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Assassinations Roil Russia's Caucasus Region

The deputy head of Ingushetia's Supreme Court has been shot dead in the latest incident of violence to hit Russia's troubled Caucasus region. The assassination of Justice Aza Gazgireeva follows a recent high profile killing in neighboring Dagestan, where Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has warned that poverty, unemployment, and massive corruption are undermining government authority.

Deputy Chief Justice of Ingushetia's Supreme Court, Aza Gazgireeva, was killed after gunmen opened fire on her chauffer-driven van in the republic's biggest city, Nazran. Russian TV reports say one of the assassin's then walked up to Gazgireeva's body and shot her in the head. At least five other people were injured in the attack, including a one-year-old child.

Ingushetia's Deputy Interior Minister Valery Zhernov called the attack particularly brazen and brutal.

The police official says an investigative team has been organized, leadership has met, and all possible steps are being taken [to find the killers]. Zhernov says material evidence has been found on the scene that will help solve the crime.

Gazgireeva's death comes 18 months after her predecessor on the court was also shot. On Friday, the Interior Minister of neighboring Dagestan was gunned down by a sniper during a wedding. On Tuesday, two Dagestani police officers were killed in separate incidents just hours after Russian President Dmitri Medvedev visited the republic in response to growing violence in the Caucasus. He traveled with his entire National Security Council. The Russian leader says problems in the Caucasus region are systemic.

Mr. Medvedev says those problems are persistent poverty, a very high unemployment level, and massive, even fantastic levels of corruption. He adds that systemic deformation of government of a regional level not only impacts its effectiveness, but is accompanied by loss of trust in authority.

Mr. Medvedev says other elements of the Caucasus problem include over-reliance on federal subsidies that has stifled business development, foreign Muslim extremists, and drug trafficking.

Sergei Arutunyan, Caucasus expert at the Russian Academy of Sciences, told VOA the Kremlin must take active measures to the prevent loss of its southern republics.

Arutunyan says if Moscow continually fails to establish the rule of law, fails to root out corruption, fails to support a middle class and small entrepreneurs, fails to create jobs and education opportunities and to provide money for the people, then Russia will lose the Caucasus.

Arutunyan says the Kremlin appears either unwilling or unable to take the steps needed to solve problems in the Caucasus. Other Caucasus experts in Russia have issued similar warnings.