Yunus-bek Yevkurov, President of Ingushetia, is undoubtedly one of the most frank high-ranking leaders in the North Caucasus region. He is willing to talk even to people that have criticised him. Yet I was surprised when I received a phone call from Yevkurov's assistant. I had only just crossed Ingushetia's administrative border when the call came: "The head of the Republic will speak with you."
I had a couple hours before the meeting, so I paid a few quick visits to some people I knew to get an idea about the general mood in the Republic. It was clear that the man I was about to interview was not the newly appointed President of Ingushetia I had spoken with two years before. At that time, he was very straightforward in lambasting corrupt officials, was intent on punishing criminals, and spoke openly about the Republic's major problems: poverty and extremism. At that time, he often met with the Republic's people and addressed the most burning issues live on the official TV channel.
The official rhetoric has, of course, changed since then. Since he first appeared on the political scene in the Caucasus region, Yunus-bek has met the challenges of the clans' and neighbouring regions' interests.
In June 2009, there was an attempt to assassinate him.
When asked how Yevkurov's policy has changed over time, one official told me: "The policy has not changed. It is just that sobriety has kicked in."
Before our interview, the President had a meeting with a top-level delegation from the NCFD (North Caucasus Federal District), including Suleiman Vagapov, Khloponin's deputy. My guess is that they talked about security matters.
- Yunus-bek Bamatgireyevich, is the Republic's government monitoring the investigation into the act of terrorism at Domodedovo Airport? There were people from Ingushetia involved. The terrorists were mere teenagers...*
- It makes no difference to me whether a person is 12 or 20. If he or she knew about the intended crime and did nothing about it or, worse still, was party to the crime, they must be punished. The investigating officers believe that the terrorist's brother and, particularly, his sister were in the know and were actively involved in the crime.
Yet, of course, in this situation we should look hard for the ideologists and bring serious pressure on them. These people do not say: "Go and kill people and blow yourselves up." But they do things that incline some young people towards radical conclusions after listening to them, even though, on the surface, their activities are not criminally punishable. There are about eight of such people, and there are two very distinct leading figures. We invite them for discussions and try to talk them round.
We are very patient in our appeals; we talk to both young and old, the left and the right, the radical and the tolerant. We explain that there is no reason now for any extreme measures. The way things are on the religious front in the Republic, we have unique opportunities, not to be found elsewhere. Do not make each other see red; do not do evil.
- Has this tolerant policy resulted in fewer shootings?**
- Yes, we have seen considerable progress in that respect. There are fewer shootings, fewer people killed. We hope to see further progress. I would like to emphasise this: we have not achieved this in a heavy-handed way. I say to everyone: come forward, do not be afraid. We will listen to you and talk with you. Those guilty of a crime may be punished in accordance with the law. Those who are innocent will be set free. Of course, we make concessions and try to meet them halfway. But they should try to meet us halfway, as well.
- Is that what you talked about with Vagapov?
- What makes you think that? We did not talk about crime; we talked mostly about positive things. We try not to talk about crime too much during our meetings, although we may still see some attacks by armed groups in the future. But criminals are for the law enforcement authorities to deal with, while we focus on the economy. Today's meeting was about ways to release the tension on the labour market. We are planning to hold a vacancy and recruitment fair in Ingushetia in March, with representatives from eight republics. We are compiling lists of people who might be interested in these employment opportunities - they will sign contracts and be able to work in certain regions in the Russian Federation.
A.G. Khlopotin has made this position clear since his first days in office: the Caucasus region needs to be integrated; people need opportunities to work outside their native republics***. But even before he came forward with this idea, we had been working on this with the Sverdlovsk region within the scope of the all-Russia programme for releasing tension on the labour market. And the work is progressing. It is important to realise this: we do not force anyone to move. We just suggest various options.
Truth be told, it is not the highly skilled specialists and those with a good education that are leaving. It is mostly ordinary workers. And Russia is in need of their hard-working hands - whatever they might say (I travel a lot in the regions and I know the situation there). On the other hand, we have no objections to specialists we need coming here to work in the Republic. We have submitted applications and requests for doctors, teachers, and oil industry experts. We have our own specialists, but we need more of them.
- Many regions have opposed that idea. "People coming from the Caucasus region will bring extremism with them. Besides, we need jobs for our own people …"
- That is politics. One should look for those who foster such reactions. For some reason, we forget about artists and scientists from the Caucasus region that work and develop the economy. We see only the criminals and judge everybody else by the same standards. Besides, if regional heads looked at social processes from the point of view of the state, they should realise that the state has to provide all its citizens with equal opportunities. The current population density in Ingushetia is 150 people per square kilometre, the highest in Russia. Our closest "competitors" have 80, and the average is 10-20 people per square kilometre. We should create conditions, including in other regions, allowing people to settle there. There is nothing bad about that - though we should be prepared for and anticipate some initial tension.
