Chechnya Redux? Violent Conflict in Ingushetia

Article excerpt

Since the days of the Tsarist empire, Russia has frequently clashed with the predominantly Muslim North Caucasus. Chechnya captured the international media's attention during the 1990s, as Russia battled against its secession movements from 1994 to 1996 and from 1999 to 2000. The Chechen wars ultimately failed, as Russian troops dragged the rebellious Islamic republic back into the Russian Federation. As the Kremlin has begun to reestablish complete control in Chechnya, violence has shifted west to the much smaller region of Ingushetia. In this tiny republic, home to fewer than 500,000 native Ingush, violence has escalated between the Russian military and Islamic insurgent forces. The attempted assassination of reform-minded President Yunus-bek Yevkurov on June 22, 2009 brought the conflict to international attention. A history of corrupt and sometimes violent federal administration suggests that this conflict will likely endure, as recurrent political and economic woes have planted the seeds of extremism in this republic. Aside from large-scale federal mobilization, fundamental political reform seems the only solution to the violence.

When Russian troops returned to Chechnya in the 1999 war, Islamist rebels began to push their cause west to Ingushetia in an effort to bring about an Islamic emirate in the North Caucasus. While the Caucasus has been a Muslim region for centuries, its traditional character began to change as more young people adopted extremist Salafi and Wahabi ideologies in the 1990s. Militancy in Ingushetia went public in 2004 when insurgents assaulted government forces and officials in Nazran, the republic's largest city. Today, even civilians are in danger of attack by extremist forces trying to enforce their own brand of militant shari'a, or Islamic holy law. In the summer of 2009, a huge explosion ripped through the central police station of Nazran, killing 25 and wounding several more. The bloodshed, which culminated in the attempt on President Yevkurov's life, shows no signs of ceasing. According to a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, violent deaths in Ingushetia from May 2009 to August 2009 stand at around 100, twice the value reported for the same four months in 2008.

The militant movement's popularity stems more from government grievances than from Islam. Ingushetia has for some time been the poorest region in the Russian Federation; unemployment is a persistent problem, with recent rates between 50 and 80 percent. Income inequality also increases dissatisfaction among the Ingush, as people in the country's highest income bracket enjoy average incomes nearly 15 times greater than those of people in the lowest income bracket. Corruption and government malfeasance are also rampant. Vast sums of federal money earmarked for tasks such as job creation have been known to disappear as soon as they reach local officials. Since Moscow-backed candidate Murat Zyazikov became the president of Ingushetia after a questionable 2002 election, his brutal techniques and reportedly high levels of corruption have strained both the local economy and the public's already fading trust in the government. Security forces actively discourage organized opposition, and public leaders are nearly always in personal danger. Such political and economic misery causes many to desire revenge or at least some semblance of a voice in the operation of their republic. For an increasing number of young men, militant groups can grant solidarity, an income, and a strong political voice in the form of a Kalashnikov rifle. …