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Ongoing protests in Ingushetia: From the latest news to the very beginning

Meduza
Ingush residents protest in Magas against changes to the republic’s referendum process. March 26, 2019
Ingush residents protest in Magas against changes to the republic’s referendum process. March 26, 2019
Said Tsarnaev / Sputnik / Scanpix / LETA

Since October 2018, protesters in the Russian federal subject of Ingushetia have taken to the streets to object to their government’s attempts to give up territory to the neighboring republic of Chechnya. In a broader Russian political environment that has favored the Chechen government and accorded considerably less respect to protesters, residents of Ingushetia have been remarkably persistent in their demands. Here, Meduza reviews the Caucasian republic’s current political conflict in reverse chronological order.

Lieutenant General Dmitry Kava, the head of Ingushetia’s Interior Ministry, has filed a resignation letter, TASS and Interfax reported. One source told Interfax that Kava made the decision to leave his post following protests that took place in the Ingush capital of Magas on March 26 – 27. During the protests, which are intended to resist changes to Ingush law that would enable territorial changes without popular consent, Kava refused to order his troops to disperse the crowds. Shortly afterward, Kommersant wrote, the lieutenant general went on leave, and sources told the newspaper that he would not be returning to his former post. Kavkaz.Realii confirmed that Kava will be transferred to a different position.

Interior Ministry of Ingushetia

A police battalion accused of interfering with the dispersal of protesters was disbanded. Various sources indicate that between 17 and 19 members of the 300-person battalion were fired. An employee within the battalion who asked to remain anonymous told Mediazona that the other 280-odd members were transferred to neighborhood police offices. He asserted that he and his colleagues took it upon themselves to defend law enforcement officials from other regions of Russia who were charged with pushing back protesters but succumbed to the pressure of the crowd. “When they started beating those officers, that’s when our people started running in and pulling them out of there … and standing between them and the people. And now they’re being told that they interfered in the dispersal of the protest,” Mediazona’s source argued.

Protesters and police clash in Ingushetia.
Meduza

Local authorities approved plans for a protest in Magas but later attempted to break up the event. The protest began on the morning of March 26 and included approximately 10,000 participants. Collectively, the protesters voted in favor of a resolution demanding the resignation of Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, the head of the Ingush government. In the evening, some of the protesters refused to disperse and stayed in central Magas overnight. On the morning of March 27, law enforcement officers attempted twice to disperse the remaining protesters, who responded by throwing chairs at police and remaining in place. After local authorities promised to permit another protest five days later, protesters dispersed of their own will. Investigators have initiated a criminal case in connection with acts of violence committed against police; they claim that 10 officers and Russian National Guard members were injured in clashes with protesters.

The protests in Magas were triggered by a proposed amendment that would change referendum procedures in Ingushetia. The amendment is particularly controversial because it removes the Ingush government’s obligation to hold a referendum in certain cases. Current law mandates that a range of decisions, including proposed additions to or subtractions from Ingush territory, be approved in a popular referendum. The parliament of Ingushetia has already approved the proposed amendment to the republic’s referendum law in the bill’s first reading. The bill was scheduled for a second vote on March 28, but Yevkurov recalled the proposal a week before that date. He announced that a revised version of the amendment would be reintroduced for parliamentary approval after three months.

The decision to change Ingushetia’s referendum laws was made after an unpopular territorial agreement between Ingushetia and neighboring Chechnya. Yevkurov and his Chechen counterpart, Ramzan Kadyrov, signed the deal in September of 2018. They agreed to exchange territory between the two Russian republics, but experts say that Ingushetia would yield territories to Chechnya that are 26 times larger in total than the territories it would receive. On October 4, 2018, the Ingush government announced that its parliament had approved the measure, but the parliamentary deputies themselves insisted that the results of their vote had been falsified. On that same day, protests began in Magas and continued for the next 13 days.

The Constitutional Court of Ingushetia ruled the proposed territorial shifts to be illegal without a referendum. The Constitutional Court of Russia disagreed. In October of 2018, the Constitutional Court of Ingushetia issued a decision declaring that the republic’s government had no right to agree to change its border with Chechnya without conducting a popular referendum. However, Yevkurov appealed the decision, and two months later, Russia’s Constitutional Court ruled that the Ingush-Chechen agreement was legal under the Russian constitution. Ingushetia’s Election Commission declined a proposal soon afterward from a group of activists who hoped to initiate a referendum regarding the proposed agreement with Chechnya.

Olga Korelina

Translation by Hilah Kohen