Ingushetia: Just Who's Behind the Violence?

Several theories put forward to explain wave of killings in the North Caucasian republic.

Ingushetia: Just Who's Behind the Violence?

Several theories put forward to explain wave of killings in the North Caucasian republic.

The authorities have blamed the upsurge in attacks against officials, police and members of the Russian community on Chechen separatists apparently intent on expanding their activities in Ingushetia, but analysts and ordinary people here are not so sure.

Many Ingush believe that the militants are responsible for some of the killings that have rocked the republic since the beginning of the year, however they suspect that others, with a variety of different motives, may also be involved in the violence.

Officials and the public at large agree, though, that the turmoil is weakening the state. “The most recent crimes are aimed at destabilising the situation in the republic,” said the head of the interior ministry Beslan Khamkhoev.

In fact the situation is so grim that many fear their republic is edging towards the kind of lawlessness and bloodletting that gripped its neighbour for years. “What's taking place in Ingushetia reminds me of the situation in Chechnya in the mid-Nineties,” said Nazran resident Bagaudin Mogushkov, 42. “I’m afraid that something like that may happen here too.”

In the most serious incident to date on June 9, unidentified assassins shot dead senior police official Musa Nalgiev in his car. His three children and two bodyguards, who were traveling with him, were also killed. Minutes later, assailants attacked a senior figure in the Sunzhensky District administration, Galina Gubina. She later died of her injuries.

In the last three weeks alone, acting deputy head of the Ingush interior ministry Jabrail Kostoyev was killed along with his two bodyguards and four passers-by; Healthcare Minister Magomet Aliskhanov narrowly escaped death when his car was raked by gunfire; and two members of the Federal Security Services, FSB, were shot dead.

“Separatists have said repeatedly they intend to expand the zone of military actions beyond Chechnya. Apparently, what is now going on is part of the plans,” said Akhmed Pliev, a law-enforcement official.

But locals and analysts believe that there may be as many as five other factors fueling the turmoil, which has escalated since the beginning of the year.

One theory is that with the situation in Chechnya calming down, senior police officials are losing the emergency powers they were granted to deal with spillover from the conflict. In an effort to regain these powers, so the argument goes, they are seeking to sow chaos and mayhem in Ingushetia.

“I don’t rule out that law-enforcement structures may be interested to see the situation in the region growing tense, as the escalation of tension gives them more freedom of action,” said an Ingush political analyst, who did not want to be named.

A second explanation being floated is that the recent trouble is partly the work of supporters of the reunification of Chechnya and Ingushetia - the two split after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The pro-Moscow government in Grozny consistently touts the idea, but the Ingush, particularly their leadership, are opposed to any loss of sovereignty. It is said that the proponents of reunification are instigating the violence to undermine the Ingush authorities and make them more pliant.

Another theory is that North Ossetians are fomenting some of the violence to distract Ingush from the disputed Prigorodny District of North Ossetia, which they are increasingly laying claim to, as more and more return there, over a decade after they fled to escape a short but bloody war. The return has angered the Ossetians, with tensions ratcheting up in the wake of the 2004 Beslan school outrage, for which Ingush are widely believed to have been involved.

A fifth possible source of trouble are Ingush opposed to Russians living in their midst. Ingushetia is one of the most mono-ethnic republics in the North Caucasus, with a Russian minority that numbers around 2,500. Since the beginning of the year, there have been ten acts of violence directed against this community, the most recent being the killing of Gubina, who was dealing with issues concerning the return of Russians who left Ingushetia because of poor social conditions and high levels of crime.

Gubina had survived an earlier attack in May 2004, when a bomb exploded under the wheels of her car, leaving her miraculously unscathed.

And finally, “blood revenge” is believed to account for a number of the killings, in particular that of Kostoeyev. Ingush blame Russian security services for the disappearances that have plagued the republic in recent years. It’s thought that families whose menfolk have gone missing avenge them by killing Russians. Kostoyev was known to have been in charge of a squad that was especially harsh in its treatment of detainees and may have been murdered for this reason.

Kostoyev’s tough handling of detainees reportedly followed the killing of several his close relatives, including the republic’s police chief Abubakar Kostoyev, who died in a Chechen rebel attack on Ingushetia two years ago.

Amid all the speculation, the authorities are doing little or nothing to address the violence, merely issuing statements about who they think might be behind it. Locals have become disillusioned with officials’ ineptitude. They point out that even a simple practical measure such as a ban on the movement of cars without number plates could curb some of the killings, as assassins often masquerade as law enforcers by using unmarked vehicles.

Marina Ausheva is pseudonym of an Ingush journalist in Nazran.

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