Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 76

Anna Politkovskaya, the Chechnya correspondent for the biweekly newspaper Novaya Gazeta, is claiming that the Russian authorities have a plan to resolve the Chechen conflict–or at least to get rid of the name “Chechnya”–by merging Chechnya with the neighboring republic of Ingushetia. In an article published today, Politkovskaya writes that the idea of merging the two republics–which during the Soviet period were in fact part of a single entity, the Chechno-Ingushetian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic–first arose more than two years ago, at the start of the current military campaign in Chechnya, when Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev was offered the top position in an amalgamated republic. Aushev, however, categorically refused.

According to Politkovskaya, the idea was brought up again at the end of last year by Viktor Kazantsev, President Vladimir Putin’s representative in the Southern federal district, who urged the president to sign off on a plan to merge Chechnya and Ingushetia into a “Vainakh Republic.” Vainakh is the name of the ethnolinguistic group to which both the Chechens and Ingushi belong. The Kremlin, however, “shelved” the idea, Politkovskaya reports, but it was again revived recently in connection with Ingushetia’s April 7 presidential election, in which Murat Zyazikov, the Kremlin’s choice to replace Aushev, who stepped down as Ingushetia’s president last December, came in a distant second behind Alikhan Amirkhanov, a long-time Aushev associate. A run-off election has been scheduled for April 28. Politkovskaya reports that it is likely Zyazikov, a Federal Security Service (FSB) general, has been tapped to head a Vainakh Republic, and thus that the merger of Chechnya and Ingushetia is again under active consideration.

Last week, a representative of the prosecutor’s office in the Ingushetian town of Malgobek said investigators had collected evidence that Amirkhanov’s campaign team had engaged in vote buying. Many observers believe the federal authorities are looking for a pretext to disqualify Amirkhanov from the runoff (Novaya Gazeta, April 18; Kommersant, April 11; see also the Monitor, April 9, 11).