The heads of the two commissions tasked with delimiting the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia, Chechen parliament speaker Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov and Republic of Ingushetia Prime Minister Musa Chiliyev met in Magas last week for preliminary talks on how to set about doing so.
Both men expressed confidence that it will prove possible to reach a mutually acceptable agreement in bilateral talks without mediation by a third party.
Such statements seem optimistic, even unrealistic, however, in light of the two sides’ conflicting claims and approaches.
Republic of Ingushetia President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov says the border has already been defined by the legislation on municipalities passed by both republics, and all that remains to be done is to demarcate it.
Yevkurov’s Chechen counterpart Ramzan Kadyrov for his part has accused Ingushetia of encroaching on Chechen territory.
He wants the border redrawn in such a way as to drastically reduce the size of Ingushetia, already the smallest of Russia’s 83 federation subjects, leaving two small areas separated by Chechen territory.
Just one of numerous grievances the Chechens harbor against their ethnic cousins, the border dispute centers on the Sunzha and Malgobek districts that are currently part of the Republic of Ingushetia.
Chechen Republic head Kadyrov insists those districts are historically part of Chechnya, as does Abdurakhmanov.
Kadyrov argues that the administrative border between the two republics should be moved to where it was prior to the merger in 1934 of the Chechen Autonomous Oblast with the Ingush Autonomous Oblast to form the Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Oblast (which was upgraded two years later to the status of an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic or ASSR).
Ingush historian Mussa Zurabov claims to be in possession of an archival document and a map dating from the early 1920s which do not show Sunzha and Malgobek as belonging to the Chechen Autonomous Oblast.
That claim is misleading, however, for two reasons.
First, the edict he cites is on the establishment of the Grozny guberniya, not the Chechen Autonomous Oblast. And second, the constituent parts of the Mountain Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, including the Chechen Autonomous Oblast, were not administratively subdivided into raions.
In the early 1920s, most of what are today the Malgobek and Sunzha raions were part of the Sunzha Cossack Okrug that together with the city of Grozny was subsumed into the Chechen Autonomous Oblast in February 1929.
The Checheno-Ingush ASSR was abolished after Josef Stalin ordered the 1944 deportation of the entire Chechen and Ingush nations to Central Asia, and the allocation of its southwestern Prigorodny district to the neighboring North Ossetian ASSR.
In 1956, then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev exonerated the Chechens and Ingush of collaboration with Nazi Germany, which Stalin had given as the reason for the deportation, and they began to return from exile.
The Chechen-Ingush ASSR was reconstituted, but within slightly different borders: North Ossetia retained the Prigorodny district, while Daghestan kept the Aukhovsky raion in the east of the republic.
In September 1991, the Chechen parliament declared Chechnya’s independence from the disintegrating USSR.
Ingushetia formally separated from Chechnya in June 1992. Talks between the two republics’ leaders, Djokhar Dudayev and Ruslan Aushev, on formalizing the border were disrupted by the 1994-1996 war.
In 2004, Aushev’s successor Murat Zyazikov and Kadyrov’s father Akhmed-hadji, then Chechen president, signed a formal statement stipulating that the article of the Chechen constitution designating Sunzha Raion part of the Chechen Republic refers only to the settlements of Sernovodskoye and Assinovskaya, both in the extreme east of Ingushetia. It says the Chechen Republic constitution does not extend to the rest of the territory of Sunzha Raion.
An Ingush journalist who was present at the signing of that agreement said last month that the two men viewed it as final, definitive, and not subject to revision. Chechen officials, however, say it is not legally binding.
Kadyrov raised the question of formalizing the border between the two republics in early August during a public altercation with Yevkurov over a counterterror operation on Ingushetian territory in which Chechen fighters were killed.
When, after several weeks, no senior Russian official had commented on the acrimonious exchange, Kadyrov then positioned himself as the leader and protector of the Vainakh people, meaning both the Chechens and Ingush.
The Vainakh People
That affirmation was one of the clearest indications yet that Kadyrov aspires to extend his formal influence beyond Chechnya’s borders, starting with Ingushetia.
Abdurakhmanov subsequently discussed the concept of Vainakh identity at length in an hour-long interview with Kadyrov’s press spokesman, Alvi Karimov, aired on Chechen television on September 6.
Abdurakhmanov insisted that the Chechens and Ingush constitute a single Vainakh people, and that the differentiation between Chechens and Ingush was deliberately promoted first by the Tsarist and then by the Soviet authorities to undermine that unity.
He also spoke of the rapturous reception Kadyrov received from the Ingush population when he attended the celebrations in June to mark the 20th anniversary of Ingushetia’s separation from Chechnya.
Abdurakhmanov contrasted the respect for Kadyrov shown by the Ingush people on that occasion with the disdainful behavior of the Ingush leadership.
Abdurakhmanov also enumerated several other grievances harbored by the Chechen leadership against the Ingush in general, and Yevkurov in particular.
The examples he cited show the Ingush as parochial, inefficient, dishonest, and unappreciative of the opportunities for personal and professional advancement they enjoyed in the late Soviet period as residents of the then Chechen-Ingush ASSR.
He recalled that, from 1957 to 1990, the (largely ceremonial) position of chairman of the Checheno-Ingush Oblast Soviet was occupied by an Ingush, and that numerous prominent Ingush politicians, including Aushev and Zyazikov, grew up in Grozny.
Abdurakhmanov did not hide his contempt for Yevkurov, whom he excoriated for claiming in an interview with “Rossiiskaya gazeta” that the Chechens who fled to Ingushetia during the 1994-1996 and 1999-2000 wars were a source of prostitution and drug addiction.
Abdurakhmanov suggested Ingush officials simply exacted sexual favors from Chechen women left without male family members to protect them. Abdurakhmanov did not, however, mention a fatal traffic accident in Grozny several years ago caused by Yevkurov’s brother.
Abdurakhmanov further enumerated, and proceeded to refute on legal grounds, virtually every statement Yevkurov has made regarding the border dispute.
Specifically, Abdurakhmanov pointed out that the concept of “accepted borders” (sostyoyavshiyesya granitsy), which Yevkurov has repeatedly invoked has no basis in law. He also insisted that the Chechens have proposed on numerous occasions delimiting the border, but the Ingush have always sought to postpone doing so. Yevkurov has argued the opposite.
In mid-September, Russia’s presidential envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District Aleksandr Khloponin finally ordered Kadyrov and Yevkurov to refrain from further public verbal attacks on each other.
The two men have complied with that warning, although Ingushetia’s Interior Minister Aleksandr Trofimov has since publicly rejected the Chechen account of another counterterror operation, this time in Sunzha district, in which Chechen fighters were killed.
Delegations from the two republics met last week in Pyatigorsk with federal land registry officials and reached consensus on the ownership of some 15,000 hectares of land.
Ten thousand hectares in the extreme north-west of Chechnya in the vicinity of Goragorsk , which the Ingush were using for agricultural purposes, were formally designated part of the Chechen Republic, as were a further 5,000 hectares in Ingushetia’s Sunzha district.
Whether that ruling was intended to induce Kadyrov to scale down his demands is not clear. Yevkurov’s term as republic head expires in 13 months. If Moscow continues to view him as a necessary counterweight to Kadyrov, it cannot afford to weaken him by rendering Ingushetia untenable.