Columbia International Affairs Online: Policy Briefs

CIAO DATE: 02/2009

North Caucasus Weekly - Volume X, Issue 1

January 2009

North Caucasus Weekly (formerly Chechnya Weekly), The Jamestown Foundation


* Website: Few Improvements in the North Caucasus in 2008
* Violence Haunts a New Year in Ingushetia and Dagestan
* Chechens Protest Parole for Budanov
* Spain Extradites Chechen Terror Suspect
* A Look Back at Insurgent Activities in the North Caucasus in 2008
By Mairbek Vatchagaev
* Ingushetia's New Leader Hints at a Merger with Chechnya
By Valeriy Dzutsev

Few Improvements in the North Caucasus in 2008

In a review of last year's events in the North Caucasus, Kavkazky Uzel wrote on January 7 that 2008 saw neither "stabilization" nor a successful conclusion to "the war on separatism," the "uprooting of extremism," or an end to the problem of kidnapping.

"This was indicated in the reports that appeared in the media throughout last year of armed clashes, terrorist acts, [and] attacks on representatives of the power structures from the particularly unstable regions-Ingushetia, Dagestan and Chechnya-which contrasted with the authorities' assurances about having control over the situation," the website wrote.

Kavkazky Uzel reported that, according to its data, 226 law-enforcement personnel were killed and at least 420 wounded in militant attacks, shootouts and explosions in the North Caucasus last year. In addition, the website reported, at least 80 rebel weapon caches were discovered, at least 129 terrorist acts were carried out and at least 64 explosive devices were discovered and defused in the region in 2008.

According to Kavkazky Uzel, more than 65 civilians were killed and at least 139 wounded during special operations by security forces and attacks by unidentified persons in the North Caucasus last year. In addition, there were 73 armed clashes and attacks by unidentified persons that resulted in no deaths or injuries.

The website added: "It should be noted that the ranks of the militants also sustained palpable losses as a result of more than 130 special operations: as is clear from reports by law-enforcement bodies, during the year in the North Caucasus, no fewer than 315 militants and people suspected of participation in illegal armed formations were detained, and 231 people that the power structure employees counted as belonging to the illegal armed formations were killed."

Kavkazky Uzel reported that while General Nikolai Rogozhkin, commander of the federal Interior Ministry's Internal Troops, said at the end of March 2008 that a total of 400-500 militants were operating in the North Caucasus, its own data showed that 546 members of "illegal armed formations" in the North Caucasus were killed last year. This would suggest that Rogozhkin had seriously underestimated the size of the rebel forces.

According to the website, at least 45 people were kidnapped in the North Caucasus last year. The phenomenon of abductions was highlighted in a documentary film, "Missing Lives: Disappearance and Impunity in North Caucasus," which was produced by the WITNESS Media Archive and the Memorial human rights group.

At least 61 terrorist acts were carried out and another 31 were averted in Ingushetia last year, Kavkazky Uzel reported. In addition, at least 15 special operations were carried out in Ingushetia during which 46 wanted militants were killed and more than 30 apprehended, while at least seven rebel weapons caches were discovered. The website quoted the deputy head of the investigations department of the Investigative Committee for Ingushetia, Usman Belkharoev, as saying that 167 law-enforcement officers and servicemen were wounded in attacks in the republic last year, compared with 80 in 2007. According to Kavkazky Uzel, 70 employees of security structures were killed in Ingushetia in 2008, compared with 32 the previous year. In addition, at least 20 civilians were killed and 46 wounded during special operations by security forces or at the hands of unidentified attackers in Ingushetia in 2008, while 24 people were kidnapped.

According to Kavkazky Uzel, at least 34 law-enforcement employees were killed and at least 75 wounded in Dagestan in 2008. The website quoted the republic's minister for ethnic policy, information and external relations, Garun Kurbanov, as saying that there were 98 attacks on law-enforcement personnel in Dagestan last year. At last 49 suspected militants and four suspected rebel accomplices were killed in 17 special operations in the republic last year, while only nine suspected rebels and four suspected rebel accomplices were captured. At least 14 blasts from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were registered in Dagestan last year and another 14 IEDs were found and defused.

Dagestani Interior Minister Adilgerei Magomedtagirov said at the end of November that seven extremist groups, each comprised of up to 15 people, were operating in the republic.

