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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Aushev Says Kremlin Didn't Push Him Out

Itar-TassRuslan Aushev
Former Ingush President Ruslan Aushev gathered reporters Thursday to tell them that his decision to abandon office a year early had not been dictated by the Kremlin.

But Ingush officials and experts on the volatile southern region cast doubt on his claim, saying Aushev -- an outspoken critic of the war in neighboring Chechnya -- was too freethinking for Moscow's liking and stepped down as part of a compromise with the Kremlin.

"I experienced no pressure or interference either from the president or the government," Aushev, who resigned Dec. 28, was quoted by Interfax as saying.

Upon resigning, Aushev explained that the move would keep Ingushetia from holding presidential elections at the same time as the parliamentary race scheduled for March 2003. Less than two weeks later, Aushev was appointed by his interim successor to represent the republic as a senator in the Federation Council.

"This outcome came as no surprise to me. ... He had no other choice," said Issa Kostoyev, a former presidential envoy to Ingushetia and now a department head at the Prosecutor General's Office.

In an interview published last week in Obshchaya Gazeta, Kostoyev said that, had Aushev fought to retain power, he could have found himself in the same situation as former Railways Minister Nikolai Aksyonenko, dismissed earlier this month amid a scandalous corruption probe launched -- by some accounts -- with the Kremlin's blessing. Aushev's new status as a senator gives him immunity from prosecution.

Aushev, whose tiny republic has struggled for years with an influx of Chechen refugees, has ruffled feathers in the presidential administration and military circles by criticizing the war, allowing Chechen fighters into Ingushetia and calling for talks with the rebels.

"Negotiations must be held with those who are not in agreement with the federal center and are in the mountains with arms in their hands," Aushev, himself a general and an Afghan veteran, said Thursday.

Aushev has said in the past that he considers rebel commander Aslan Maskhadov the legitimate leader of Chechnya. The Kremlin and military top brass have called this position unacceptable and have accused Aushev of letting rebels roam free and recuperate in Ingushetia.

In his recent memoir on Chechnya called "My War," Colonel General Gennady Troshev, the military commander in the North Caucasus district, devoted an entire section to lambasting Aushev. And the senior federal inspector for Chechnya, former Grozny Mayor Beslan Gantamirov, said in a separate interview to Obshchaya Gazeta that "with Aushev's resignation, the war is half over."

Last fall, President Vladimir Putin visited the Southern Federal District, which includes Ingushetia. According to some news reports, it was then that the president made the Kremlin's position clear to Aushev.

"Aushev is not the type of regional leader that is now becoming the norm," said Alexander Iskandaryan, head of the Caucasus Research Center, in a reference to the Kremlin's drive to rein in powerful regional bosses.

Even in his new capacity, Aushev continues to be critical of Moscow.

Earlier this week, he called the decision to close down TV6 television "politically motivated."

On Thursday, Aushev came crashing down on a recently floated idea to reunite Ingushetia and Chechnya, as they were before the deportation of the two ethnically related peoples under dictator Josef Stalin in 1944.

However, Iskandaryan said Aushev was still extremely influential in Ingushetia, and any candidate running for the presidency in April will have much higher chances of success with Aushev's backing.

Aushev has thrown his support behind Ingush Interior Minister Khamzat Gutsiriyev, whose brother Mikhail is president of Russian-Belarussian oil company Slavneft.

Ingushetia watchers believe that the race will boil down to a stand-off between the candidate backed by Mikhail Gutsiriyev and one supported by the ex-president's namesake, former LUKoil vice president Mukharbek Aushev.