- What should be done about this tension?
- Nothing should be done as a preventive measure. Look, there is the law. Any person that violates the law should be punished according to the law. To all those leaving the Republic, I say this: if you come to a new place, you must respect and value the local peoples' culture and traditions. You may show them our traditions and our rich culture, but you have no right to impose them on the local people.
- Is there any light at the end of the tunnel in the Magomed Yevloyev case?****
- What more light can there be at the end of that tunnel?
- But an investigation carried out by the relatives produced some convincing results.
- Well, let's look at it this way. The official investigation established a full and clear picture of what happened. Ibragim Yevloyev admitted that he did not fire that shot intentionally, but he did not deny the fact of the murder. All the rest is speculation. Who said what and when… Magomed Yevloyev's relatives want some higher level officials to be held responsible. But there are no legal grounds for that.
- But there is a court ruling stating that Yevloyev was unlawfully apprehended and put in the car where he was killed. Shouldn't someone bear responsibility for that?
- At most, that was an administrative violation, nothing more.
- But no one has faced punishment even for that.
- Well, the relatives can always file an appeal; they can keep insisting on their rights. I have no right to interfere here.
- Also, we have little hope of learning the names of Maksharip Aushev's killers any time soon, though his relatives insist that, if the investigation had been carried out in the Republic, the culprits would have been identified*****.
- If the investigation had been carried out in the Republic, the culprits would have been identified? I doubt that. I seriously doubt that. Let's reason together. Is somebody interested in covering up this crime? Some hint that the secret service is allegedly behind it. Fine, let's theoretically assume that it is the case. But what is the problem with the Ruslan Amirkhanov****** investigation then? If the secret service wanted to distract everyone, they would have come up with a very good story, believe me. This would not have convinced Aushev's relatives, but it would have convinced most ordinary people. They would have presented facts and everything would have been supported by convincing evidence. The same would have been true in Ruslan Amirkhanov's case. But instead, people keep up the work. Yes, sometimes it brings no results, and sometimes the results are not what we would like. Such cases - high-profile murder cases - may take years to investigate.
- So there was really not a single clue that the investigation could have used to solve the case?
- But they are still working on it.
- But, wasn't the case suspended?
- This case has not been closed; on the basis of the materials gathered, the investigating officer suspended it. But the task of solving this case is still active. It is a pending case and is reviewed monthly. We provide what assistance we can to the investigation, and the father is actively involved, too. We will not let this matter rest. I think that they will come to a definitive conclusion on this case.
*The mastermind behind the terrorist act at Domodedovo Airport, Bashir Khamkhoev, is 18 years old. Akhmed Yevloyev, the Domodedovo suicide bomber's brother, is 16 years old. His sister, Fatima Yevloyeva, is 22 years old.
**According to the Memorial human rights centre, the number of people killed and injured within special forces in 2010 fell by 50 per cent compared to 2009.
***The so-called 'Khloponin Programme' proposing that people from the Caucasus region should be employed in Central Russia first came up a year ago, leading to protests both in the regions and at the federal level. The plenipotentiary envoy then said that the information published in some media about the proposed resettlement of the Caucasus region's population is merely a media ploy. However, a facsimile copy of the document was soon published on the Internet; it read as follows: "For the purpose of tackling the problem of the manpower surplus in the NCFD, the level of labour migration should be 3-40 thousand people a year; consequently, dozens of regions in the Russian Federation would need to be involved in placing the migrants." It is noteworthy that the official text of the programme has never been made publicly available.
****Magomed Yevloyev, the owner and editor of the opposition website Ingushetia.ru, was killed on 31 August 2008. On a formal pretext, he was apprehended at Magas Airport and bundled into a police car, where one of the policemen allegedly killed him accidentally with a shot to his head. The investigation conducted by the relatives showed that Yevloyev was apprehended illegally, as a result of pressure on the part of Musa Medov, the then head of Ingushetia's Ministry of the Interior. According to that investigation, criminal cases were even initiated but were soon closed.
Last summer, Ibragim Yevloyev, the policeman who shot Magomed was killed by person or persons unknown.
*****Maksharip Aushev, a prominent Ingush businessman and public figure, the new editor of the Ingushetia.ru website, was shot on 29 October 2009 in Kabardino-Balkaria. Two years later, the Main Investigations Directorate of the Investigative Committee for the NCFD suspended the murder investigation on the grounds that "the person to be charged as guilty of committing the crime has not been established".
******Ingushetia's Minister for Construction, who was shot in his own office on 12 August 2009.