Published on The Economist, April 7, 2011.
JUST over two years ago Ingushetia, the smallest and once the most peaceful republic in the north Caucasus, was in a state of civil war. Armed rebels were gaining strength and sympathy; traffic cops vanished at nightfall, fearing for their lives; the security services regularly kidnapped civilians and often executed them on the spot. When the owner of an influential opposition website, Magomed Yevloyev, was abducted and shot dead by an interior minister’s guard inside the police car, Ingushetia started to boil over.
On October 30th 2008 Dmitry Medvedev, in one of the best decisions of his presidency, decided to remove Murat Zyazikov, Ingushetia’s ineffective president and a former KGB general. People danced in the streets when he was fired. His replacement was a little known military man called Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, who had fought in Chechnya and led Russia’s peacekeepers in Kosovo in 1999.
Mr Yevkurov visited Mr Yevloyev’s father, offered to work with the political opposition and appealed to ordinary people to help stabilise the republic. He also asked the relatives of rebels to help bring them back, promising lawful treatment in return, rather than holding the families hostage for them … //
… Mr Yevkurov’s personal courage is also a factor: he miraculously escaped death after being blown up in a huge explosion shortly after his appointment. Two months later he was back in his office, his policies unchanged. “The first lesson that can be drawn from our experience is that the use of force alone gives no positive results. In fact, it gives the opposite effect. Prevention and persuasion are more effective than coercion.”
There is a limit to what Mr Yevkurov can do. He does not formally control the local police, and he has little power over the federal security services, which continue to abduct and torture people. He does his best. After one recent incident he called in the parents of a victim along with the local heads of the police and security services. “Do you realise what you’re doing?” he reproached the security men as TV cameras rolled. “You’re creating future terrorists.”
Mr Yevkurov seems little interested in Kremlin politics and still serves Mr Medvedev—not out of political expediency, but because Mr Medvedev is, by law, Russia’s commander-in-chief. Almost uniquely in his region, Mr Yevkurov is committed to the Russian state. (full text).