Weeks of mass protests by the residents of Ingushetia against the transfer of part of the republic’s territory to neighboring Chechnya became one of the most significant events in the political life of the Russian regions in the last month (Zona.media, October 18).
On September 26, the heads of Chechnya and Ingushetia, Ramzan Kadyrov and Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, respectively, signed an agreement correcting the border between their two republics. However, this “correction” did not favor Ingushetia—this already smallest republic in Russia lost several of its districts. For Ingushetia, the territorial issue is historically painful: in Soviet times, part of the Ingushetian lands had been transferred to neighboring North Ossetia.
At first, the authorities tried to prevent the people’s protests by handing out fines and detaining their organizers. But despite these efforts, several thousand people, led by Ingush elders, came out into the square of the republican capital of Magas on October 4. The police did not dare disperse them. The rally was declared indefinite and began to resemble the Kyiv Maidan. Its participants spent nights in tents and the locals brought them food.
The protesters were most outraged by the fact that the agreement on changing the borders of the republic was signed behind closed doors, in complete violation of the Ingushetian constitution, which requires that such issues be resolved via a popular referendum. Local politician Ruslan Mutsolgov emphasized that the protests are not directed against the kindred Chechen people, but rather against the arbitrariness of the authorities. He also believes that Rosneft, a company associated with the Kremlin that is developing oil fields in Chechnya, is interested in this revision of the borders (Svoboda.org, September 27).
The protests in Ingushetia demonstrated the failure of Putin’s policy of “pacification of the Caucasus,” which has relied on cultivating local authoritarian leaders without considering the opinion of citizens. Avraham Shmulevich, an Israeli political analyst and expert on the North Caucasus, argues that the Kremlin deliberately pits various Caucasian peoples against one another in order to prevent them from joining together in common opposition to Moscow’s imperial policies (Afterempire.info, October 6).
The protesters in Magas suspended their rally on October 17 in order to give the Ingushetian parliament the opportunity to resolve the situation. However, they promised to meet again on October 31, if during this time the local legislature fails to solve anything. This is forcing the Kremlin into a difficult choice. It is afraid to make concessions to the people—which it would consider showing “weakness.” But at the same time, dispersing a public rally in Ingushetia by force could lead to an even worse result for the Russian authorities.
The Ingushetian police have already refused to disperse their compatriots, meaning that the Kremlin would need to send in security forces or troops from other regions of Russia. And were Chechens to join the protesters in Ingushetia, the conflict might reach a qualitatively more serious level. It is worth noting that both of these peoples were deported together from their homeland in the North Caucasus during the Stalinist era before finally being allowed to return over a decade later. This historical memory may prove much stronger than the local loyalty or subservience to the authoritarian republican leaders appointed on their behalf by the Kremlin (see EDM, November 17, 2017).