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Chechnya and Ingushetia trade borderlands, prompting protests from Ingush against the ‘surrender’ of historically contested territory

Meduza
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Ingushetia head Yunus-bek Yevkurov sign an agreement on securing the border between their regions in Magas, September 26, 2018
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Ingushetia head Yunus-bek Yevkurov sign an agreement on securing the border between their regions in Magas, September 26, 2018
Ingush Republic press service / TASS / Scanpix / LETA

Kadyrov and Yevkurov signed an agreement about the border, trading bits of territory

On September 26, the heads of Chechnya and Ingushetia signed an agreement securing the border between the two Russian republics. According to Yunus-bek Yevkurov, the deal strengthens a border that’s been in place “since Ingushetia’s independence” (in 1992), while making “a few small revisions at the bottom, in the plains,” and exchanging “inch for inch” uninhabited “croplands owned by state unitary enterprises.” An official statement on the Ingush government’s website says the border revisions “will only affect mountainous wooded areas.”

At the time of this writing, it’s still unclear what lands were actually traded, and news agencies have published contradictory information. Initial reports claimed that Ingushetia exchanged Malgobeksky District for Chechnya’s Nadterechny District, but it later turned out that Ingushetia has given part of Sunzhensky District to Chechnya, in return for part of Nadterechny District.

Both Kadyrov and Yevkurov say the “historic” agreement will smooth relations between their two peoples. On Telegram, Kadyrov wrote, “Until this moment, there has been no legally established border between these two subjects of the Russian Federation, giving enemies of the Nakh peoples grounds for various political provocations.” In a statement on the Ingush government’s website, Yevkurov called the agreement a “compromise,” noting that both sides managed to “avoid conflicts,” as well as “possible bloodshed and blood grudges.”

The day before the agreement was signed, protests broke out in Ingushetia, entry into the capital was blocked, and Internet access in major cities was disabled

In late August 2018, the social movement “Support Ingushetia” reported that construction equipment and armed security forces from Chechnya suddenly appeared at a forest not far from the village of Arshty (which has long been the subject of territorial disputes between Ingushetia and Chechnya). “They started cutting down valuable lumber, destroying the rich topsoil, and changing the natural landscape,” the news website Caucasian Knot reported. The director of a local conservation park later confirmed these claims.

At the time, Ingush Nationalities Policy Minister Muslim Yandiev said that the Chechen construction crew wanted to push the Ingush checkpoint a kilometer (0.62 miles) deeper into the republic. “We explained to them that the border passed through here. We showed them the map. I don’t know what they were after. The work has stopped now, and the checkpoints haven’t moved,” Yandiev said. According to Alvi Karimov, Ramzan Kadyrov’s spokesman, the construction crew was only repairing the roads in the area, “for residents of both Ingushetia and Chechnya.”

On September 5, Caucasian Knot reported that the Chechen work crew and team of security forces had not only continued their work, but they’d actually “advanced 15 kilometers [9.3 miles] deep into Ingushetia’s Sunzhensky District.” Neither Khalid Tankiev (Yevkurov’s press secretary) nor the local prosecutor’s office would comment on the situation.

On September 25, Sunzhensky District head Isa Khashagulgov announced his resignation on his Instagram channel. Timur Akiev, the head of the human rights group Memorial’s Ingush branch, told Meduza that locals started receiving instant messages that same day calling them to a demonstration outside the Sunzhensky District administrative building, claiming that Khashagulgov had resigned “in protest” against the decision to surrender parts of the district to Chechnya. (Khashagulgov denies these rumors, saying he stepped down voluntarily.)

According to Caucasian Knot, about 70 people attended the rally, which attracted a large police presence (leading to at least one arrest). The protesters called on the public to assemble for a march the next day against the looming territory swap.

On September 26, about 50 people joined an unplanned demonstration in Sunzha, and more than 100 protested in Magas, Ingushetia’s capital. According to the news outlet Kavkaz Realii, Magas Mayor Beslan Tsechoev addressed the demonstrators, trying to get them to disperse, before police officers accomplished with their clubs what the mayor’s words could not. Kavkaz Realii also reported (and Timur Akiev confirms) that security forces placed concrete blocks across roads leading into the city, closing it off. During these protests, Internet access suddenly started failing in Magas and Nazran, and service became spotty across the rest of the republic.

When the dust had settled, it turned out that protesters’ fears were justified, and Ingushetia had in fact relinquished parts of the Sunzhensky District to Chechnya.

Protesters in Magas, September 26, 2018
TUT CHECHNYA (Chechnya Here)

Chechnya and Ingushetia have been arguing over the Sunzhensky District for 25 years, and the feud has included armed clashes

After the breakup of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in 1992, with Chechnya’s eastern regions in open rebellion against Moscow, there was no officially established border between Chechnya and Ingushetia. In the 2000s and 2010, the territorial dispute between the two republics focused on areas of the Sunzhensky District and the urban district of Sunzha. In the 1930s, before the formation of the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, part of these lands belonged to the Chechen Autonomous Region, which acquired the area after the liquidation of the Sunzhensky Cossack District.

In 1993, Ingush President Ruslan Aushev and Chechen separatist leader Dzhokhar Dudayev signed an agreement that recognized nearly all of the Sunzhensky District (with the exceptions of the town of Sernovodsk and the village of Assinovskaya) as part of Ingushetia. Ten years later, Chechen President Akhmat Kadyrov (Ramzan’s father) and Ingush President Murat Zyazikov signed a protocol recommitting to these terms.

The territorial dispute reignited in 2005, when Ramzan Kadyrov (now the acting head of the Chechen government) said, “It’s well known in neighboring regions, like in Chechnya itself, where the border ran before the republics’ unification, and where it should go after the breakup.” Over the next several years, both republics set up demarcation commissions that worked on their own versions of the border agreement. A federal law passed in 2009 also required defined boundaries for municipal entities.

The conflict intensified between 2012 and 2013, when Kadyrov called it a “well-known fact” that the Sunzhensky District and “significant territories” of the Malgobeksky District “are part of Chechnya.” Kadyrov also accused the Ingush authorities of lobbying Moscow for additional land from neighboring Chechen districts.

In late 2012, the Chechen parliament adopted a law to develop Chechnya’s Sunzhensky District (which formally included just Sevnovodsk and Assinovskaya) by forming six new municipal settlements on land claimed by Ingushetia. “We have on hand the necessary legal paperwork and historical materials, which can’t be said about the Ingush side. As for the notorious agreement with Dudayev about transferring Chechen lands — he was not the legitimate president, and all his decisions and executive orders have been annulled,” Kadyrov said. In response, Ingushetia leader Yunus-bek Yevkurov said the Sunzhensky District represents an “integral part of Ingushetia.”

A few months later, Kadyrov proposed adding another village to the Chechen parliament’s new law on developing the Sunzhensky District, arguing that more than 1,500 Chechens lived in Arshty, vastly outnumbering the town’s 161 Ingush residents. In April, security troops from Chechnya and Ingushetia clashed in Arshty, where the Chechen authorities claimed to be carrying out a special operation to help capture rebel field commander Doky Umarov (who was killed a few months later). In Ingushetia, officials insisted that the Chechens wanted to stage a public demonstration in favor of reabsorbing the village. Afterwards, Ingush security forces installed checkpoints throughout Arshty, and Yevkurov ordered police not to admit Chechen law enforcement into the area without permission.

Story by Evgeny Berg and Viktor Davydov, translation by Kevin Rothrock