In Chechnya, at least 97 policemen and servicemen were killed and at least 138 wounded last year, Kavkazky Uzel reported. A total of 39 terrorist acts were carried out and at least another ten thwarted, while at least 59 rebel caches containing weapons and explosives were discovered. Twenty-five Chechen civilians were killed and another 25 wounded in shootouts between militants and law-enforcement personnel or attacks by unidentified persons, while another 16 such attacks took place resulting in no casualties. According to the website, 15 people were kidnapped in Chechnya last year.

Kavkazky Uzel counted a total of 73 special operations conducted in Chechnya last year, which it said resulted in the killing of 115 people whom the authorities suspected to be militants. Another 234 people were detained on suspicion either of participation in "illegal armed formations" or being rebel accomplices. Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov put the number of rebels killed in the republic at 61, with 327 rebels detained and another 82 surrendering.

As Kavkazy Uzel noted, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov issued his latest victory announcement on December 28, declaring that practically all "cells of terror and extremism" in the republic had been "neutralized."

According to Kavkazky Uzel's count, at least six law-enforcement employees were killed and 12 wounded in North Ossetia in 2008. The website noted that while the number of attacks in North Ossetia was lower than in neighboring republics, the victims included a number of top officials. Sergei Takoev, the head of North Ossetia's presidential and governmental administration, was shot and wounded last January. The head of the republic's anti-organized crime directorate (UBOP), Lieutenant-Colonel Mark Mestaev, was murdered last March. Police Lieutenant-Colonel Ilya Kasradze was shot to death in September, while the head of the North Ossetian Interior Ministry's criminal investigations department, police Colonel Vitaly Cheldiev, was murdered on October 1. Mairam Tamaev, the deputy mayor of North Ossetia's capital, Vladikavkaz, was wounded in an explosion on October 22.

Meanwhile, the bombing of a passenger van in Vladikavkaz on November 6 killed 12 people and wounded 43. On November 26, Vladikavkaz's mayor, Vitaly Karaev, was shot to death near his home in the center of North Ossetia's capital. Furthermore, on December 31, former Vladikavkaz Mayor Kazbek Pagiev was shot to death. A week earlier, Pagiev had resigned from the post of vice-premier in North Ossetia's government.

According to Kavkazky Uzel, there were four cases of people being abducted by members of unidentified "power structures" in North Ossetia during 2008.

On December 10, North Ossetia's chief prosecutor, German Shtadler, said that crime in the republic was clearly worsening, with terrorist acts being carried out and a 15-percent increase in the number of "willful homicides." He said that of particular concern was a "threatening" increase in the number of attacks on law-enforcement personnel and the heads of local self-government bodies-attacks which, he said, were aimed at "destabilizing the situation in both the republic and in the North Caucasus in general."

Eleven terrorist acts were committed in Kabardino-Balkaria last year, one of which was thwarted, Kavkazky Uzel reported. According to the website, eight rebel weapons caches were discovered in the republic, where security forces conducted at least six special operations in which seven persons accused by the authorities of being rebels were killed and 15 suspected insurgents were captured. The office of Kabardino-Balkaria's chief prosecutor reported last year that 50 inhabitants of the republic were wanted for "extremist and terrorist activities," 14 of whom were being sought internationally.

According to Kavkazky Uzel, 13 law-enforcement employees were killed and 18 wounded in insurgent attacks in Kabardino-Balkaria last year. Among those killed was the head of republic's anti-organized crime directorate (UBOP), Anatoly Kyarov (North Caucasus Weekly, January 17, 2008).

Kavkazky Uzel concluded that there are grounds to think that the ranks of the rebel underground in Kabardino-Balkaria are growing. "Today, nobody can say exactly how many militants are hiding in the woods and mountains of the republic," the website wrote. "Unemployment and a lack of jobs in the districts of the KBR [Kabardino-Balkaria Republic] are contributing to the departure of youth for the woods and mountains." At the same time, the website quoted Valery Khatazhukov, head of the KBR public human rights center, as saying that relations between the republic's authorities and its Muslim community are "stabilizing." "We are not recording instances of beatings [or] torture, although there are still instances of illegal detention," he said.

Kavkazky Uzel noted that there were also terrorist acts, killings and detentions of suspected militants and the deaths of civilians last year in other parts of southern Russia-including Rostov Oblast, Krasnodar Krai, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Stavropol Krai-but fewer than in Chechnya, Dagestan or Ingushetia. According to the website, human rights activists believe the main reasons for the increasingly difficult situation in the North Caucasus are "torture, extra-judicial killings and preventive violence on the part of the siloviki" (see Mairbek Vatchagaev's article in this issue).

