On March 12, the head of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, entered into an unusually heated and public debate with Chechen officials on territorial issues. In a televised address, Yevkurov stated that the disputed Sunzha district in the area of the administrative border between Ingushetia and Chechnya was an “inalienable part of Ingushetia.” Timur Bokov, an assistant to the secretary of Ingushetia’s Security Council, stated that the republic had sent proposals regarding the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia to Moscow for approval. Bokov said Chechnya should also send its vision to Moscow. Earlier, on March 6, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov had demanded that the village of Arshty, which is currently under Ingush administration, be included in the territorial claims Chechnya’s parliament had outlined previously. Kadyrov alleged that “there are 1,500 Chechens and only 161 Ingush” living in Arshty and the village “historically” belonged to Chechnya. A source in the Chechen parliament told the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website that the Chechens in Arshty were the same subgroup of Chechens who reside in the nearby Chechen village of Bamut. The source said that the parliament would promptly follow up on Kadyrov’s request and readjust republican law to include the disputed village within Chechnya’s boundaries (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, March 13).
Since August 2012, Kadyrov and Yevkurov have periodically engaged in heated exchanges over territorial issues between the two republics. In the fall of 2012, Chechnya quietly passed legislation that de jure established control over some disputed areas in Ingushetia’s Sunzha district. In 2013, new legislation came into effect and alarmed members of Ingushetia’s public and government, who unanimously rejected Kadyrov’s claims. Ethnic Chechens and ethnic Ingush are closely related and speak very similar, mutually intelligible languages. They are sometimes referred to as one ethnicity – Vainakh. Both groups were deported to Central Asia at the same time in 1944 for alleged collaboration with Nazi Germany.
However, Ingushetia and Chechnya took very different trajectories after the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991. The united Soviet Chechen-Ingushetia ceased to exist and General Jokhar Dudaev took over political control in Chechnya, pursuing a course for the full-blown independence of the republic, which was renamed as the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. Ingushetia, on the other hand, decided to stay within the Russian Federation. The reason for Ingushetia’s decision to endorse membership in the federation was probably the result of another land dispute: a large swath of land with tens of thousands of ethnic Ingush, known as Prigorodny district, remained part of North Ossetia, which lies to the west of Ingushetia. Had Ingushetia renounced membership in the Russian Federation along with Chechnya, it was unlikely to regain control of Prigorodny district, to which it had laid claim.
Ingushetia’s claim to Prigorodny District and North Ossetia’s determination to keep it eventually led to a brief but bloody conflict in 1992. Most of the Ingush population of Prigorodny district and the city of Vladikavkaz, an estimated 30,000 to 70,000 people, were expelled. At the same time, Ingushetia’s eastern border with Chechnya was drawn in a more favorable way for the Ingush due to the support they received from Moscow and to the Ichkerian government’s reluctance to provoke any conflict with Ingushetia and thereby give Russia a pretext for intervention. In a way, the redrawing of the borders and the exchanges of populations between Chechnya, Ingushetia and North Ossetia resembled the post World War II population exchanges and border shifts between the Soviet Union, Poland and Germany as Stalin pushed the Soviet borders westward. This is an additional argument in favor of those who argue that the conflicts in the North Caucasus at the beginning of 1990s were staged by Moscow to advance its interests in the restive region.
In terms of his political weight, Kadyrov probably dwarfs all other North Caucasian leaders put together. So the power differential between the heads of Chechnya and Ingushetia is quite high. Even though the security situation in Ingushetia under Yevkurov has improved to a degree, the republic is still a volatile place. Reports regularly appear in the Russian media that Yevkurov will be replaced as head of Ingushetia some time before or in the process of the September 2013 elections (http://rusplt.ru/articles/vlast/gubernatorov-zhdut-novie-otstavki.html). In contrast to Yevkurov, Kadyrov’s dismissal is unthinkable. Yevkurov’s replacement is likely to weaken Ingushetia’s position in the contest with Chechnya even further.
Ingushetia’s leaders refer to agreements that were reached between Ingush and Ichkerian authorities in1992. However, as the negotiating positions of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria at the time were weak, official Grozny now wants to revise those agreements and obtain a better deal. So Chechen officials reject the legitimacy of the Ichkerian government and the agreements it signed. Civil activists suggest that each of the towns should have a referendum on membership in either Chechnya or Ingushetia, but Chechen and Ingush governments appear to be more inclined to wield their administrative and other powers against each other rather than find acceptable compromises (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, March 13).
Moscow’s role in the Chechen-Ingush brawl remains unclear. Some observers claim that Putin wants to unite Ingushetia under Kadyrov, who would ensure stability in the republic along the lines of the heavy-handed repression in Chechnya. Others suggest that Kadyrov’s ambitions have grown so much that they cannot be contained within Chechnya anymore. In any case, the border issue between the two republics seems to be as serious as if the two were sovereign states. The case shows that the borders between republics in the North Caucasus are heavily embedded in the national consciousness and hard to change. Moscow in this situation is in a lose-lose situation, as any move on its part is likely to contribute to further destabilization in the region, while inaction will also not lead to peace.