Is the Kremlin Behind Calls for Merging Ingushetia and Chechnya?

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 39 reported on October 12 that demonstrators gathered on the administrative border between Ingushetia and Chechnya to call for a unification of the two republics. According to the opposition website, the demonstration was organized by the Ingush leadership, which arranged for demonstrators to be bussed to the site of the rally, which was held near a school in the Chechen village of Sernovodsk. reported that among those who addressed the rally was Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, speaker of the Chechen Republic’s parliament, the People’s Assembly, who promised to convey Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov’s opinion on the issue. Yet the press service of Chechnya’s People’s Assembly told Ekho Moskvy Radio that while Abdurakhmanov had been in Sernovodsk that day to visit polling stations (local elections took place on October 12 in various Russian regions, including Chechnya), no demonstration had taken place there and the Chechen parliamentary speaker merely spoke with voters. The Ingush authorities did not comment on the reported demonstration.

On October 13, reported that a second demonstration in favor of merging Ingushetia and Chechnya had taken place that day in the Chechen capital of Grozny. The website reported that both local inhabitants and residents of Ingushetia who had been bussed in took part in the rally, and that some of the demonstrators carried signs and placards calling for a merger of the two republics. reported on October 13 that the Grozny rally was coordinated between the Ingush and Chechen governments.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta on October 15 quoted the head of the Chechen president’s information-analytical directorate, Lema Gudaev, as saying that there had been no pro-unification demonstration in Grozny and that the demonstration held in Sernovodsk on October 12 took place “spontaneously,” without official sanction. He also called reports that the authorities of both republics had approved the demonstrations “disinformation” spread by According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, the office of the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District categorically refused to comment on the situation.

Yet Nezavisimaya Gazeta quoted Chechen parliamentary speaker Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov as saying that a large group of residents in Ingushetia had held a demonstration in Ingushetia’s Sunzha district demanding that they be allowed to vote in the election for Chechnya’s parliament. As the newspaper pointed out, both Chechnya and Ingushetia regard the Sunzha district as their own, given that the administrative border between the two republics was not carefully demarcated back in 1992. “They are puzzled as to why what is in fact a single small nation was divided when not only people, but also large states are seeking paths to convergence,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta quoted Abdurakhmanov as saying. The newspaper noted that Abdurakhmanov added the caveat that there is no need to “hasten developments.” As Nezavisimaya Gazeta noted, Abdurakhmanov is considered a close associate of Ramzan Kadyrov.

On October 13, deputies in Ingushetia’s People’s Assembly disseminated a statement expressing their indignation and categorical disagreement with the idea of re-creating Checheno-Ingushetia. “We, the deputies of the People’s Assembly of Ingushetia, express our indignation and categorical disagreement with the absurd idea of recreating a new Checheno-Ingushetia,” Interfax quoted the statement as saying. “We are stating once again that the experiment to create a new Checheno-Ingush people, like the Bolshevik slogan about creating … the ‘Soviet person’ … collapsed ignominiously a long time ago.”

According to, the Ingush deputies said reviving Checheno-Ingushetia would lead to nothing good. “Sober-minded and sane people should not step on the same rake twice,” the statement said. “Simply raising the issue of unifying Ingushetia and Chechnya for discussion has aroused an extremely negative reaction in Ingush society … Such a merger is unwise and not in the interests of the two peoples at the current historical stage of development, both from the economic and the political point of view. The Ingush people once and for all made their historic choice, although that choice was made not at the most problem-free historical period in Russia’s development. In the referendum of November 1991, 97.5 percent of the voters-inhabitants of Ingushetia expressed their desire to be part of the Russian Federation … and this is a historical fait accompli that will not be overturned as long as the Russian Federation exists.” on October 13 quoted the speaker of Ingushetia’s parliament, Makhmud Sakalov, as saying the demonstration calling for the merger of Ingushetia and Chechnya that had reportedly taken place in the Chechen village of Sernovodsk the previous day was a hastily convened gathering of several dozen people who “regard themselves as mouthpieces of ‘the people’s will’ of both the Ingush and Chechen people.” He added: “We want to say right away that we together with the fraternal Chechen people already went through this, and the previous unification brought nothing good either to the Chechens or to us. Today both Ingushetia and Chechnya are developing rapidly; dwellings, objects of sotskultbyt [Soviet term referring, among other things, to schools and entertainment and cultural infrastructure-NCW] and enterprises are being built. There are neither territorial nor political nor economic quarrels among our peoples.”

For the first time in a long time, leaders of Ingushetia’s opposition were in agreement with the republic’s parliamentarians. “We fully understand who did this—on the orders of [Ingush President Murat] Zyazikov, all his comrades, both the government [ministers] and the chairman of the government,” opposition leader Magomed Khazbiev told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. “Of course, they might now be saying [that they didn’t]. But the authorities gathered up people, paid old people a thousand rubles a piece and sent busloads of them to the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia. Where did these people get their placards [with] slogans? All of this was prepared. Even back three or four years ago there was talk that Zyazikov wanted to tack Ingushetia onto Chechnya, that all of this was planned in the Kremlin, that they wanted to join the Ingush with the Chechens. Zyazikov at that time went on television and said that any such annexation was out of the question, that these were just rumors, but of course he will do anything that those on top tell him to do.”

Opposition lawyer Kaloi Akhilgov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the demonstrations were organized in order to gauge public opinion on the issue of merging the two republics. “We already went through a merger of Chechnya and Ingushetia and it brought nothing good—to the Ingush, at any rate,” Akhilgov told the newspaper. “If attempts at such an amalgamation are made, I think the ranks of the people who are in the woods [the rebels-NCW] will swell.” Akhilgov said that while reports about the demonstrations in favor of merging the two republics appeared on the opposition website, the opposition had nothing to do with the demonstrations. “I am sure all of this is coming from Moscow, because such an idea has been nurtured for a long time—since the time that the situation in Chechnya was more or less settled—but the last two to three years in Ingushetia have been stormy,” he said. “Moscow needs to have a quiet region in the form of a Checheno-Ingushetia headed by the strong leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Today, everyone is saying that Murat Zyazikov is not handling the situation.”

Nezavisimaya Gazeta quoted Zyazikov’s spokesman, Bers Yevloev, as saying about the possibility of a merger of Ingushetia and Chechnya: “Murat Magomedovich [Zyazikov] has repeatedly expressed his opinion on this issue and will not be commenting on it yet again, particularly now. His position is as follows: Checheno-Ingushetia is in the past and there will be no return to it.” Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that it asked former Ingush President Ruslan Aushev what he thought about the reported pro-unification demonstrations but that he refused to comment.

Aleksei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center told Nezavisimaya Gazeta: “The situation is completely incomprehensible. It does not look like the president of Chechnya initiated this process … What is going on is definitely harmful to Moscow. Such an idea, of course, is hovering around in certain circles—unifying Ingushetia and Chechnya and thereby getting rid of Murat Zyazikov. But the fact is that the Ingush themselves do not want this; they are afraid of being under Ramzan— knowing, let’s say, his methods of rule. On the other hand, Kadyrov, as is known, permits himself certain things at times, something on the lines of a little blackmail of the Kremlin for his own purposes.”