NAZRAN/MOSCOW, April 22 (RIA Novoti) – Tension mounted on Monday between the Russian republics of Ingushetia and Chechnya, as the Ingush Republic’s leader ordered security to be beefed up at border checkpoints following a recent skirmish between the restive regions’ police forces.
Last week, armed Chechen forces led by the republic’s police chief and a lawmaker headed to the Ingushetian village of Arshty, a settlement close to the Ingush-Chechen border, which is claimed by Chechnya as its territory.
The 300-strong group included State Duma deputy for the Chechen republic Adam Delimkhanov, a member of ruling United Russia party, the Ingush authorities said. Their arrival led to a skirmish with the local Ingush police forces resulting in at least two people being hospitalized and several more suffering minor injuries.
Chechen officials said their policemen were carrying out a search operation for local militant leader Doku Umarov.
But Ingushetia’s security council dismissed this as excuse, and said no such operation had been approved by the Ingush authorities. The Ingush claimed the Chechens were trying to “put psychological pressure on the local residents” to secede from Ingushetia and join Chechnya.
Ingushetia’s leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov held an emergency security meeting over the incident, stating no Chechen law enforcement officials should be allowed on Ingush territory.
“Anyone who frightens my people is a criminal, and tough measures will be taken against him, with firearms if needed,” Yevkurov told his subordinates. The Ingush authorities said on Monday Yevkurov had ordered reinforcement of the checkpoints bordering Chechnya.
A quarrel between the predominately Islamic republics of Ingushetia and Chechnya flared last summer, when Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said Chechnya could claim wide swathes of Ingush territory. Yevkurov dismissed the claim.
Kadyrov’s claim to parts of eastern Ingushetia originate from the early 1990’s, when the former Chechen-Ingush Republic split into two after the collapse of the Soviet Union, after Chechnya’s self-styled President Jokhar Dudayev unilaterally declared independence. Ingushetia elected to remain a constituent region of the Russian Federation.
While the Chechens and Ingush are distinct nationalities, they share languages with common origins, religion and culture, and both often refer to themselves by the vernacular term Vainakh, according to historians.
Chechnya was subsequently ravaged by two wars between separatists and federal forces, ending with the reinstatement of a Kremlin-loyal government.
The two republics are part of the North Caucasus federal district, which is the scene of an on-going Islamist militant insurgency.