Staunton, September 22 – Ingushetia President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov’s visit to South Ossetia and his pledge to sign a cooperation agreement with that republic are consistent with Russian policy and presumably please Moscow, but they are infuriating many Ingush and some Ossetians who have a less than positive relationship with the other ethnic group.
And this extraordinarily sensitive situation in which Yevkurov now finds himself is yet another unanticipated consequence for the North Caucasus and hence for the Russian Federation more generally of Moscow’s decision to extend diplomatic recognition to South Ossetia (and Abkhazia) after the August 2008 war with Georgia (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/174530/).
The Ingush president visited Tskhinval as part of the Russian Federation delegation taking part in the 20th anniversary of South Ossetia’s declaration of independence. While there, Yevkurov said that Ingushetia had long wanted to provide assistance to South Ossetia,” but he added that “it is one thing to propose” and quite another to provide or accept it.
Indeed, he said, he was now prepared to sign an agreement providing such assistance, but Yevkurov’s diplomatic language reflects hostility between the Ingush and the Ossetians especially in the wake of the Vladikavkaz terrorist action earlier this month that claimed 17 lives and nearly 200 wounded and that some say had links to problems between the two ethnic groups.
After that attack, Konstantin Pukhayev, the first deputy head of the Presidential Administration of the South Ossetia, noting that he is “a supporter of harsh measures in the struggle with terrorism,” called for “the complete closure of the administrative border” between North Ossetia and Ingushetia, hardly an expression of friendship.
As Kavkaz Uzel.ru notes, Pukhayev was forced to back down the following day when he issued a statement that he “did not have in mind the complete closure of the border but only its reinforcement.” Nonetheless, the damage was done, and many Ingush saw this as more evidence of the hostility of Ossetians, whether in the north or the south, to themselves.
A great problem for Yevkurov and hence for Moscow, however, may lie with the negative reaction of some in Ingushetia to their president’s visit to the south. Yevkurov’s own advisor for work with public organizations, Aslan Kodzoyev, denounced Pukhayev’s statement as undermining the possibilities for fraternal relations.
He suggested that Yevkurov should have reacted to the South Ossetians more forcefully than he did but noted that “alas, Yevkurov behaved as a soldier of Russia and not as a ruler of the Ingush,” a choice that has the effect of reducing still further his authority in Ingushetia and the chances for a better future.
Kodzoyev acknowledged that officials in his position don’t normally express themselves as he has or even have the right to do so. But he suggested that Yevkurov’s failure to stand up for the Ingush was serious mistake and that he, one of the president’s advisors, had no choice but to go public with a denunciation of it.
Perhaps no one should have been surprised by his action. After all, tensions between the Ingush and the Ossetians have been relatively high since 1992 when serious clashes in the Prigorodny district of North Ossetia between Ossetians and Ingush led to deaths and the flight of part of the population.
But this pattern of reactions in Ingushetia and South Ossetia are an indication of one of the ways Moscow’s recognition of the two breakaway republics is creating problems for the Russian Federation within its own borders, increasing rather than decreasing tensions, whatever officials may proclaim.
And while that is unlikely to cause Moscow to review its decision to recognize these republics, it may mean that Russian officials will be more careful than they have been up to now in promoting contacts between republics which Moscow recognizes as independent countries and other republics which it sees as its own federal subjects.