Violence Haunts a New Year in Ingushetia and Dagestan

The start of the New Year has seen little abatement of violence in Ingushetia. On January 7, an improvised explosive device went off in a garage near an apartment building in the city of Karabulak, killing two people. A federal military source told Interfax that it is believed the two people killed were making bombs and both were suspected of participation in the republic's rebel "underground" and had been involved in various crimes.

Also on January 7, an improvised explosive device (IED) was detonated near a store in the village of Sagopshi, breaking windows and damaging walls. Interfax reported that nobody was hurt in the blast, which took place in the middle of the night.

On January 6, Ingush Deputy Interior Minister Isa Giriyev discovered what appeared to be an IED on the windshield of his car, Interfax reported. However, when bomb disposal experts arrived at the scene, they determined that the device, which consisted of a piece of soap with the body of a cell phone and protruding wires, was a fake.

On January 5, a homemade bomb went off in the city of Malgobek near an office building of the Investigative Committee for Ingushetia's Malgobek district. Interfax reported that windows in the building were shattered but no one was hurt in the blast. A local law-enforcement source told the news agency that the bomb had the force of a kilogram of TNT and was filled with bolts, screws and other metal fragments.

On January 4, a bomb went off near a food store in Ingushetia's main city, Nazran. Kavkazky Uzel reported that no one was killed or injured in the blast.

A police officer was killed and three others were wounded in an attack that took place in Karabulak on January 3. Agence France-Presse, citing an official with Russian forces in the North Caucasus, reported that four policemen were wounded when unidentified gunmen opened fire on a police car and that one of the wounded officers later died. Kavkazky Uzel reported that the victims were OMON special-task police commandos and identified the officer who died as Beslan Arapkhanov, a senior warrant officer.

On January 2, one serviceman was wounded when unidentified gunmen opened fire on a guard post outside the building of the Federal Security Service (FSB) for Ingushetia in Magas, the republic's capital. Kavkazky Uzel reported that the same day, a small blast near an apartment building in Karabulak injured a passer-by.

On New Year's Day, unknown attackers tried to set fire to a Russian Orthodox church in Karabulak, but the church was undamaged and nobody was hurt in the incident. Kavkazky Uzel reported that on New Year's Eve, a homemade bomb went off in the apartment of a local Karabulak resident, but no one was hurt in that incident.

On December 29, an aide to the prosecutor of Nazran was wounded when his car was attacked. RIA Novosti quoted a local police spokesman as saying that three unidentified people riding in a Zhiguli car opened fire at another Zhiguli car driven by the prosecutor's aide, who was hospitalized.

According to RIA Novosti, 12 militants, including "a warlord and foreign mercenaries," were killed in a security sweep carried out in Ingushetia over December 23-25. Russia Today reported on December 29 that among those killed in the sweep was Vakha Dezhenaraliev, who had worked under Chechen rebel leader Dokku Umarov and had been on the federal government's wanted list for attacks on police and Russian Interior Ministry troops.

While violence in Ingushetia has continued, a leading Russian human rights campaigner said just before the New Year that she sees hope that things will change for the better in the republic under its new leader, Yunus Bek-Yevkurov. Moscow Helsinki Group head Lyudmila Alekseyeva told Interfax on December 26 that while this had not yet occurred, conditions are being created for an improvement in the human rights situation in Ingushetia "in the near future." Alekseyeva had just returned from a trip to Ingushetia, where she met with the new president for several hours, as well as other officials and civil society representatives.

Alekseyeva said she liked Yevkurov very much, saying he made "a very good impression," and that he intends to resolve the problem of abductions in Ingushetia. "If something has happened somewhere-a house has been surrounded, people have been detained-he goes to the scene of the incident in person to sort things out for himself," she said, adding that Yevkurov believes the problem of abductions can be resolved in the short term. Alekseyeva said Yevkurov told her that corruption in Ingushetia was his main concern.

Alekseyeva told Interfax that while human rights are still being violated in Ingushetia and that shootings and attacks are still taking place, the situation in the republic will soon change because its new president has not only reconciled with leaders of the opposition to his predecessor, Murat Zyazikov, but has also invited them into his government (North Caucasus Weekly, November 24, 2008).

