A Departure of National Significance

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Ingush President Murad Zyazikov has been dismissed from his post. The news prompted spontaneous celebrations across the republic, with everyone from police officers to insurgents joining in a touching outburst of unity. For a change, the jubilant crowds fired weapons into the air -- instead of at each other -- and government officials snatched chairs from the president's offices. Apparently, everything else had already been taken.

The news of Zyazikov's departure from a republic of no more than 400,000 people was, without exaggeration, news of national importance. More than anybody else, Zyazikov had symbolized the essence of the Kremlin's authority.

Death squads are suspected of abducting and killing hundreds of Ingush residents. Thievery reached such a scale that even policemen sometimes didn't get paid, prompting them to stage protests in response. Imagine Nazi SS troops at Buchenwald rallying to protest unpaid wages for their murderous work.

Terrorism became an ordinary occurrence as Russia lost control of Ingushetia. The distinctive feature of the near-daily killings of policemen and security officers was that the authorities never came to their aid -- and often denied that the deaths had even occurred. When a riot policeman was shot dead with an automatic rifle in a public square in Karabulak, the incident was written off as suicide. Repeated attacks with a grenade launcher on the prime minister's home were attributed to "hooliganism." But the all-time low probably came with the Kursayev brothers, suspected of participating in the abduction and killing of Ingush residents. Their home in the village of Surkhakh came under prolonged fire by grenade launchers for a few nights running, yet nobody ever came to their aid. Ultimately, two of the brothers were killed, and one was seriously injured.

Zyazikov invariably claimed that Ingushetia was making gigantic strides forward and that every assertion to the contrary was the work of his enemies in Washington. In short, any violence could not be classified as war because there was no opposing side to the conflict.

The Kremlin's patience apparently reached its limit with two recent incidents.

The first occurred two weeks ago when a military column of soldiers was shot down -- the first time Russia had suffered such losses on its own territory since comparable numbers of Russians died in Chechnya in 2000.

The second was the shooting death of opposition web site owner Magomed Yevloyev, who was killed in a police car just minutes after flying into Ingushetia on the same plane as Zyazikov. The problem probably was not the killing itself, but the fact that it showed Zyazikov had lost control of the republic.

Blaming Zyazikov for the death, Yevloyev's relatives and friends caught up with some of his people and proceeded to beat and disarm them. Moreover, Yevloyev's father, following the practice of Muslim adat law, fully reconstructed a picture of the death. He ascertained that Zyazikov gave the order for the killing before the plane had left Moscow, when he happened to see Yevloyev on board; that Interior Minister Musa Medov hastily assembled a team of men to carry out the killing; and that the chief of Medov's security detail, Ibragim Yevloyev, turned around in the front seat and shot Magomed in the temple.

Zyazikov emissaries have told Magomed Yevloyev's relatives that the president was not involved and that all questions should be directed to the Interior Ministry. But Yevloyev's relatives have announced a vendetta on Zyazikov's life in a publicly aired tape.

Zyazikov's future is not an enviable one. His departure from office is unlikely to influence this blood feud.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.