Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 13

Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev and North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov held emergency talks in the Stavropol Krai town of Essentuki on January 16, during which they signed an agreement to eliminate the consequences of the Ossetian-Ingushetian conflict. The talks were brokered by Viktor Kazantsev, President Vladimir Putin’s authorized representative to the Southern federal district (Russian agencies, January 16). The meeting stemmed out of a letter from Aleksei Kulakovsky, the special Russian representative in the zone of the former Ossetian-Ingushetian conflict, to Putin, in which he warned the president that a new armed conflict between the two neighboring republics was possible in the coming months or even weeks due to rising tensions in the disputed Prigorod region. Kulakovsky called both Aushev and Dzasokhov “uncompromising” and their actions unconstructive. It was the first time the two republican leaders were put on an equal level: Previously, federal officials had avoided lumping Aushev and Dzasokhov together, preferring to comment on their positions separately (Izvestia, January 17).

According to one theory, Kulakovsky’s alarming letter was a result of the chronic stagnation in the activity of the structures he heads. In reality, the situation in the region is being managed by the local authorities, and Kulakovsky’s office is unable to influence the situation in the Prigorod region. Another notion has it that Kulakovsky received certain new information on the situation in Ingushetia, where a large number of Chechen refugees and unresolved economic problems are generating an extremist mood (Izvestia, January 17).

The roots of the Ingushetian-Ossetian conflict go back a long way. In 1944, Josef Stalin deported the Chechens and Ingushi to Central Asia, and the territory of the Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was divided between Georgia, North Ossetia, Dagestan and Stavropol Krai. In 1956, Khrushchev reestablished the Checheno-Ingush ASSR, but part of it–the Prigorod region–remained part of North Ossetia. In 1992, according to official statistics, Ingushi made up 65 percent of the population in the Prigorod region. In reality, the percentage was higher, since many Ingushi lived in the region without propiskas, or residence permits. In 1991, the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation Soviet Socialist Republic passed a law, according to which all repressed peoples were to be given back all the land which had been taken from them. This sparked a campaign in Ingushetia to get back the Prigorod region. In the autumn of 1992, large-scale violence broke out between Ingushi and Ossetians in the Prigorod region. The Kremlin introduced troops there meant to serve as peacekeepers but who in fact supported the Ossetian side. As a result of the fighting, 419 Ingushi were killed, 3,000 Ingushi homes were destroyed and practically all the rest of the Ingushi who had been leaving in the Prigorod region were forced to leave (Prism, August 29, 1997).

In 1993, Vladikavkaz and Nazran concluded an agreement on the gradual return of Ingushi refugees to the Prigorod region, but that process has been extremely slow. A vast majority of the refugees remain, as before, in refugee camps in Ingushetia. Those who have returned to the region “live in a real ghetto,” as President Aushev told the Monitor–in villages guarded by Russian troops and isolated from the outside world.

The talks in Essentuki are unlikely to change the situation in the Prigorod region in any significant way. The two sides simply confirmed their readiness to fulfill the 1993 agreement. It, however, is likely to remain on paper.