North Caucasus Monthly Digest: minors returned from the Middle East and new sanctions against Chechen officials5 min read

 In Caucasus, News, Politics, Russia

– Murder of Ingush anti-extremism official. On November 2nd, the head of the Ingush anti-extremism agency, Ibragim Eldzherkiev, was shot dead in Moscow along with his brother, Akhmed Eldzherkiev. On December 10th, Interfax reported that ten suspects have been arrested so far in connection to the planning and execution of the Eldzherkiev brothers. The motive for the murder reportedly is a ‘blood feud’, that, as OC Media reports, may be connected to a conflict between the previous republican administration of Ingushetia, that of Yunus-Bek Yevkurov (who stepped down from his post in June 2019), and an Ingush religious group called the Batalkhadzhins, a group alleged to have connections to Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov.

– New border posts. On November 13th, two new ‘border’ posts between Chechnya and Dagestan were inaugurated by Chechnya’s Minister of Interior. Their opening was criticised on social media as it went against a previous promise of Kadyrov to clear the roads of the North Caucasus from such hurdles. Nevertheless, on November 23rd, Ramzan Kadyrov and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev met to discuss, among other topics, shutting down the ‘border’ posts that exist throughout the North Caucasus. In July this year, there were protests in Dagestan over the erection of border signs well inside Dagestani territory, claiming to mark the Chechen border.

– Official status for veterans of the 1999 war. On November 14th the Russian government passed new changes to the law on veteran benefits. This decision was made to extend the veteran status and accompanying benefits to those who fought as part of paramilitary detachments against the Khattab 1999 incursion into Dagestan. It is expected that these changes will come into force from January 1st, 2020. As Caucasian Knot notes, these amendments follow protests carried out in September by Dagestani veterans of the Soviet Afghan war, demanding better state housing.

– Minors return from the Middle East. On November 18th the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation announced that 32 Russian children were brought from a Baghdad prison to Moscow, Caucasian Knot reports. It was also mentioned by Russian officials that among the 32 children there were also minors from Dagestan and Ingushetia. Some have since returned home. As of 20th November, TASS reported that fours minors, two from Chechnya and two from Ingushetia, were returned to their families in Grozny. Since the start of the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, several thousands of citizens from the former Soviet Union, including the North Caucasus, have joined the ranks of the terrorist organisation. In the process, some of them brought their families to the Middle East with them, which has since resulted in hundreds of children left in Iraq and Syria, waiting repatriation to their home countries.

– New native language initiative. On November 23rd, the government of Adygea launched a new pilot programme at primary schools of a new teaching methodology of Adyghe, the native, minority language of the republic. The programme, now being tested in four schools in Maikop, Adygea’s capital, has since gathered the attention of more schools in the republic, Caucasus Knot reports. The new method changes the status of the language from ‘foreign’ language to ‘native’ language, but only for those students who were enrolled into the programme by their parents. The programme is expected to be the most impactful for those families that speak Adyghe at home. According to the 2010 federal census, the republic has a population of about 439 000, of which 100 000 are ethnic Adyghe. This programme comes after the June 19th, 2018 federal bill that rendered the teaching of native, minority languages into an optional subject in primary education, a move that has been widely criticised as contributing to the decline of minority languages in Russia.

– More arrests on corruption charges. OC Media reports that on November 30th two high-ranking former state officials were officially sanctioned with fines and five years in prison. The accused, the former Minister of Finance and the Head of the Payments department of the Ministry, were found guilty of using federal transfers to cover for missing portions of the Ingush republican budget, instead of their intended purpose. However, there is more to this than the crime itself. As Denis Sokolov commented for OC Media, this move is likely a result of the recent change of republican administration, that saw Yevkurov replaced by the current head of the republic, Mahmud-Ali Kalimatov. Their conviction, and the anti-corruption campaign around it, could in fact serve to strengthen Kalimatov’s grip on republican institutions by driving out former Yevkurov appointees.

– Gubernatorial elections remain off the table. In North Ossetia, as in many other regions of Russia, the republican governor is not directly elected by its constituents, but chosen by the republican parliament from three candidates selected by the President of the Federation. This has been the system in North Ossetia for the past six years. On December 4th, the North Ossetian parliament rejected a petition started by several parties to change the system back to direct election, Dosh reports.

– New sanctions on Chechen officials. On December 10th, it was announced by the US Department of the Treasury that the Head of Chechnya’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, Aslan Iraskhanov, will enter the list of sanctioned individuals for his role in the LGBT+ purges, Associated Press reports. This follows a similar move made by US authorities in 2017 and on May 16th this year, when members of the Terek Special Rapid Response Team entered the list, due to their participation in the purges.

PUBLICATION: December 11th marks twenty-five years since the start of the first Chechen war, a bloody conflict that pitted then-independent Chechnya and Russian federal forces and left tens of thousands dead. This is not a date that is commemorated in Russia as the war ended as a fiasco for Moscow and President Yeltsin, and left Chechnya in ruins. Read here long-time Caucasus reporter Tomas de Waal op-ed on the awkward anniversary.

Main Sources: Caucasian Knot (EN/RU), OC Media (EN/RU)

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