The summer months are particularly violent in the Russian autonomous republic of Ingushetia, and this summer has been even more so. The latest incident was a June 22 car-bomb attack against the republic's president, Yunus-bek Yevkurov, who is hospitalized in critical condition. The intensifying violence is due to a shift in strategy by the Kremlin, which is trying to root out Islamic militants in the region, and war-hero Yevkurov was poised to make significant progress.
Yunus-bek Yevkurov, president of Russia's autonomous republic of Ingushetia, was wounded on June 22 in an assassination attempt. A parked car detonated as Yevkurov’s motorcade passed it just outside the republic's largest city — and former capital — Nazran. Yevkurov is currently hospitalized in critical condition, according to the Russian Federal Emergency Situations Ministry. While details are still not clear, it has been reported that three bodyguards were killed in the attack as well as Yevkurov's younger brother, Uvais. Ingush Islamic militants are thought to have been behind the car bombing. The assassination attempt comes as no surprise in this poorest of the Russian autonomous republics, where 89 percent of the gross domestic product depends on direct funds from Moscow. Since 2005, the republic has suffered more intense and frequent violence than notoriously violent Chechnya. Since being targeted by a car bomb in April 2004, former President Murat Zyazikov has seen attempts on his life every six months or so and has lost his father-in-law and uncle to the violence. Prime Minister Ibragim Malsagov was hospitalized after two bombs exploded near his motorcade in August 2005. Although militants have targeted the republic's officials throughout the year, the summer months are particularly violent — and this summer has been even more so. Gunmen killed a judge on June 10 and a former deputy minister on June 13. The intensifying violence is due to a shift in strategy by the Kremlin, which is trying to root out Islamic militants in the region with increased force. Even though he was extremely loyal to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Zyazikov was dismissed in October 2008 essentially because he failed to bring Ingushetia under control. Zyazikov's mistake was that he opted for a less overt crackdown than Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov undertook in neighboring Chechnya. Zyazikov further lost his popularity among the populace and embarrassed Moscow when news of assassinated journalist and Zyazikov critic Magomed Yevloev traveled the world. Enter Yevkurov, who came to power officially in late October. Yevkurov is a former GRU (Russian military intelligence) officer who is famous in Russia for quickly securing the Pristina airport with a Russian army task force following the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. He is also the recipient of Russia's highest honorary title, "Hero of Russia," for rescuing imprisoned Russian soldiers in 2000, during the Second Chechen War. From Moscow's perspective, Yevkurov is exactly the kind of man who can take charge of Ingushetia and successfully replicate Kadyrov's heavy-handed tactics in Chechnya. Rather than try to combat individual militants and cells, as Zyazikov did, Yevkurov was prepared to engage in full-out military operations and, according to STRATFOR sources, had been planning major offensives for the summer. Realizing what Yevkurov's appointment means, militants hit a military depot in November 2008 during Yevkurov's inauguration. Militants are not just worried about major government offensives; they also reject Yevkurov's claim of being Ingush, since he was born in North Ossetia — a neighboring province that is Russian Orthodox Christian and distrusted by the Ingush — and is half North Ossetian. Militants are especially nervous about Yevkurov's close relationship with Kadyrov because many have found refuge in Ingushetia following Kadyrov's crackdown in Chechnya. The last thing Ingush and Chechen militants want to see is a successful replication of the Chechnya model in Ingushetia, and they are looking to strike first, while the weather is good, and intimidate the republic's leadership before any military campaign begins in earnest this summer. Following the attack on Yevkurov, the Ingush and Russian federal security forces will have all the more reason to begin their operations.