Fresh from the victory of his loyalists in parliamentary elections, Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov set about “expanding his republic’s living space,” as Nezavisimaya gazeta put it on December 6. “The accomplishment of this task has dragged on for around 15 years,” he declared on December 5. “During that time anyone who wanted to has moved the boundary, and in those years Chechnya’s territory has shrunk significantly.” He added that it was time for Chechnya’s parliament to take up the issue. Kadyrov, who is currently serving as interim head of Chechnya’s cabinet of ministers, said that “both in neighboring regions and in Chechnya itself it is well known where the border ran prior to the unification of the [federation] subjects and where it should run after their separation.” According to Nezavisimaya gazeta, Kadyrov then added: “We don’t need a single square meter of anyone else’s territory, but we don’t have a single square meter of territory to spare. Naturally, we want to be masters of our own land.”
Asked by Nezavisimaya gazeta for a reaction to Kadyrov’s comments, Akhmar Zavgaev, who represents Chechnya in the State Duma, said: “In the Caucasus every square meter breathes malice. And territorial claims must be resolved very cautiously…This is not just a problem for Chechnya—one need only recall the still unresolved conflict between Ingushetia and North Ossetia over the Prigorodny district. Territorial claims exist. There are the Dagestani-Chechen and Chechen-Ingushetian problems, and it will take meticulous work to avoid giving ground to the extremists. I think these issues are being resolved at the level of the heads of the regions, and Southern [Federal District] presidential representative Dmitry Kozak is working on these issues as well.” The newspaper noted, however, that Kozak’s office categorically refused to comment on Kadyrov’s statement.
Kadyrov’s comments on the issue of Chechnya’s boundaries were a case of being “dizzy with success,” Aleksei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center told Nezavisimaya gazeta. “Of course, he is counting on increasing his popularity in Chechnya this way, but it’s a losing card. To put it bluntly, he is really setting himself up, because no one is going to change the border, even if Ramzan makes threats. But the most important thing, in my opinion, is that Kadyrov has set up President Putin, who is more than favorably disposed towards Ramzan. At the same time, I cannot rule out a purely speculative maneuver: [that] Kadyrov was set up to show the head of state that Ramzan is a dangerous person, that one needs to be more careful in dealing with him and that some sort of counterweight to him is needed.”
Valery Khomyakov, director of the Agency for Applied and Regional Policy, told Nezavisimaya gazeta that Kadyrov’s comments could lead to “serious conflicts” both with Ingushetia and “definitely” with Dagestan. “It is a highly debatable statement, especially from the standpoint of stability in the region, about which Kadyrov often talks, and it would appear that he views himself as virtually the main guarantor of that very stability. It seems that his head has been turned a bit by the rapt attention he is getting from the media and from the federal authorities. I hope that Ramzan will be set straight here, from Moscow, because in Chechnya there is no one to set him straight; he has already monopolized everything there.”
Anatoly Lesnykh, the head of Stavropol Governor Aleksandr Chernogorov’s press service, played down the possibility of a territorial dispute with Chechnya. “Yes, Chechnya has disputes with Ingushetia, but that is their problem,” he told Nezavisimaya gazeta. “As for us, in 1958 Checheno-Ingushetia ‘grew’ by two large districts from Stavropol Krai, Shelkovsky and Nadterechny. But we are not putting forward any claims on them!” Eduard Urazaev, press secretary to Dagestan State Council head Magomedali Magomedov, also said he saw no grounds for a dispute: “If our neighbors have ever advanced any territorial claims against us, then it was in the days of Ichkeria. I do not think that Ramzan Kadyrov is following in Dzhokhar Dudaev’s footsteps.” Umar Sapraliev, Ingushetia’s deputy representative to the president of the Russian Federation, said his office had not heard about Kadyrov’s statement. “But even if such a statement was made,” he added, “Chechnya cannot have any territorial claims on us, because all the disputes on this point were settled back in the time of Akhmad Kadyrov.”
The leader of the political opposition in Ingushetia, Musa Ozdoev, noted on December 6 that disputes over the Sunzhensky and Malgobeksky districts of Ingushetia had cropped up “at the level of rumors” during Dzhokhar Dudaev’s reign in Chechnya, but said it was an “alarming sign” that such comments were now being made in the form of official statements. “Clearly, this will lead to nothing good,” Ozdoev told the Regnum news agency. “There are many unresolved problems in the North Caucasus without such statements. One of the most acute is the issue of returning [Ingush] refugees from Prigorodny district. As for the revision of Ingushetia’s borders, the republic still does not have constitutional borders. They simply have not been established—not only with Chechnya, but also with North Ossetia.”
Nezavisimaya gazeta noted that Kadyrov’s comments concerning the territorial issue followed remarks he made on December 4 criticizing the performance of law enforcement agencies in neighboring republics in fighting “illegal armed formations.” “The guerrillas feel safe in Dagestan, Ingushetia and certain other republics,” Kadyrov said. “Specifically, the MVD [Ministry of Internal Affairs] of Dagestan, in my opinion, is working poorly against the guerrillas. The guerrillas rest there and are treated [there] after getting wounded, then slip across the border into Chechnya, carry out murders of government officials and police personnel, then leave again to hide until the next time.” According to Kadyrov, young people in Dagestan continue to be recruited into the rebels’ ranks.
At the same time, Kadyrov claimed that the rebel forces inside Chechnya have been virtually “crushed” and that those still fighting there are not Chechens. “The main backbone of the guerrillas that are still in the forests is comprised of individuals who are not natives or inhabitants of Chechnya,” he said. “I can state on good authority that a majority of the guerrillas are Dagestanis, Arabs, blacks, Turks and persons of Slavic nationalities.”
Kavkazcenter on December 6 quoted the rebel government’s first deputy information and press minister, Isa Dzhabrailov, concerning Kadyrov’s comments. According to the separatist website, Dzhabrailov said Kadyrov’s comments reflected the Kremlin’s panic over its inability to counteract “Muslim unity” in the Caucasus, which has emerged in the form of specific military and political structures. “Moscow needs an inter-ethnic conflict as counter-evidence to [fight] the Caucasus mujahideen front,” Kavkazcenter quoted Dzhabrailov as saying. “This is why Kadyrov has been ordered to ‘get them.’ But it is a lost cause. Because the Caucasus’ Muslim unit is being cemented by the Caucasus mujahideen. Putin and his henchman Kadyrov can carry out some provocations, even major ones, but they cannot change the firm Islamic axis of the Muslim union of the Caucasus.”
Meanwhile, newsru.com reported on December 7 that Ramzan Kadyrov had been elected head of the Chechen branch of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, which dominated the November 27 Chechen parliamentary contest. Itar-Tass reported on December 3 that United Russia received more than 60 percent of the vote, winning 33 of the 61 seats in Chechnya’s new parliament, the People’s Assembly—including 24 of the 40 seats in its lower chamber and nine of 21 seats in its upper chamber, the Republican Council.