On February 15, the Russian State Duma rejected a draft law awkwardly titled “Concerning the Transfer of the Territories of Naursky, Kargalinsky and Shelkovsky Districts of the Chechen Republic to Administrative Subordination to Stavropol Krai of the Russian Federation.” A total of 226 votes were needed for the law to pass, but only sixteen deputies voted in favor, 128 voted against and one abstained (RIA Novosti, February 15). The draft law was sponsored by deputies Sergei Ivanchenko and Vadim Bulavin. In a break with regular procedure, the draft law was presented by former Duma deputy Sergei Baburin, who had first attempted to get a similar law passed in 1996 (Nezavismaya gazeta, February 16). In critical comments made concerning the draft law, Shamil Beno, the pro-Moscow plenipotentiary representative of Chechnya to the Kremlin, noted that the law had been written “in illiterate fashion.” There no longer exists, he pointed out, a Kargalinsky District; it was absorbed some time ago into Shelkovskii District (Russian agencies, February 15).
The intention behind the draft law was “temporarily” to join the two districts of Chechnya lying north of the Terek River to Stavropol Krai as a kind of “experiment.” The newspaper Izvestia reported on February 15 that “the initiative for introducing the temporary authority of Stavropol Krai over the plains districts of Chechnya comes from the president’s plenipotentiary representative in the Southern District, Viktor Kazantsev. Once the draft law had been crushingly rejected, Kazantsev swiftly backtracked. His press secretary, Anatoly Maksimchuk, “categorically repudiated” an assertion that Kazantsev had supported the draft law (Nezavisimaya Gazeta, February 16).
As the Russian press noted, support for the draft law was particularly strong among Cossacks living in southern Russia, a group which Kazantsev has been assiduously cultivating. A source in the entourage of the security council of Stavropol Krai confided to Izvestia that a council of Cossack atamans meeting in Mozdok, North Osetia had recently written a letter to President Putin “requesting the transfer of the two districts of Chechnya to Stavropol.”
The February 15 issue of Izvestia also reported that armed Cossack formations are already being introduced onto the territory of Shelkovsky and Naursky districts, where they are taking upon themselves the functions of the police and the military. In late January, a meeting of Tersky Cossack atamans requested that the Russian government “adopt a state program supporting the return of Cossacks to their homes in Chechnya” (Glasnost-Caucasus Daily News Service, January 31).
On February 13, the Russian presidential spokesman for issues relating to Chechnya, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, denied that special Cossack regiments were to be sent to Chechnya. The spokesman’s office pointed out that “in the 205th Infantry Division a special sub-unit has been formed in which Cossacks are serving on a contract basis.” However, “there have been and there is no authorized Cossack unit” serving in Chechnya (Glasnost-Caucasus Daily News Center, February 13).
Virtually all leading pro-Moscow Chechens argued strenuously against the proposed “temporary” partition of Chechnya. Akhmad Kadyrov, the republic’s chief of administration, for example, recently declared: “I am categorically against the introduction of Cossack units created along ethnic and religious lines. I have summoned and continue to summon all Russian-language dwellers to come back [to Chechnya] but not with guns in their hands” (Izvestia, February 15).
In comments made to the weekly Obshchaya Gazeta, the Duma deputy who represents Chechnya in the Russian parliament, Aslambek Aslakhanov, strongly opposed the proposed division of Chechnya and the joining of the plains part of the republic to Stavropol Krai. “Theoretically,” he sated, “one can divide any territory, but in practice it would be stupidity. A re-drawing of the borders will only inflame the situation in the North Caucasus, will provoke a new spiral of territorial claims, and will strengthen the moral claims of regional separatists” (Obshchaya Gazeta, February 14). Aslakhanov, incidentally, has advocated his own plan for redrawing borders: namely, to reestablish the former Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic, with President Ruslan Aushev of Ingushetia serving as its head (RTR, Vesti, February 16).
Ethnic Russians who serve as members of the pro-Moscow Chechen government have likewise come out forcefully against partition. The newly appointed prime minister of Chechnya, Stanislav Il’yasov, for example, commented: “Let them first sort themselves out in Stavropol Krai. I was the chairman of the government there–they have a great many problems. They have a subsidized budget there. Let them first extract the Stavropol budget from being subsidized and only then consider other problems” (Rosinformtsentr, February 15).
It was apparently the argument that a redrawing of the borders of Chechnya could serve to inflame the entire North Caucasus region which convinced many Duma deputies to vote against the proposed draft law. As journalist Vladimir Emel’yanenko observed on the pages of Izvestia: “If that step [that is, partition] is taken, then, at a minimum, a ‘constitutional’ explosion of the North Caucasus is guaranteed. The problem is that Shelkovskii and Naurskii districts (about half the territory of Chechnya) were before 1957 part of Stavropol Krai. They were ‘gifted’ to the republic as a non-verbalized act of repentance for the deportation of 1944. At the same time, Kizlyar was taken away from Stavropol Krai and given to Dagestan; Mozdok was gifted to North Osetiya; Sunzha went to Ingushetia, while Prokhladko went to Kabardino-Balkariya. Therefore even a ‘temporary’ return of lands to Stavropol Krai would be perceived by the North Caucasus republics-and not only by them-as an act exceeding all bounds. Hardly would the State Duma, which seeks to defend the unity of the country, want to create such a precedent” (Izvestia, February 15).
Despite the clear-cut rebuff administered by the State Duma to the idea of partition, one suspects that plans to divide the Chechen Republic will continue to surface during the coming months.