Vienna, February 9 –US President George W. Bush sought to destabilize Ingushetia and other parts of the North Caucasus as an act of revenge against Moscow for Russia’s actions in Georgia, Ingushetia’s leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov told two Moscow media outlets on the 100th day following his appointment to that post by President Dmitry Medvedev.
In these interviews, Yevkurov showed himself to be a man of the Medvedev stamp, open about the problems he faces and willing to pay attention to those who differ with him but at the same time prepared to take a hard line against those he holds responsible for his republic’s problems, including not unimportantly those in Moscow who have failed to address them.
Yevkurov, a former GRU officer who won his Hero of Russia medal not for fighting in the North Caucasus but rather for his role in the Russian advance toward the Prishtina airport in Kosovo in June 1999, discussed the nature of the problems he now confronts as Ingush leader (kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1112449 and novayagazeta.ru/data/2009/013/14.html).
On the one hand, he acknowledged that there are “thousands” of people who oppose his government and support its most militant opponents. But on the other, Yevkurov said that Washington under Bush had actively worked to support these groups in order to destabilize the region and detach it from Russia in revenge for what Moscow did in Georgia.
That statement, certain to attract attention in Western media accounts in the coming days, is interesting in three respects. First, Yevkurov carefully blames not the current US administration but its predecessor, thus opening the way for him and for Moscow to have a very different discussion with the United States on Caucasus issues now and in the future.
Second, by talking about the North Caucasus in this way, the Ingush leader implicitly concedes the kind of linkage between what Russia did in Georgia and an American response in the North Caucasus that some in Moscow, Washington and Tbilisi had talked about but that none of the three leaderships had confirmed.
And third, Yevkurov’s acknowledgement that the opposition to his government and to Moscow is so numerous is an indication to all concerned that the problems in Ingushetia are far broader and deeper than any the United States could possibly provoke, an implicit indictment not only of his immediate predecessor in Magas but also of Moscow itself.
But in addition to that “headline” remark, Yevkurov made three other comments that say a great deal about how both his approach to leadership and the way in which he will interact with the Ingush population and the powers that be in Moscow.
First, in both interviews, he stressed that he was a “federal official” who had gotten the job precisely because he was an outsider, untainted by any connection either with the ancien regime or with particular groups within Ingush society. That lack of local ties, he said, gave him an independence others might not have.
Second, he underscored that he had been from childhood a believing Muslim and that he was intimately familiar with the workings of the taips, the religio-communal building blocks of Ingush society that often have been the basis of opposition to efforts to impose order there and in other parts of the North Caucasus.
And third, he made clear he would pay attention to his opponents to be certain that he did not ignore real problems, and at the same time that he would press Moscow to do more to resolve the Prigorodny district dispute, to block Chechen pretensions on Ingush territory, and to spend the money needed to address the economic problems his people face.
Yevkurov said that he had told Moscow that failure to act quickly on the question of Ingush refugees from Prigorodny district could lead to the creation of a “Palestine and Israel” in the North Caucasus, an “eternal wound” on the lives of the people there and a permanent problem for the region and for the central authorities.
The latter may be especially concerned by the Ingush leader’s statement that “approximately 40 percent” of the Ingush population today is certain that “Russia doesn’t need them,” a view that reflects Moscow’s failure to solve either the refugee problem or high levels of unemployment and one that Yevkurov said is “dangerous.”
Moreover, at least some in the Russian leadership may be taken aback by his statement that there is no possibility of attracting ethnic Russians back to his republic until the authorities, both federal and republic, are in a position to guarantee the security of those still there and the population as a whole.
And finally, the Russian leadership may be concerned by the Ingush president’s announcement that he does not now allow federal forces to operate in his republic unless his representatives are present, a statement that may make many Ingush happier but one that almost certainly will offend Russian siloviki who are used to acting beyond local control.