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Smoldering territorial dispute between Chechnya, Ingushetia in headlines again

March 13, 2013, 16:03 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

MOSCOW, March 13 (Itar-Tass) – The long-smoldering dispute between Chechnya and Ingushetia – two constituent republics of Russia in the North Caucasus – which first hit the headlines last autumn, may flare up again. After the law, adopted by the Chechen parliament to include part of the Sunzha district (currently under the administrative control of neighboring Ingushetia) in the Chechen Republic, took effect last month, the speaker of the Ingush parliament and the head of the republic strongly condemned it. Although the act can have no legal effects until a decision has been made at the federal level, the Ingush authorities have described it as an encroachment on territorial integrity. Verbal shootouts between Chechnya’s head Ramzan Kadyrov and his Ingush counterpart Yunus-bek Yevkurov are continuing.

Moscow has preferred to keep quiet so far. Only the presidential representative in the North Caucasus Federal District has been making statements from time to time.

Before the breakup of the USSR Chechnya and Ingushetia were the two parts of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. The autonomy split up in 1992, but the administrative border between them has never been drawn. A transitional period was declared. In fact it has continued up to this day. As a result, the Sunzha and Malgobek districts have remained disputed territories to which the Chechens and the Ingushes – both members of one Vainakh ethnos – now lay claim.

Under the law the Chechen parliament has just adopted the administrative border is to be drawn along the line that had separated the two republics before their merger in 1934. In those days practically the whole territory of the Sunzha and Malgobek districts were parts of Chechnya. However the law makes a reservation saying that “any measures to establish some form of local self-government in the territories of the aforesaid towns shall be taken only after the administrative border between the Chechen Republic and the Ingush Republic has been drawn in compliance with federal legislation.”

For the first time ever a public dispute over where the administrative border between Chechnya and Ingushetia should be drawn emerged last August. Ramzan Kadyrov then said that the Sunzha district and part of the Malgobek district belonged to Chechnya. Also, he accused the Ingushes of seizing what he described as “indigenous Chechen lands and carrying out unilateral delimitation.” The Ingush authorities voiced no objections against having an administrative border with Chechnya, but at the same time added that it should be identical to the already existing line, and not the 1934 border.

Acute public polemics between the heads of the two republics followed. At first, Yevkurov was rather reserved and kept calling for reconciliation, but emotions eventually soared. Then Chechen and Ingush officials and legislators entered into consultations over the establishment of an administrative border. No tangible results, except for mutual accusations, have been achieved to this day.

Judging by Ingushetia’s reaction to the law that was adopted in Chechnya the other day, an accord in the territorial dispute is still far away. Yevkurov said on Tuesday that the Sunzha district is Ingush land. “Our demand is an administrative border between our republic and our nearest neighbors and blood brothers – the Chechen Republic – should be established.”

He said “after the republican commission finished its work, we sent the corresponding documents to the Russian presidential staff, to the presidential representative in the North Caucasus Federal District, Alexander Khloponin and to the Chechen republic.”

Ingush parliamentary speaker Mukharbek Didigov at the end of February made a rather strong comment regarding Chechnya’s newly-adopted territorial law.

“This step forces us to take retaliatory measures to protect our land and our sovereignty. In a certain historical situation such a move by our neighbors might trigger feud,” Didigov said. “I would like to tell my fellow citizens that this populist step is devoid of any foundation and respectively, should not throw us off balance.”

The chief of the Ingush office of the United Russia party, Zelimkhan Yevloyev, addressed the secretary of the UR Political Council presidium, State Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Neverov, with a warning that “in case the events follow the Chechen scenario, the Ingush side will reserve the right to demand back the territories of the Prigorodny district and the right bank part of Vladikavkaz.

Moscow has preferred to keep quiet on the issue. Only Russia’s presidential representative in the North Caucasus Federal district Alexander Khloponin last September asked the two sides to stop insulting each other and to “remove this theme from the public space.”

President Vladimir Putin expressed his attitude to the border disputes between these two members of the Russian federation back in 2002. He said then that Chechnya and Ingushetia should settle the disputes between themselves amicably.

Two republican commissions are now working in Grozny and Magas on the border delimitation issue. Experts suspect that most probably they will present conflicting drafts.

Alexander Khloponin’s staff has told the daily Kommersant the work on identifying the administrative border between Chechnya and Ingushetia is proceeding as planned and within the legal space.

“So far the work has proceeded at the regional level within bilateral working groups. Federal agencies will join in at the next stage,” it added.

“I believe that if nobody meddles in this, the conflict will be settled promptly,” the agency REGNUM quotes the head of the Caucasus sector at the center of Civilizational and Regional Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Enver Kisriyev, as saying. “If tensions are not fanned, if Moscow avoids taking sides, then an escalation can be prevented. I believe that the two peoples themselves – and they are very close peoples, indeed - will not support the conflict between their leaders, and it will not acquire a larger, inter-ethnic dimension.”