Staunton, September 26 – For at least three reasons, the territorial swap of land between Chechnya and Ingushetia is likely to be both widespread and destabilizing, despite the uniqueness of a border that arose when the Soviet-era Chechen-Ingush ASSR split apart at the end of Soviet times. (For a summary chronology, see lenta.ru/brief/2018/09/26/sunja/).
First of all, what is most striking is that this change in the administrative-territorial map happened at all. Vladimir Putin has opposed all such shifts except in the case of his on-again, off-again regional amalgamation effort. Indeed, unlike in Soviet times when administrative borders were changed many times, they have been quite stable since 2000.
That marks a major change. Under Soviet rule, union republic borders were changed more than 200 times and autonomous republic, oblast and kray borders were changed far more often than that (For a discussion of this Soviet practice, see this author’s “Can Republic Borders Be Changed?” RFE/RL Report on the USSR, September 28, 1990.)
Second, this change came from below rather than above, as the result of Ramzan Kadyrov’s actions and demands rather than as the result of a Kremlin decision (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2018/08/chechnya-building-road-into-disputed.html) and is opposed by many Ingush (mbk.sobchakprotivvseh.ru/region/peredel-checheno-ingushskoj-granicy-mneniya-storon/).
That too is something new: For at least some non-Russians, it marks a shift from their typical status of objects of Moscow policy to something like subjects who can make demands and protest the decisions their leaders may take and seek to impose. Those in power can respond with media blackouts and force as they have in Ingushetia, but they won’t change minds.
And third, this event, however much Moscow tries to minimize it as applying only to Chechnya and Ingushetia, sends a signal to others in the Russian Federation and perhaps more broadly to the entire former Soviet space that border changes, long viewed as impermissible and certain to be opposed by Moscow and others, may in fact happen.
Worse from the point of view of stability in the Russian Federation, it is likely to suggest to many across the North Caucasus, in the Middle Volga and elsewhere that they can now promote such ideas, however much of an anathema the Kremlin and its minions have pronounced against them in the past.
Such activists, including some in the hierarchies of the federal subjects, are certain to be thinking about ways they can follow Kadyrov’s lead – and others in neighboring areas are considering how they may be able to use popular demonstrations against any change whether initiated by these elites or by Moscow.
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