Meanwhile, Dagestan has also seen a violent start to 2009. A bomb blast on January 6 in the village of Reduktorny in the capital Makhachkala severely wounded a police officer, who died the following day, the Rosbalt News Agency reported. The deputy head of publicly safety directorate of the police department in Makhachkala's Leninsky district was severely wounded in the same explosion.

On January 4, a bomb targeting a police patrol car in the village of Sadovy in the city of Khasavyurt wounded two officers, RIA Novosti reported.

On January 2, a large IED, containing the equivalent of more than 16 pounds of TNT, was found on the street in Makhachkala and defused, Interfax reported. The news agency quoted police as saying that the device included a detonator, one pound of explosive packed into a jar and a metal bucket filled with ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder mixed together. Interfax reported that a bomb disposal team used a water cannon to neutralize the device.

On New Year's Eve, a police major was shot and killed in Makhachkala, Kavkazky Uzel reported. Also on December 31, armed gunmen opened fire on a police vehicle carrying two officers in Khasavyurt. RIA Novosti reported that one of the officers was wounded and hospitalized and that some seventeen 9mm-caliber cartridges were retrieved from the scene.

Major General Valery Lipinsky, deputy commander of the North Caucasus arm of Russia's Interior Ministry forces, was fatally wounded when his car came under fire in Makhachkala on December 29. Interfax reported that Lipinsky died in the hospital of chest wounds.

Chechens Protest Parole for Budanov

Some 2,000, people rallied in Chechnya on December 29 to protest the granting of parole to Yuri Budanov, the Russian colonel who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the murder of an 18-year-old Chechen woman, Elza Kungaeva.

According to the Associated Press, protesters in the Chechen capital Grozny carried posters reading "Impunity encourages new crimes" and "Criminals must sit in prison." The news agency reported that the December 29 rally was the second since a Russian court ruled on December 24 that Budanov should be released after eight years and six months of his ten-year sentence.

Budanov was arrested in early 2000 and convicted in July 2003 of murdering Kungaeva. He admitted strangling her, but said he did it in a fit of rage believing her to be a rebel sniper. The Moscow Times on December 29 quoted Kungaeva's father, Visa, as saying he was shocked by the decision and would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

The ruling was also criticized by both Russian and Chechen officials. Vyacheslav Lebedev, chairman of the Federal Supreme Court, said he might personally intervene, while Chechnya's human rights ombudsman, Nurdi Nukhazhiev, was quoted by Interfax as saying the decision was "not about Budanov, but about the attitude of the Russian justice system toward Chechens." He said that each time, "the moment of truth arrives and you can see they are not Russian citizens like everyone else," adding that Budanov's expected release was "a signal for the start of a campaign to free other criminals who committed crimes in Chechnya."

Interfax reported on December 30 that residents of the village of Tangi-Chu in Chechnya's Urus-Martan district had alleged during a meeting with Nurdi Nukhazhiev on December 29 that the remains of 67 people had been found at the place where Budanov's unit had been stationed, and that some of the remains had been identified by their relatives and buried while others were still in a mass grave. Nukhazhiev's press service reported that another mass grave, in which people had been buried alive, had not yet been opened. Nukhazhiev vowed to launch new criminal cases against Budanov.

Finally, on December 31, Nukhazhiev's office said in a press release that a Grozny resident, Ramzan Didaev, had made a statement accusing Budanov of involvement in the killing of his brother, Khusein Didaev. Didaev said his brother and father were stopped by federal servicemen at the entrance of the village of Duba-Yurt in January 2000 and that Budanov arrived at the scene and then ordered his brother and two other men to be taken away. According to the press service, Didaev said in his statement that when Budanov was asked where they were being taken, he replied: "To a place from where one does not return." The statement alleges that the bodies of the three men were found a month later.

Spain Extradites Chechen Terror Suspect

On New Year's Eve, Spain extradited to Russia a Chechen accused of involvement in the June 2004 rebel attacks on the Ingush Interior Ministry building and other installations in Nazran. The BBC quoted the Russian Prosecutor General's Office as saying that Murat Gasaev had been handed over on December 31. The deputy head of the office's extradition department, Vadim Yalovitsky, said it was the first such extradition from a European country.

According to the BBC, the website for Spain's El Pais newspaper reported that Gasaev's extradition took place without any anti-torture guarantees. Gasaev, who stands accused of banditry, murder and illegal possession of arms and could face life imprisonment, was arrested in the Spanish city of Valencia in December 2006.

