Chechnya and Ingushetia have officially defined the border between the two republics, but it’s still too early to say that there are no more territorial claims
Novaya Gazeta, Caucasian Knot
A historic agreement
The heads of Ingushetia and Chechnya – both subjects of the Russian Federation – signed an agreement on 26 September defining the land borders between the two republics. The agreement is historic as the border between the two entities has been undefined since the 1990s.
Ingush presidential advisor Artyom Perekhrist told Novaya Gazeta immediately after the signing that the Ingush do not have grounds for mass riots as were observed in the past few weeks.
According to the document, the republics have made exchanges of certain unsettled territories.
“The main thing is that we have managed to avoid a conflict, possible bloodshedding and bloody fights,” Ingush President Yunus-bek Yevkurov said about the document on his Instagram page.
A pleasant surprise… for Ingushetia
Yevkurov emphasised that the agreement officially forms the border as it was defined in 1993. This means that Ingushetia did not have to part with 17,000 hectares of land which was a topic of grave concern for residents of the republic.
It seems that this was also unexpected for Yevkurov, writes a Novaya Gazeta journalist who followed the protests that preceded the signing of the document.
“Negotiations between the heads of Ingushetia and Chechnya have come to an end in an unexpected way. Ingushetia has retained its borders, and this was likely improbable for the republic at the beginning. This was, perhaps, one of the most important events on the Caucasian agenda for a while. Ramzan Kadyrov did not receive what he wanted,” writes Novaya Gazeta.
However, political observer Dmitry Oreshkin believes that Kadyrov is still the more influential politician of the two:
“He can do things that Yevkurov simply can’t. Kadyrov is active and is cultivating his political weight and coming up with ambitious plans. He is fighting for his interests and, it would seem, not without the support of Moscow,” Oreshkin told a correspondent of the Caucasian Knot.
The conclusion of the agreement is undoubtedly a positive event, though it is still too early to let one’s guard down. Chechnya may still make territorial claims on Ingushetia in the future, says geographer Aleksey Gunya:
“Territorial disputes often grow into conflicts, and thus [the signing of the agreement] is a sign of reconciliation,” Gunya told a correspondent of the Caucasian Knot.
However, there are still risks. Gunya says that Chechen villages near the border with Ingushetia may be at risk. Until recently, it was only possible to get to these areas through Ingush territory.
Root of the problem
The territorial claims between the Ingush and the Chechens began a long time ago. In the 20s, the Sunzhensky Cossack District, which contained villages based on former Ingush villages, was included in the composition of Chechnya. In the 30s, Ingushetia was joined to Chechnya, and thus the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was born.
In 1991 Chechnya announced its independence as the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, and Ingushetia decided to remain within Russia. In 1993 Ingush President Ruslan Aushev and the president of unrecognised Ichkeria, Dzhokhar Dudayev, defined the borders between their territories, but the borders were not formally demarcated.
Relations between the current leaders of these two Russian federal republics have not been easy. The heads of both entities have verbally lashed out at each other in public, and the claims on large pieces of Ingush territory made in 2012 by Ramzan Kadyrov were one of the most painful moments of this story.
“We possess archive documents which confirm that these regions [ed. Sunzhensky and part of Malgobeksky] are a part of the republic,” Kadyrov said at the time, emphasising: “The time has come to clearly define the dividing line in accordance with the law. We know our territory and we will not allow them to remain beyond the administrative border under any circumstances.”
Roadworks began at the end of August this year in the Sunzhensky region of Ingushetia. It was carried out by Chechen construction workers, and, in order to avoid misunderstandings, the Chechen side set up roadblocks at the entrances of worksites. Rumours sprouted in Ingushetia that the Chechens were getting ready to tear away the Sunzhensky district, even putting forward numbers: 17,000 hectares, which is about five per cent of the entire territory of Ingushetia.
The head of the republic dismissed the issue with generic words and statements, while the Ingush public concluded that the land dispute had already been decided upon – in Moscow at that.
Demonstrations took place in Ingushetia before the planned meeting of the Ingush and Chechen leaders, during which people demanded that the authorities not sign an agreement about giving land to Chechnya. Some even claimed that the territories on which Chechnya had its eyes on contained oil. Others said that the 17,000 hectares was a sacrifice that was going to be made by Yevkurov in order to satisfy the appetites of the Chechen republic.