Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Kremlin’s Failure to Anticipate Where Chechen-Ingush Land Swap Would Lead Highlights a Larger Problem, Preobrazhensky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 8 – The Russian Presidential Administration failed to anticipate the negative reaction in Ingushetia to the land swap between that republic and Chechnya because Moscow did not understand that in the Caucasus, “no issue is more sensitive than that of borders,” Ivan Preobrazhensky says.

            And that failure, the Russian commentator continues, reflects a larger and more dangerous one: Those at the center simply are incapable of understanding that “the people can revolt.” Not understanding that, of course, played a bad joke on the rulers of the Soviet Union in 1991 (dw.com/ru/комментарий-кремль-готовит-распад-страны/a-45814302).

            Unless this situation changes and the Kremlin recognizes and takes into account the danger of ignoring the probable response of the population -- especially in places like the North Caucasus -- it almost certainly will see more of the inter-ethnic conflicts which as it should know was “one of the catalysts of the disintegration of the USSR.”

            Ingushetia has a history which should have alerted the center to the dangers of backing Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov’s drive to extend the borders of his republic at Ingushetia’s expense.  The violent Ossetian-Ingush conflict in 1992 still echoes there, and the ceasefire line has become a full-fledged state border.

            And the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia, never before now fully demarcated after the Soviet-era Chechen-Ingush ASSR split apart in 1991, has also been the seen of violent clashes and a sense of injustice on both sides.  According to Preobrazhensky, “the real border frequently did not correspond to the formal one, and there were block posts and a border regime.”

                Suddenly and unexpectedly, the leaders of the two republics, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov and Kadyrov agreed to the border, with the former clearly recognizing in advance that his own population would never approve it and the latter not caring whether that was the case because he had Moscow behind him. 

            According to Preobrazhensky, Yevkurov found himself between “three fires: his own patriots, the Kremlin patriots, and the Kadyrov patriots. [He] calculated that the Ingush were for him the most secure, but judging by the protest reaction, he was wrong.”  But so too was Moscow for supporting Kadyrov and allowing things to come to such a pass.

            “The dividing line between Chechnya and Ingushetia” is not just an administrative line but “a border between two legal worlds.” In Chechnya, the authorities attack human rights workers with impunity and people often disappear.  In Ingushetia, while “hardly a paradise from the point of view of Western standards of democracy, has a completely different legal situation.”

On the Ingush side of the line, lawyers and courts actually function, the local militia does not consist of former militants who fought the Russian state, and women, while separated as one might expect in a Muslim region, are not violently attacked for their “’inappropriate’” dress, the Russian commentator says.

“It is possible that no one says this in public, but certainly,” Preobrazhensky says, “the Ingush intuitively understand that when they took part in a meeting against Yevkurov, they were at the same time acting as opponents of Kadyrov’s Chechnya.” Again Moscow should have known that would have been the case but didn’t.

“Judging from news reports,” he continues, Moscow considered these distinctions and the history of Ingushetia’s borders to be second-order issues.”  But they aren’t in this case, and they won’t be if Moscow allows other border changes to occur or sponsors border changes in the name of regional amalgamation.

If the Kremlin doesn’t recognize this and the importance borders have for many people in the Russian Federation, it may see some new borders emerge that it doesn’t want just as Moscow did when the USSR came apart. 

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