On February 27, the speaker of Ingushetia’s parliament, Mukharbek Didigov, stated that the moves by the Chechen authorities to take control over a disputed border area will force Ingushetia’s government to adopt “response measures to defend their land and their sovereignty.” On February 9, a new law came into effect in Chechnya that envisions the establishment of Chechen control over several towns currently under control of Ingush authorities. Border issues between Ingushetia and Chechnya emerged in August 2012 and caused several heated exchanges between Yunus-Bek Yevkurov and Ramzan Kadyrov. “Today, the Chechen authorities and all those who connived with them against the citizens and the leadership of the Republic of Ingushetia rendered the efforts of the Ingush side to retain brotherly connections between our peoples meaningless and in vain,” Didigov’s statement read. “I assess these moves as a well-planned and prepared action of the authorities and ‘political elites’ of Chechnya to exert full-scale political and psychological pressure on the Ingush side” (https://www.regnum.ru/news/kavkaz/1630896.html#ixzz2MKuUXvsC).
For a complacent and politically insignificant structure such as Ingushetia’s parliament, its speaker made a surprisingly bold statement. It essentially follows from the statement that Ingushetia and Chechnya are two sovereign states that have no right to interfere in each other’s internal affairs if they want to avoid conflict. Despite what many observers regard as Moscow’s complete control over the Chechen and Ingush leaderships, the federal center appears to be powerless to stop the North Caucasus from sliding into a process of Balkanization. There are many disputed territories in the North Caucasus between and within republics, but it is surprising that this latest controversy emerged between two republics that are ethnically closest to each other. Ethnic Chechens and Ingush are often categorized as being part of the “Vainakh” ethno-linguistic group since their languages are mutually intelligible and the two republics existed within the same administrative entity—Checheno-Ingushetia—before 1990. Because of their ethnic and territorial proximity, the border areas between the two republics are quite complex from the historical and ethnic perspectives, which make them hard to delineate reliably.
Some experts, including Yekaterina Sokiryanskaya of the International Crisis Group, believe Moscow is pushing Chechnya and Ingushetia toward amalgamation. “I hope this will not happen, because unification attempts are likely to result in a serious destabilization of the situation, first of all in Ingushetia, as such ideas are very unpopular there,” she said (https://www.regnum.ru/news/polit/1631487.html#ixzz2ML1wyOg5). Sokiryanskaya expressed concern over the lack of a reaction from Moscow that would stop this dangerous maneuvering by the local rulers. It is unlikely that Moscow has much influence over the rift between Ingushetia and Chechnya. Even though various amalgamation projects are certainly being discussed in the Kremlin, the timing for any serious moves in this direction is inappropriate given that the Olympics in Sochi are fast approaching.
So the ongoing squabble between the Chechen and Ingush governments is likely to be an internal development best characterized by the term Balkanization. As Moscow has reestablished an overregulated, undemocratic and rigid political system in the Russian Federation—especially in the North Caucasus—even relatively little shocks quickly become dangerous for the whole system, while conflict mitigation mechanisms are essentially broken.
Ironically, members of the United Russia ruling party in both Chechnya and Ingushetia are now fighting each other like bitter enemies. This brings up the memories of the old Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), whose members quickly became antagonists not along moribund ideological cleavages but along ethnic lines. As often happens in the Caucasus, every conflict immediately has ripple effects. Thus, the secretary of United Russia party in Ingushetia, Zelimkhan Yevloev, addressed his party’s boss in Moscow, Sergei Neverov, saying that if Chechnya starts redrawing its border with Ingushetia, the latter “reserves the right to demand the territories of Prigorodny district and the right river bank of the city of Vladikavkaz, which were torn away (annexed) and handed over to the North Ossetian Autonomous Oblast in 1944 [the year of the Ingush deportation]” (https://vaynah.su/news/pri_opredelenii_granicy_mezhdu_ingushetiej_i_chechnej_pridetsja_menjat_granicu_i_s_severnoj_osetiej/2013-02-27-1439).
The clash between Ingushetia and North Ossetia over the Prigorodny district in 1992 resulted in hundreds of deaths and thousands of refugees. Moscow has only recently been able to declare that the conflict between North Ossetia and Ingushetia has been resolved, even though relations between the two republics remain tense. Ingushetia’s opposition movement made an even more heated statement in response to Chechnya’s proposed takeover of what they believe is Ingush land. In an open letter to Moscow’s representative in the North Caucasus, Alexander Khloponin, the activists said the Ingush people would not allow anyone to tear away Ingush land. “We will also not allow the Ingush Republic to be abolished under any pretext,” the open letter stated. “Chechnya and Ossetia want […] an impoverished Ingushetia. We will not allow this dream of our neighbors to happen. There will be no second Anschluss. This is the will of the Ingush people” (https://ingushetiyaru.org/news/36114/).
While it is unlikely that a serious conflict will erupt between Chechnya and Ingushetia, the potential for territorial wars is certainly there. If relations between two close ethnic cousins like the Chechens and Ingush can so easily become tense, it is easy to imagine how bad things might become when entirely unrelated ethnic groups are involved. If tensions erupt despite Vladimir Putin’s tight grip on the situation in the North Caucasus, the rifts are bound to intensify when Russia’s strongman is gone.