Kavkazky Uzel reported on January 7 that a group of Russian human rights activists had appealed to Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, asking him to look at Gasaev's case fairly as well as to take control of his prison stay in order to ensure that Gasaev is not tortured. "There are grounds to believe that the Gasaev case is falsified," the appeal stated. "It is based mainly on the testimony of a person who later admitted that he had slandered several of his acquaintances, including Murat, under unbearable torture."

The appeal was signed by, among others, Nizhny Novgorod journalists and human rights activists Oksana Chelysheva and Stanislav Dmitrievsky, the lawyer Mikhail Trepashkin, Civil Assistance Chairwoman Svetlana Gannushkina, and other human rights activists, including Yelena Sannikova, Tatyana Monakhova and Raisa Grishechkina.

A Look Back at Insurgent Activities in the North Caucasus in 2008
By Mairbek Vatchagaev

The results of 2008 for the North Caucasian resistance movement are ambiguous. Against the backdrop of militant activities by the jamaats of Ingushetia and Dagestan-and also compared with the somewhat less intense activities of the militants in Chechnya-very little can be said about the activities of the once notoriously daring "Karachai" and "Nogai Steppe" Jamaats.

The significant outcome of the past year was the recognition of the Jamaat of Adygea's existence (, although over the years-and perhaps from the moment of its possible inception in 2005 by Shamil Basaev-it has hardly distinguished itself as a combat unit of the resistance ( It should be noted that it was the analysts of the Jamestown Foundation who spoke about the possibility of the creation of this jamaat for the first time at a conference on May 21, 2007. Although there was no direct evidence that Shamil Basaev had managed to create this particular jamaat, his inspection tour of the North Caucasus in 2006 left open many questions about its existence (; According to Russian sources, it is precisely during that period that Shamil Basaev held an expanded meeting of jamaat leaders, and that among the Emirs of the various national jamaats was the Emir of the Jamaat of Adygea. In any case, the very fact of the existence of jamaats extending from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea represented the success of militant propaganda.

However, the dissolution of jamaats with the aim of their subsequent merger into a unified jamaat of Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia should be considered a weak moment in the evolution of the resistance movement. By doing so, the resistance movement admitted that the role of Jamaat "Karachai" has been weakened to such a degree that it necessitated its unification with the jamaat of Kabarda-Balkar, "Yarmuk," which is headed by the Emir Seifullah (aka Anzor Astemirov). He is one of the main figures in the hierarchy of the North Caucasian resistance movement in which he heads, and serves as the Chairman of the Supreme Sharia Court of armed underground ( Thus, in this case the given jamaat, which existed since 1991, basically exited the political game ( Although the jamaat under the leadership of Anzor Astemirov undoubtedly became more active in the past year as it struck the law enforcement authorities in the republic, it still did not conduct any military operations. In the meantime, police and Federal Security Service (FSB) forces carried out a number of operations to liquidate jamaat members in Kabardino-Balkaria.

Another jamaat that did not distinguish itself by being as active in the past year was the ethnically homogenous jamaat of Nogais, "Nogai Steppe" (encompassing Stavropol Krai and the northern regions of Chechnya and Dagestan). Unlike with the Karachai jamaat, however, the resistance leaders did not disband this jamaat. Instead they separated it into a separate administrative structure-the Nogai steppe vilayat ( emphasizing that it would be premature to talk of this jamaat in the past tense. Although isolated actions, including armed assaults and explosions, were carried out in the region under its control, this jamaat was not noted in the military operations conducted under the command of the Caucasus Emirate.

On the other hand, one of the smallest and youngest jamaats, "Kataib al-Khoul" (the Ossetian jamaat), frequently issued statements about this or that operation carried out on the territory of the Northern Ossetia-Alania. Established under the command of Alan Digorsky (aka Emir Saad), this jamaat remains one of the most mysterious to date (Kommersant, November 28, 2008). Because its leaders do not reveal their real names, behind the name Alan Digorsky may be a person of any nationality, which does not allow us to assert today that this jamaat is ethnic and was created by the Ossetians or that it is dominated by the Ingush, who earlier resided in the environs of Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia. The republic's high crime rate also provides this jamaat with a kind of "informational support": indeed, the recent high-profile assassinations in the republic should not always be attributed to the actions of the jamaat. On the contrary, the authorities, who routinely deny this jamaat's existence on the territory of the republic (, find it convenient to blame such crimes against society on unknown international terrorists (

