawlessness is at an end but also feeling sufficiently empowered to advance new demands.
At a press conference in Moscow yesterday, the leaders of the Ingush opposition, which under Zyazikov had grown to include nearly the entire population of that North Caucasus republic, said that their “next goal” was the retirement of all deputies of the republic parliament and the holding of new elections (www.nr2.ru/moskow/205231.html).
Magomed Khazbiyev, one of the opposition leaders, said that his group had already sent an appeal to the parliament calling on its members to dissolve the body and call new elections. “Everyone knows how these people have behaved,” and if they have any dignity left, “they must go voluntarily.”
Another goal of the group is to bring Zyazikov to justice, charging him with the murder of an opposition figure earlier this year and with attempted bribery. Khazbiyev said that he has a tape recording of Zyazikov offering bribes involving up to a million dollars to various members of the opposition if they would change their tune.
While things have improved in Ingushetia since the sacking of Zyazikov, at least in part because the population there has been celebrating, the opposition leaders said, “no one expects that the new president [Yunus-Bek] Yevkurov will be able immediately to change the situation in the republic.”
The Ingush people, they continued, “simply want that their family members stop being killed and kidnapped. Therefore the main task of the new leadership of Ingushetia is to stop the arbitrariness and use of force by the force structures. For the opposition, they said, the main indicator [of success] will be the disappearance of reports” about violent acts in the republic.
“The security of the citizens is today question number one,” the opposition leaders said, but “to judge about the steps of the new president will be possible no sooner than after a hundred days.”
At the conclusion of their press conference, the opposition figures thanked the Russian media for their attention to what had gone on in Ingushetia under Zyazikov and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev for deciding to fire Zyazikov and replace him with Yevkurov, a man who promises to be more law-abiding and responsive to the population than his predecessor.
“Everyone knows that Zyazikov was Putin’s man,” one of the Ingush opposition figures said. “While Putin was in power, every decision came from him. But now we have a new president, Dmitry Medvedev. And the initiative for the retirement of Zyazikov came namely from him.”
The firing of Zyazikov has three more serious consequences than making the people of Ingushetia happier or highlighting the change of the Kremlin’s approach now that Medvedev has replaced Putin.
First, while the Ingush opposition is more than ready to give credit to Medvedev for the firing of Zyazikov, they are very aware that they played a key role in bringing him down. And now they are going to try to build on their success by making other demands, with the implicit warning that they can restart their campaign if they do not get their way.
Second, because of the media attention Zyazikov’s actions and their protests have received inside the Russian Federation, opposition groups are likely to take heart and step up their efforts to replace unelected, unpopular, and authoritarian rulers, something that could make it more difficult for Moscow to back down.
And third, by firing Zyazikov, something Putin was reluctant to do, Medvedev has served notice on other regional leaders that they can no longer assume that they will be protected by expressions of loyalty to the Kremlin alone. They need to run their regions in ways that gain the support of their populations, however difficult that may in fact be.
All three of these consequences have the potential to change Russian political life in ways far more dramatic than any other recent actions by the central government, possibly opening the way for the replacement at all levels of leaders who see force as the first means of maintaining power by those who view it as only a last resort.