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Chechnya-Ingushetia territorial dispute may throw Caucasus off balance

September 05, 2012, 17:49 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

The current rifts between the charismatic heads of two neighboring republics in the North Caucasus, which aggravated of late in the wake of territorial claims made by one side against the other, is fraught with further destabilization in the already troubled region and may present Moscow with a stark choice. Experts say politicians’ personal ambitions and injured pride are the root cause of the conflict.

The row over the administrative border between Chechnya and Ingushetia is going into high gear. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on Tuesday reiterated Chechnya had every right to control the Sunzha district and part of the Malgobek district. Ingushetia argues that both are its indigenous land. Grozny has promised to prepare a documentary base by January 1, 2013 for establishing the border between the two members of the federation in keeping with the law.

“Time is ripe for drawing a border line in strict compliance with the law. We know our territory, and we shall not let it stay outside the administrative boundaries. Nor shall we lay claim to an inch of somebody else’s land,” Kadyrov said at a government meeting. He recalled that there were certain documentary confirmations the Sunzha district and part of the Malgobek district should belong to Chechnya.

In the Soviet era both Chechens and Ingushes were residents of one Chechen-Ingush Republic. Both belong to the same Vainakh ethnos and in fact they speak the same language. Both peoples fell victim to Stalin’s nationalities policy. The Chechen-Ingush autonomous area was formed in 1934 as a result of the merger of the Chechen and Ingush autonomous areas. On March 7 it was abolished on instructions from Stalin to be restored in January 1957, but its borders were slightly different from those which existed at the moment of abolition. In December 1992 the Chechen-Ingush Republic was split into the Republic of Ingushetia and the Chechen Republic, but the border between them has remained unauthorized up to this day. The border between the two parts of the Soviet Chechen-Ingush Republic was drawn only once - in 1934 - and in a very casual way. Nobody regarded it seriously, just like most of the administrative borders within the then USSR, and there was no intention of ever marking them on land. On the maps issued by the Russian federal maps drawing agency Roskartografiya there is no administrative border line between Chechnya and Ingushetia.

For the first time the issue of a Chechen-Ingush border emerged in 1992 – after the Chechen-Ingush Republic broke in half. The Sunzha district was the focus of the dispute. The authorities of either part considered it as their own. Then the simmering dispute was settled amicably. Two administrations – Chechen and Ingush – were established. Either was responsible for running the affairs in the villages and communities populated by Chechens and Ingushes.

Then the issue was raised again in August 2012 at the initiative of Ramzan Kadyrov. He said that the Ingush side took advantage of the absence of an administrative border between the two republics to have unilaterally seized Chechnya’s indigenous lands. The Chechen leader warned to take the issue to the federal level.

One day after the territorial claims were announced the Ingush leader, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, responded to them with a strong refusal. Kadyrov reiterated his claim for redrawing the border.

On August 30 Yevkurov addressed Kadyrov with unusually harsh criticism to have reproached his Chechen counterpart of inflated ambitions. The leader of Ingushetia dismissed Kadyrov’s statements as “provocative and out-of-place” and warned him against provoking the conflict. He recalled that both republics “have more than once held referendums and elections of various levels, which are territory-based legal procedures.”

At Tuesday’s meeting of the government Kadyrov showered Yevkurov with criticism again. He argued that in view of the absence of a clear border between the two territories of the federation the process of land seizure was in progress and Ingush villages were being put up in disputed territories.

This time Grozny has promised that by January 1, 2013 it will present a documentary base for drawing a border between the territories of the Russian Federation in keeping with the law.

“We have archive documents confirming that these districts are part of our republic. Ingushetia does not have such documents. It has never had any. Nor can it ever have them in the future. The Ingush district was merged with us in 1934,” Kadyrov said.

The conflict between two neighboring republics has been in the news for quite a long time. Izvestia correspondent Orkhan Dzhemal has told that the problem in relations between Chechnya and Ingushetia boils down to personal enmity between Kadyrov and Yevkurov. “The rifts in the relations between Kadyrov and Yevkurov developed after the Ingush leader was gravely injured in an assassination attempt by militants. There were whispered rumors that Kadyrov may take care of the republic, while Yevkurov is in hospital. Allegedly Kadyrov and his men even showed up in Magas once in an attempt to run Ingushetia,” Dzhemal said.

At the beginning of August Kadyrov criticized Yevkurov for the Ingush authorities’ inability to resist terrorism actively enough. The charges followed after Yevkurov said that Chechnya’s police and security played no role in a security sweep in the village of Galashki.

The public dispute over the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia is doing harm to both republics, says the head of the Ingush human rights organization MASHR, Magomed Mutsolgov. “If there is a personal grudge between Kadyrov and Yevkurov, then it should be settled in the manly way, the Muslim way, and in a humane fashion, and not drag so many people in the affair,” Mutsolgov said in his blog on the Caucasian Knot website.

Many in Ingushetia are certain that Kadyrov will fail to move the borders, let alone restore what was once an integral Chechen-Ingush Republic. Yunus-Bek Yevkurov’s former press-secretary, political scientist Kaloi Akhilgov, is quoted by the on-line periodical Vzglyad as saying that the ongoing conflict is a purely emotional one, and it has no strategic background. “The border issue is not the fundamental one. There is injured pride at the heart of the matter – after the explosion of a private home in the village of Galashki where militants were thought to be hiding.

Ingush historian Umalat Gadiyev believes that Moscow should intervene in the dispute after all. “Moscow should interfere and tell the local leaders to refrain from any radical steps that might bring about a turn for the worse in the situation in the region.”

Alexei Malashenko, a researcher at the Carnegie center in Moscow, has told the daily Kommersant that in the Kadyrov-Yevkurov standoff the Kremlin will most probably offer its backing to the former.

In the meantime, Vladimir Putin back in 2002 said that it was up to the two North Caucasus republics to decide how to go about the business of drawing the border between them.

MOSCOW, September 5