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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Annals of "Pacified" Chechnya: Ingushetia in Flames

Writing in the Moscow Times, ace columnist and radio commentator Yulia Latyinina blows the lid of the Kremlin's Potemkin village in Chechnya:

An event occurred Sunday in Karabulak that has become typical for Ingushetia, or for any place where occupation forces apply systematic violence against the local population. A white minivan with tinted windows and no plates drove up to a small casino near a school and, when two young men exited the casino, masked security officers jumped out and began shooting.

One youth escaped, while the other made his way to a kindergarten despite being shot in the leg. One of the masked Federal Security Service officers followed and shot him in the stomach and then the head. A few minutes later, as a crowd of witnesses watched, another agent placed a hand grenade next to the body. The dead youth was then photographed with the hand grenade as "evidence."

To shoot an unarmed person in the stomach first -- to inflict pain -- and only afterward in the head is the sign of a professional. Slain Novaya Gazeta journalist Anna Politkovskaya was shot the same manner.

It is what followed in Karabulak that was unusual: Local police arrived and nabbed the killers. Then federal officers in armored vehicles arrived on the scene to support their comrades. It might have ended in a shootout had not Ingush Interior Minister Musa Medov ordered that the killers be released. Later, the local prosecutor explained that the shooting had been the "liquidation of an insurgent."

This kind of "liquidation" has become infamous of late. In Ingushetia in early August, insurgents were blamed for the shooting deaths of ethnic Russian schoolteacher Lyudmila Terekhina and her daughter. The case was solved and the two murderers apprehended almost overnight. They were federal contract soldiers, one Russian and the other Ossetian, who had visited Terekhina's daughter on the eve of the murder. A witness identified the assailants by their voices. The local police official who ordered the soldiers' arrest was then shot dead Aug. 11.

No doubt some of the people killed by federal troops were insurgents. But in the case of Terekhina's killers, it is not as easy to tell. The shooting deaths of Russians in Ingushetia stand out because when federal troops, fueled by the dangerous mix of horrific conditions and carte blanche to respond to them with equally horrific violence, happen to kill an ethnic Russian, they cannot label the victim as an insurgent. In all other cases the dead are, by default, insurgents.

Conditions in Ingushetia worsened dramatically in March following the abduction of Uruskhan Zyazikov, an uncle of Ingush President Murat Zyazikov and the father of his personal security chief. This prompted the authorities to loose a wave of terror on their own citizens, which met with terror as a response.

As early as June, it was clear that the region was moving toward a catastrophe. That was when villagers in Surkhakhi used force to free a fellow villager being held by federal troops. (By this point, federal troops were already moving around the republic in groups of no fewer than three armored personnel carriers and had so thoroughly entrenched themselves in the villages that they had even put up outhouses in the cemeteries.)

It had also become clear that Zyazikov had lost control of both the general population and the local elites: In a secret ballot, a majority of United Russia members voted to dump him as party head in Ingushetia.

It is one thing when villagers take on heavily armed federal soldiers to free a compatriot -- and that particular village has a reputation for militancy -- but altogether another when federal soldiers are prepared to shoot local police.

The next step could well be an uprising, with not much needed to touch it off. In a republic as small as Ingushetia, the insurgents would not be likely to come out as winners. Regardless of the winner, rivers of blood would likely flow before it was over.

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