In Chechnya, against the backdrop of the image of the nation's "savior" constantly spun around the personality of Ramzan Kadyrov, the Chechen jamaat more frequently appears in the chronicles of mutual recriminations by the representatives of the separatists' two main popular movements-the Salafis and those who adhere to the position of the democratic platform. Yet, unlike in 2007, militant activities in 2008 were slightly higher and this was more frequently associated with the name of Emir Tarkhan (Tarkhan Gaziev), who is one of the closest aides to Dokku Umarov in the western part of Chechnya (the militants informally divide the entire Chechen region along the Argun River). The mutual accusations of collaboration with the FSB have long become a regular occurrence. At the same time it should be noted that the level of enthusiasm for the militants' actions concerning the creation of the Caucasus Emirate is gradually beginning to decline among Chechen youth. At least, if judged by the comments from on-line Chechen forums, the Salafi positions are no longer defended as aggressively as before. To a large extent, the youngest participants, for whom the militant image still embodies the romanticism and heroism of the struggle against the Russian monster, are still the most ardent supporters of the Caucasus Emirate idea. At the same time, the democratic wing, as manifested by Akhmed Zakaev, is experiencing not the best of times, because practically all of its former supporters have returned to Chechnya (this includes the leading politicians of the top echelon-Umar Khanbiev and Ramzan Ampukaev), while others, who once vowed to stay with Zakaev until the end, resigned (Isa Munaev and Salambek Amaev) (, which testifies to a serious crisis for Chechen democrats.

Ingushetia happily greeted the resignation of the much hated president, Murat Zyazikov, and are attempting to give a chance to the new president, Yunus-bek Yevkurov, in the hope that the new leadership will shield the republic's citizens from the mopping-up operations and abductions that are being carried out by unknown armed entities, which are most frequently associated with Ingushetia's law-enforcement authorities. The democratic opposition attempted to pretend that everything that was taking place in Ingushetia was the result of Murat Zyazikov's inept leadership and decided to close its eyes to the fact that a majority of incidents are the result of actions by militants from the Ingush Jamaat "Sharia" (headed by Emir Magas, also known by his lay name of Akhmed Yevloev). It is this jamaat that continues to strike blows against representatives of the law-enforcement authorities, religious figures, liquor stores and gambling establishments on a daily basis. The change of leadership in the jamaat had no impact on its policies. Likewise, the policy of the authorities toward those suspected of adhering to Salafi ideas has not changed, either. Against this backdrop, the actions by the so-called Ingush opposition appear rather strange and illogical.

Finally, even though the Dagestani Jamaat "Sharia" did incur losses-including the loss of its leader Abdul-Mejid (Ilgar Malachiev), who managed to create a new jamaat on the territory of Azerbaijan-it remains the main moving force of the armed resistance. He was replaced by the leader of the Makhachkala jamaat, Emir Muaz (Umar Sheikhulaev) (

The new leader of Dagestani militants hails from a region where there are daily reports of explosions and armed attacks on law-enforcement authorities and on people who are, according to the militants, collaborating with the authorities to harm the militants. Despite the many losses in the ranks of the jamaat that occurred during operations to eliminate the militants, the capabilities of this jamaat are stronger than any other entity in the North Caucasus.

Thus, by adding up the pluses and minuses of this or that jamaat in the North Caucasus, it is possible to generally state that they continue to inflict considerable and painful blows against regional authorities. Based on the events that transpired at the end of the year in different parts of the North Caucasus, there are ample reasons to be assured that 2009 will also be a difficult and unpredictable year for the Russian Federation. Moscow is increasingly incapable of controlling the actions of militants on such a large territory stretching from the Caspian to the Black Sea.

Dr. Mairbek Vatchagaev is the author of the book, "Chechnya in the 19th Century Caucasian Wars."

Ingushetia's New Leader Hints at a Merger with Chechnya
By Valeriy Dzutsev

At the end of December, Ingushetia's new president, Yunus-bek Yevkurov stated during an end-of-the-year press conference that the merger of the North Caucasus republics into a gubernia was a likely prospect (, January 7).

