Will Ruslan Aushev return to Ingushetia?

Will Ruslan Aushev return to Ingushetia?

By Sergei Gligashvili, special to Prague Watchdog

The presentation in Moscow of a petition for the return of Ruslan Aushev to Ingushetia is an event quite out of the ordinary. It is really the first serious and reasoned mass public appeal to be addressed to Russia’s new president since he assumed office. If the petition’s organizers are to be believed, the total number of those favouring the resignation of Murat Zyazikov and the appointment of ex-president Aushev in his place amounts to 105,000 – more than half of the electoral roll.

It is, of course, hardly to be expected that Dmitry Medvedev will openly and promptly respond to this desperate appeal. One must assume that the heir and successor has fully absorbed the lessons of the Putin era, which saw the development of a particular style of governmental reaction to attempts by sections of public opinion to make demands on the authorities.

Step by step, during his presidency Vladimir Putin reduced to a minimum the range of tools Russian society could use in order to exert a corrective influence on the government’s actions. By limiting the freedom of the media, by taking control of the Duma, by regulating the place of business in politics, and by marginalizing the opposition, Putin more or less disabled the process of feedback between state and people. Organized public protests such as appeals, rallies and demonstrations held outside the established system have been classified as “blackmail of the authorities”, and are no longer heeded. At the federal level, the abolition of elected governors was to some extent the apogee of this political strategy. The local parliaments have also gradually been transferred to the control of the pro-presidential United Russia party, with the result that the residents of the regions have lost any right to punish their leaders for mistakes by sacking them at elections.

It is hard to imagine that Dmitry Medvedev would dare to openly break with established tradition. Meanwhile, there have already been some indications that the situation is about to change. It remains to be seen how serious the reforms will be. However, Medvedev’s public assertion that he advocates the return of gubernatorial elections may be regarded as the most radical of all the reforms he has managed to put through at the start of his term as president. While his bursts of invective on the subject of “legal nihilism” and his intention of fighting corruption fit within the system, his scrapping of the principle of appointment in relation to regional heads is aimed at removing one of the cornerstones of Putin's authoritarian-bureaucratic regime.

It is of course possible to suppose that the president simply made a slip of the tongue, but in great power politics this happens very rarely. A more likely supposition is that what he had in mind was a certain plan of action – one he had agreed with Vladimir Putin. And if that is the case, the prospects for the petition demanding Ruslan Aushev’s return to Ingushetia are quite good, for several reasons.

Seen in the context of the initiative for the restoration of gubernatorial elections, the Aushev petition in Ingushetia gives the Russian government a formal excuse for interfering in the course of events and for trying to work out new principles for the formation of regional governments. Naturally, it would be more convenient to resolve this matter in the usual way, i.e. backstage, behind the Kremlin’s soundproof walls. But in the new liberal style of government adopted by Medvedev an emphasis on the use of a living dialogue with society in order to implement the main principles by which the country is steered would be far from superfluous.

Although this is a useful element, it is not at all mandatory. A much more important factor is the reality that Ingushetia is on the brink of a disaster. For a long time now, assertions that a genuine war has broken out in this tiny republic have been no exaggeration. As this is not the place to dwell on a detailed account of the special features of the intra-Ingush conflict, I will merely point out that one of its principal causes is a complete lack of authority on the part of the republic’s president, Murat Zyazikov.

Vladimir Putin offered his favourite the tried and tested method – to rely on the law enforcement agencies when governing the state. In Chechnya that mechanism worked perfectly, but only thanks to the fact that first Kadyrov Senior and then his son Ramzan managed to tap domestic reserves and attract a large part of their compatriots.

It is precisely this that General Zyazikov has been unable to achieve. He has been left without any support from the Ingush clans, and reliance on the brute force was the cause of the disaster that afflicted Ingushetia – in the end, the federal law enforcement bodies became the masters of the situation and began to play their own game, ignoring the interests of the people.

In the case of the Ingush crisis, the Kremlin only has to recall similar developments in a neighbouring republic – Kabardino-Balkaria. If various secondary details are set aside, what happened there was that the arbitrary behaviour of the law enforcers led to the formation of a very dangerous and formidable force – the armed Salafist underground. If Shamil Basayev had not thrown his raw and untrained lads into the assault on a city, within a year or two the Kabardino-Balkarian mojahedin would have been able to carry out sabotage operations in the same numbers their Ingush and Chechen colleagues now inflict.

And not even the rout of the scarcely-fledged underground resistance in the streets of Nalchik was to be the end of the story. That story was completed by the new president, Arsen Kanokov, who took two basic steps. First, he sacked his interior minister, Khachim Shogenov, who had unleashed a bloody bacchanalia against Islamic youth in the republic, and secondly, offered that same youth a dialogue, thus seeing to it that the so-called “Wahhabists” reacquired the status of normal, respectable citizens and Muslims.

Although by doing this Kanokov did not succeed in improving the socio-economic conditions of the republic’s citizens, the fact remains that these two simple solutions were enough to radically alter the situation in Kabardino-Balkaria.

There is no doubt that if he really does return to Ingushetia, Ruslan Aushev could achieve even more. Today the vast majority of the population are ready to support him. And although by the end of Aushev’s previous presidency many were disappointed by the corruption in his immediate entourage, few questioned his personal integrity and courage. Indeed, the entire republic was aware of the effort he expended in holding back the federal law enforcement bodies, which were straining at the leash to lord it over Ingushetia.

There is only one problem. For the Putin-Medvedev élite, a man with the views and service record of Ruslan Aushev (he was one of the first democrats in the Soviet parliament, a thoroughly vehement opponent of the Chechen war and a fervent supporter of the most unbridled federalism), is totally unacceptable. The return of General Aushev as a democrat is impossible in the short term.

On the other hand, during all the years since he left office, Ingushetia’s ex-president has behaved with the utmost caution. He withdrew into a deep shadow, abandoning all political activity, even though the forces of the opposition would naturally have welcomed such a brilliant figure to their ranks.

It is quite possible that by behaving in this way he has earned forgiveness, and that there is a willingness to let him return to the republic on condition that he does not interfere in affairs that have long been subject to the Kremlin’s exclusive jurisdiction: the Chechen war, the regulation of regional authority, the workings of the United Russia party. Ruslan Aushev will have to exchange his reputation as a democrat for the authority of a man of government by joining that party. Perhaps that is all a perfectly acceptable price for the chance of putting an end to the abductions, the torture, the shooting of children and pregnant women.

Something tells us that the picture painted here is not so remote from reality. At any rate, the Afghan War veteran himself, whom no one will reproach for a lack of political acumen, good sense and willpower, has for some reason given his support (albeit indirectly) to the petition for his return.

Novaya gazeta archive photo

(Translation by DM)




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