By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
MOSCOW, June 22 -- The leader of perhaps the most volatile of Russia's impoverished ethnic republics in the northern Caucasus was seriously wounded Monday in a car bomb explosion, the latest in a series of attacks that could force the Kremlin to reevaluate how it governs the restive region.
The attempted assassination of Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, president of Ingushetia, located west of Chechnya, occurred on a road outside the provincial center of Nazran as he was traveling in a motorcade. At least one person with him was killed and several others, including his brother, were also injured, officials said.
There were conflicting reports about whether the blast was caused by a suicide bomber who drove into the convoy or the detonation of a device in a parked car. Yevkurov was flown to Moscow for treatment and was in grave condition, according to the Interfax news agency.
Yevkurov, 45, took office last fall after President Dmitry Medvedev fired the previous governor, Murat Zyazikov, a former KGB colonel who had tried to crush a low-grade Islamist insurgency in the province by waging what critics described as a campaign of killings and abductions.
The dismissal was one of the first significant personnel moves by Medvedev after succeeding Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as president, and some analysts saw it as an attempt to experiment with using less draconian tactics to contain the escalating political violence in the region.
Yevkurov, a former military intelligence officer, appeared to be trying to rebuild public trust in the government, launching an anti-corruption campaign and reaching out to opposition and human rights activists who had argued that Zyazikov's harsh methods strengthened the insurgents.
Two weeks ago, Yevkurov met with families of the militants and urged them to persuade their relatives to accept an amnesty offer and enter talks with the government. "I am calling on them once again to lay down arms and return to a peaceful life," he said.
Monday's attack, however, could prompt the Kremlin to abandon that approach. It follows the assassinations this month of a top judge and a former deputy prime minister in Ingushetia and of the interior minister in Dagestan, another violence-plagued province in the Caucasus.
Medvedev, who visited Dagestan this month to condemn the violence, declared on state television that Yevkurov "was attacked for his provision of law and order, and for his pursuit of the militants."
"We must carry on this work so everyone committing such crimes knows our reaction will be straight and firm," he added.
Federal security officials said the bombing may have been in retaliation for a recent counterterrorism operation along the Ingush-Chechen border that killed 26 insurgents. Russia's chief prosecutor said criminal groups upset by Yevkurov's efforts to fight corruption also might have been involved.
State news media said the security services were sending reinforcements to Ingushetia and planning to impose new restrictions on people's movements. Some lawmakers called on the Kremlin to impose martial law. But human rights activists warned that a crackdown violating citizens' rights could further destabilize the region.