Various versions of changing administrative borders in the North Caucasus have been discussed during the past several years, and most of them were introduced by Kremlin-friendly politicians in Moscow. The proposals have varied from the complete abolishment of the North Caucasian republics by merging them with neighboring Russian-populated regions to less drastic changes, like the merger of Adygea, a small republic in the western part of the North Caucasus, with the predominantly Russian populated Krasnodar region surrounding it, or the merger of Ingushetia and Chechnya.

The latter idea has become especially persistent with the deterioration of the security situation in Ingushetia over the past several years. This was in stark contrast to the developments in Chechnya, where the Kremlin's handpicked leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, was endowed with dictatorial powers and ruthlessly suppressed the Chechen pro-independence movement.

Chechens and Ingush are two closely related peoples, referring to themselves sometimes as Vainakhs. Until General Dzhokhar Dudaev came to power in Chechnya and led the Chechens to de-facto independence in the beginning of 1990s, Chechnya and Ingushetia had been part of the same republic, Checheno-Ingushetia, for decades. Ingush shared the tragic fate of the Chechens in 1944 and were sent en masse into exile by Stalin, although historically the Ingush were much more loyal to Russian rule in the North Caucasus than the Chechens.

While Kadyrov, who is a former pro-independence Chechen, was largely able to marginalize the Chechen separatist fighters and gain considerable support from the Chechen population, Murat Zyazikov, the Russian security services general who was Ingushetia's president, failed to contain rising violence and ended up being dismissed in October 2008 amid widespread criticism from not only within his native republic, but also Moscow.

Zyazikov was replaced by another veteran of the Russian security services, Yunus-bek Yevkurov. Since his appointment, Yevkurov has been eagerly trying to establish better relations with the Ingush opposition by co-opting them into his government and gaining broader support from the Ingush population. Yevkurov signed a decree calling for an Ingush people's conference to discuss the most important issues in the republic, to be held on January 31 (, January 8).

The Ingush public, and even its Russian security services-supported government, have been persistently dismissive of the Kremlin's attempts to merge Ingushetia with neighboring Chechnya. The Ingush fear they will become a minority with little power in Checheno-Ingushetia, just as it was the case during the Soviet period, and that the question of the disputed land between North Ossetia and Ingushetia will not be on the greater Checheno-Ingushetia's agenda. The population of Chechnya is currently about twice that of Ingushetia.

Chechen officials, for their part, had for several years indicated their interest in absorbing Ingushetia, but by the end of 2008 they also distanced themselves from this idea. Kadyrov stated on December 17 that the Chechen government did not aspire to the unification of Chechnya and Ingushetia (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, December 18, 2008). This backing off by Chechen officials coincided with the change of government in Ingushetia, with Yevkurov replacing Zyazikov. So Moscow and Kadyrov will bid their time, observing whether Yevkurov copes with putting down the violence in Ingushetia. Given that the security situation in Ingushetia has remained extremely precarious even after Zyazikov's dismissal, it remains to be seen whether Ingushetia will survive as an autonomous subject of the Russian Federation.

The Sunzha region is another possible hot spot that could poison Ingush-Chechen relations. Both Chechnya and Ingushetia are obliged to adopt republican legislation in 2009 for demarking the municipalities' borders. This will revive the old dispute over the Sunzha region, which both sides have competing claims to the area. Even Chechnya's official human rights ombudsman, Nurdi Nukhazhiev, has entered into the territorial dispute, addressing a special letter to the Ingush people on December 17 regarding the issue (, December 17, 2008).

In the meantime, Moscow still openly plans to eliminate national republics, and sees them as a threat for Russia's territorial integrity and potential source of conflict. The deputy head of the Federation Council, Aleksandr Torshin, made several public statements earlier in 2008 to support his unitary state ideas (Politichesky Zhurnal, March 11, 2008).

If the security situation in the North Caucasus remains hazardous or deteriorates further, Moscow might be compelled to move ahead with plans for administrative reform, including the abolishment of the autonomies. Nothing prevents Moscow from going the other way around-provoking destabilization and then going on with its plans for an administrative borders reshuffle. In either case, the change is unlikely to bring additional stability, given that the current security issues that Moscow and local governments face in the North Caucasus have little to do with the borders. Well ahead of the federal authorities' plans, the self-proclaimed Islamist Caucasus Emirate has already abolished all borders in the North Caucasus.

Valeriy Dzutsev is a Muskie Fellow at the University of Maryland and the former Coordinator for North Caucasus at the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR).