Monday, April 22, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Ethnically-Based Force Structures Make Clashes between Republics More Likely

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 22 – The clash between Chechnya and Ingushetia over the border between the two became possible and is more serious because the authorities in each, with Moscow’s approval, have formed units in their force structures that consist largely or entirely of people from the titular nationality.

            And because that policy, designed to help republics integrate young people and to combat terrorism, has spread to other republics in the North Caucasus, there is a danger that what has been happening between Chechnya and Ingushetia could be a harbinger of a dangerous trend across that region.

            In today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” journalist Vladimir Mukhin points out that last Thursday, “the territorial disputes between Ingushetia and Chechnya broke out with new force” when 300 Chechen policemen entered the Ingush settlement of Arshty where they encountered and fought with their Ingush counterparts (

            According to Ingush officials, six Ingush policemen were wounded with two of them requiring hospitalization.  One official said that he was sure that the Chechen incursion was just “the latest provocation” by Chechnya. But Chechen officials insisted that their police were simply chasing down an illegal armed formation possibly linked to Doku Umarov.

            “Who is right and who is guilty is something that no one knows,” the Moscow journalist observes.  And that includes Moscow whose officials on the scene said that they were investigating the incident and that the entire situation was fully under control. Only if something new happened would they have to “take measures.”

            Three aspects of this situation, however, deserve closer attention, Mukhin continues. First of all, while Moscow has the constitutional right to determine republic borders, it has not done so in this case but rather turned the job of delimiting and demarcating the ones between Chechnya and Ingushetia to the republic governments.

            But the latter have not been able to agree on where the border should be between the two republics that until 1992 were a single federal subject.  Various deadlines have been set and missed, and anger on both sides has grown, with the leaders of the two republics regularly talking about the inviolability of the borders they believe should be in place.

            Second, the conflict between these two republics has been intensified by the Russian structures “which have given the local police the opportunity to act under the direction” of the officials in the republics.  And the republic leaders have used this, especially with regard to “the so-called police guard which has been formed on an ethnic basis” in both places.
            Moscow’s decision to allow the formation of police units in the North Caucasus republics consisting of men from the titular nationalities is “understandable,” Mukhin says, given “the continuing struggle with illegal armed formations.”  But “unfortunately,” there have not been many “significant successes” on that front.

            Instead, this arrangement has given new force to “social, inter-regional and other contradictions” and give rise to “concerns that the struggle with the militants may grow over into an inter-ethnic struggle of the very republic-level force structures which are informally subordinate to the republic leaders.

            And third, Mukhin says, “what is most interesting” and what should be most disturbing about this situation is that no one in the Moscow media is asking the most obvious question: Why are Chechen and Ingush people talking about what happened “and not the leaders of the MVD” who should be explaining the causes of this conflict between two forces under its control.

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