Russia President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with the governors of two North Caucasian republics, Chechnya and Ingushetia, went almost unnoticed among North Caucasus analysts. Most experts reiterated the official explanation for the meeting given by the presidential press service. “The officials discussed various economic development projects in the North Caucasian region, including the programs that were considered at the recent meeting in the city of Magas, in which Vladimir Putin participated” (tass.ru, September 17).
The Russian president’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, rejected claims that the purpose of the meeting was to make peace between the governors of the two neighboring regions. The heads of Chechnya and Ingushetia have had numerous heated verbal exchanges, and the rivalry between them has dragged on for years (kavpolit.com, September 17).
Putin’s meetings with the other governors of the North Caucasian republics would not have been as interesting. The pair of Ramzan Kadyrov and Yunus-bek Yevkurov is a special case, since they are the only two Russian republic leaders who are not on speaking terms with each other. Chechnya and Ingushetia are neighbors and ethnic cousins who bear the common name of Vainakhs. Kadyrov and Yevkurov are also the only governors in Russia who revile each other in front of the TV cameras. The official comments about the meeting were not convincing. If it was about economic development projects in the North Caucasus, then why were other governors of the region not present? If the economies of Ingushetia and Chechnya are so similar, what sets them apart from the economies of Dagestan, North Ossetia or Kabardino-Balkaria? If Ingushetia’s economy is connected to the economy of Chechnya, why is it that Moscow has not mentioned it during the past two decades of Ingushetia’s existence? What explains the fact that President Putin met the governor of Ingushetia twice in three days? (kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 18). The number of meetings is especially puzzling, given the fact that some governors in the region are unable to secure meetings with the president of the country for extended periods of time.
Chechnya’s leader reacted coldly to the meeting with Putin and Yevkurov. Kadyrov did not even utter the name of his Ingush colleague, calling him simply the “head” of Ingushetia (instagram.com, September 17).
Observers in Ingushetia believe the meeting may have been the result of pressure on Yevkurov by the business elite of Ingush nationality working and living in Moscow, who want to remove Yevkurov and replace him with someone from its own ranks (onkavkaz.com, September 21).
Putin has indeed criticized Yevkurov’s social policies, which have been quite problematic for many years. However, few people in Ingushetia doubt that whatever happens to Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, a protracted conflict between Ingushetia and Ramzan Kadyrov is probably unavoidable. Even the slightest hint that Ingushetia may be merged with Chechnya, as it was from 1932 to 1991 is a sore point for Ingush society. The Ingush people are prepared to see Yevkurov replaced, but are adamantly opposed to the merger of Ingushetia and Chechnya.
According to Yevkurov, refugees from North Ossetia and Chechnya comprise nearly 10 percent of Ingushetia’s population, a fact that has a negative impact on the republican economy (kavkaz.versia.ru, September 5). Altercations with Kadyrov and tensions with North Ossetia contribute to a worsening political and economic situation in Ingushetia. Hence, Ingushetia’s leadership is likely to support any mediation efforts that Moscow can offer.
Putin’s meeting with Kadyrov and Yevkurov may also have been motivated by the potential threat to Russia’s security posed by the Chechen militants who are fighting in the Middle East under the banners of al-Qaida and Islamic State. Some of these militants could strike Russian interests both in Syria and in the North Caucasus: indeed, some have already returned from the Middle East to the North Caucasus to fight against the Russian state. Even though only a handful have returned to the North Caucasus so far, more may follow and join the North Caucasian insurgency that is now formally part of the Islamic State.
In a meeting with Kadyrov and Yevkurov, Putin signaled that the two governors must reconcile their differences. The Russian president must have urged the two governors to devise joint projects and find common solutions for the issues they face in their respective republics.