Zyazikov Insists Ingushetia Not at War

ReutersIngush President Murat Zyazikov speaking to reporters on the roof of his presidential palace in Magas on Saturday.
MAGAS -- Armored vehicles patrol the streets and his bodyguards do not let him out of sight, but Ingushetia's leader calls predictions of civil war "the ravings of a madman."

Murat Zyazikov, a former officer in the Soviet KGB who was elected president of Ingushetia in 2002 with the Kremlin's backing, acknowledges that his region has problems.

"I am not saying everything is OK. If all was fine, you wouldn't have come here. If all was good, there would be another president, maybe an oligarch," he said at a rare meeting with foreign journalists over the weekend.

"Yes, people are dying, our policemen are dying, they fight against criminals," he said. "When a policeman dies, no one talks about him, no one cares about him, as if he is not the same as other people, as if he doesn't have a family."

Asked if Ingushetia was on the brink of civil war, he said: "Those who told you that have cockroaches in their head. Ingushetia has never faced, is not facing and will not be facing a civil war. It's the ravings of a madman."

Zyazikov was speaking in his gold-domed presidential palace in the region's capital, Magas, a new town guarded by police who control all roads in and out.

As he took reporters on a tour of the roof of his presidential palace, his guards scanned the horizon. Some neighboring buildings had what appeared to be anti-mortar netting hung between them.

The heavy security is not confined to the palace. Masked soldiers armed with guns patrolled an agricultural market not far away, where farmers gathered in a field to trade live goats, sheep and poultry from the backs of trucks.

Zyazikov's opponents say he is the root of the problem. They claim that mismanagement by his administration, coupled with heavy-handed security operations that harm innocent civilians, are driving the insurgency.

There was an outpouring of public anger in September when Magomed Yevloyev, unofficial leader of the opposition, was shot dead in police custody. The authorities said a police officer had fired his weapon accidentally.

Asked by reporters about his opponents' allegations of misrule, Zyazikov repeatedly dismissed them, often with jokes, and redirected criticism at the opposition and human rights groups. "Human rights organizations defend criminals," he said.

One of Zyazikov's aides said his "quiet, strong" approach was Ingushetia's only barrier against falling into an abyss.

"If he goes, then we could end up like Chechnya. But with Zyazikov at the helm, we have about 10 years to create jobs and improve the economy. If we end unemployment, then everything will work out fine," the aide said.

Zyazikov, 51, proudly showed off his office, where portraits of both President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin hung side by side behind his large desk. The future for the region is firmly within Russia, Zyazikov said.

"The Ingush people have already chosen, to be more precise our ancestors have already chosen, that if it's bad in Russia, we're with Russia, if it's good, we're with Russia and if conditions are borderline, we're with Russia," he said.

"Our people are clearly oriented to the Russian reality, to a Russian Caucasus civilization.

"There are some who want to be citizens of the U.S., the Netherlands and Russia at the same time, and they're free to join Europe, America and Scandinavia. Please, the road is open."