Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov has effectively called Moscow’s bluff by ignoring North Caucasus Federal District head Aleksandr Khloponin’s injunction in September to reach an agreement with Ingushetia on the disputed border between the two republics.
Instead, just a few weeks later, on October 18, the Chechen parliament adopted an amendment to the law defining the boundaries of Sunzha Raion, the greater part of which was previously regarded as Ingush territory. That amendment was made public only in late January.
Neither Republic of Ingushetia head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov nor any senior Moscow official has commented on Kadyrov’s demarche. Ekaterina Sokirianskaya of the International Crisis Group expressed concern at Moscow’s silence, which she fears may presage an attempt to combine the two republics into a single federation subject.
Sunzha Raion was split between Ingushetia and Chechnya when Ingushetia was designated a separate republic in 1992. According to an agreement signed in March 2003 between Kadyrov’s late father, Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov and Yevkurov’s predecessor Murat Zyazikov, only the municipalities of Assinovskaya and Sernovodsk were part of Chechnya; the rest of Sunzha was recognized as Ingushetian territory. But Kadyrov argues that Sunzha has always been historically part of Chechnya, and the amended version of the law on Sunzha Raion lists among the municipalities that belong to it not just Assinovskaya and Sernovodsk but Voznesenskoye, Karabulak, Nesterovskoye, Sleptsovskoye, Troitskoye, and Chemulga.
Kadyrov waited until November before signing the amendment into law, and then waited again, until late January, before publishing it. It acquired legal force only on February 9.
Meanwhile, Kadyrov and Chechen parliamentary speaker Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, who heads the committee that Kadyrov set up with the stated objective of negotiating a mutually acceptable compromise with the Ingush side, continued to keep up the pretence that Abdurakhmanov was still doing his best to reach such an agreement. On January 29 — the day before the amended law was published — the website Chechnya.gov.ru quoted Abdurakhmanov as telling Kadyrov that he had traveled three times to Ingushetia to meet with the Ingush government commission and has the impression that its members were deliberately blocking efforts to resolve the dispute. Abdurakhmanov said the Chechen parliament “is planning to send a letter saying the attitude of the Ingush side to the work of the commission is unacceptable.”
To date, only two Ingush officials have commented on the Chechen move. Zelimkhan Yevloyev, who heads the Ingushetian chapter of the ruling United Russia party, warned that the Ingush side could retaliate by demanding the return to Ingushetia’s jurisdiction of the neighboring Prigorodny Raion of North Ossetia, which was part of the then Checheno-Ingush ASSR prior to the 1944 deportation of the Chechens and Ingush to Central Asia.
Abdurakhmanov’s Ingush counterpart, Mukharbek Didigov, for his part described the adoption of the amendment without informing the Ingush as reflecting “an odd understanding of friendship, brotherhood and good neighborliness” and as having rendered “meaningless and futile” the efforts of the Ingush side to preserve that friendship. In a statement reposted on Khloponin’s website, Didigov said the Ingush now find themselves compelled to take unspecified countermeasures to protect their land and their sovereignty. Abdurakhmanov dismissed those complaints as wholly unjustified.
The Ingush opposition has construed the absence of any response from Moscow to the Chechen law as confirmation that, in Putin’s eyes, Kadyrov can do no wrong and therefore Putin will unquestioningly back Kadyrov. That assumption is questionable, however, in light of recent Kremlin statements in support of Yevkurov.
The first was in response to what appears to have been yet another move recently to undermine Yevkurov. On February 18, three weeks after former Nationalities Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov was named to replace Magomedsalam Magomedov as Republic of Daghestan president, several Russian media outlets quoted an unnamed Kremlin official as saying more North Caucasus leaders are likely to be replaced in a bid to stabilize the region in the run-up to the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi in February 2014. The only one mentioned by name in those reports was Yevkurov.
The imputed rationale for the Kremlin’s decision to dismiss Yevkurov was that the latter is too lenient toward the Islamic insurgency, which is one of Kadyrov’s perennial jibes at Yevkurov. Kadyrov, by contrast, was identified as the one North Caucasus republic head whom the Kremlin had no intention of replacing.
An unnamed presidential administration offficial responded the following day by denying any plans to fire Yevkurov, whom he described as a member of President Vladimir Putin’s team. At the same time, he left open the question whether Yevkurov will seek reelection in September for a second term.
Grigory Shvedov, who owns the website Caucasus Knot and who interviewed Yevkurov the day the rumor of his imminent dismissal surfaced, opined that it was circulated by Kadyrov.
The Russian leadership has signaled its backing for Yevkurov on two subsequent occasions. First, Putin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and Khloponin all sent personal congratulations to Yevkurov (who is a former military intelligence officer) on the occasion of Defenders of the Fatherland Day. None of them did so in 2012.
Then on February 25, the website kremlin.ru carried a verbatim transcript of a “working meeting” between Putin and Yevkurov in which the latter cited statistics showing 39 percent GDP growth between 2009 and 2011 and more modest increases in investment and the construction of schools and medical facilities.
It is of course conceivable that those gestures of support for Yevkurov were the payoff for his agreement not to challenge publicly Chechnya’s unilateral redrawing of the map. Kadyrov, however, is more likely to construe silence as an admission of impotence and step up his efforts to discredit and undermine Yevkurov.