Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Noose Tightens Around Ingushetia’s Zyazikov Figuratively and Literally

Paul Goble

Kuressaare, November 19 – Murat Zyazikov, the disgraced former president of Ingushetia, late last night attempted to commit suicide last night after learning that the republic’s Supreme Court ruled that the death of opposition figure Magomed Yevloyev should be classified as a murder rather than an accidental killing.
Zyazikov, who most Ingush opposition figures and outside human rights observers believe was behind the August 31 murder, tried to kill himself by hanging, but his relatives discovered him before his heart stopped beating and took him to a local hospital where his condition is at this point unknown.
By taking this action, the editors of the independent internet portal that the former Ingush president tried so hard to shut down said, Zyazikov apparently had decided to take “this easy way out from responsibility for what he did [not only in the Yevloyev case but] to the people and the republic” (
Both the court’s decision and Zyazikov’s suicide attempt are likely to have serious consequences in Ingushetia, in other non-Russian republics of the North Caucasus and more generally, and in the Byzantine games now being played out between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (
In Ingushetia, the opposition, which includes much of the population, will view the court’s decision as a great victory and see Zyazikov’s attempt as confirmation of their view that he ordered the killing of Yevloyev, rather than the latter’s death being the result of “an accident,” as Zyazikov and his supporters, including in Moscow, always have.
As a result, they are likely to be encouraged to push even harder for the restoration of the constitutional order in Ingushetia, moves that could in the long run bring stability to that hot spot but ones that in the short term are likely to exacerbate the situation there after the brief respite brought on by Medvedev’s replacement of Zyazikov with Yunus-Bek Yevkurov.
Elsewhere in non-Russian republics and in predominantly ethnic Russian regions as well, these events are also likely to find an echo, with opposition groups likely to decide that they too can force out unpopular leaders who have engaged in illegal actions, albeit in most cases ones far less serious than those in which Zyazikov almost certainly was implicated.
And in Moscow, these two events seem certain to have an impact on the back and forth between Medvedev and Putin at the level of policy if not of power. The court’s decision and Zyazikov’s action likely will reinforce the contrasting views of the two over how to control the regions and what to do with recalcitrant regional leaders.
As President, Putin gave regional leaders enormous freedom to run their own territories as long as they expressed unqualified loyalty to the Kremlin – something for which Zyazikov was noted -- and he backed them to the hilt when they faced any expressions of popular anger, lest a failure to do so encourage people to press the government at all levels for change.
At the rhetorical level at least, his successor Medvedev has stressed the importance of law and procedure, and he was willing as Putin generally was not to fire people like Zyazikov who not only had acted in grossly illegal ways but drove the populations in their region to organize against them.
The two leaders are thus likely to draw very different conclusions from what has just happened. Putin is likely to be reinforced in his view that dismissing regional leaders for unpopularity or malfeasance is potentially dangerous unless they leave Moscow with no choice by failing to show deference to it (
But Medvedev may view what has just happened as an indication of the dangers that arise which Moscow gives as much leeway as it did to Zyazikov, especially if their actions lead to massive public protests against them, regardless of how “loyal” they profess themselves to be to Moscow (
The outcome of this behind-the-scenes debate of these two will determine what the rules of the game are likely to be not only for Moscow and regional leaders but for the Russian and non-Russian peoples who are seeking ways to defend and advance their interests in what is an increasingly authoritarian and closed political system.

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