Wednesday, October 24, 2018

‘Dozens’ of Territorial Disputes in the North Caucasus Now at Risk of Exploding, Chablin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 23 – Chechnya’s territorial claims on Ingushetia and Daghestan have sparked disputes that have eclipsed the dozens of other claims and counter-claims among the various republics and krays of the North Caucasus, Anton Chablin says, any one of which could under the right circumstances have explosive consequences.

            That is why in recent decades Moscow has been reluctant to change any of them lest it lead to demands for change in many more, but now the center’s man in the region, Ramzan Kadyrov of Chechnya, has opened this “Pandora’s box” in which perhaps not even hope remains (

            These disputes have their roots in Soviet or even tsarist times, the rulers of both frequently changed the borders but not managed to change the memories and beliefs of residents as to where the borders should be, the specialist on the North Caucasus says. People in each of the units can remember when their borders were different and “better” than now.

            Chablin gives several examples. Between 1926 and 1937, there was the North Caucasus kray “which extended from the Black to the Caspian seas. It was then subdivided, and out of it was taken Kabardino-Balkaria, Checheno-Ingushetia, and others; and then as a result of the deportations, the area of Checheno-Ingushetia was shared out among neighboring republics.

            When the peoples of the North Caucasus were allowed to return home in the mid-1950s, their previous territories were restored but in no case completely. And that too has put in the place the delayed action mines that contemporary Russian writers love to refer to but blame on the original Soviet plans.
            This set of problems is compounded by three others: the continuing existence of two bi-national republics – Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachayevo-Cherkessia – “irredenta” of ethnic groups tied to neighboring republics, and the aspirations for historical justice of the much-subdivided Circassians and some other groups.

            According to Chablin, there are real questions of justice; but there are also political figures who make use of these tensions from other and more immediate political goals without reflecting on the ways a demand of this kind can trigger other, more far-reaching demands by others as well.

            The danger of that is now on view with Russian and Cossack demands that part of Chechnya be “returned” to Stavropol Kray and Chechen desires to absorb into their republic Chechen districts now within Daghestan, two moves that may be justified on ethnic grounds but not on economic or political ones (

                In almost all cases, political analyst Ruslan Martynov says, the competing sides will only move toward a change if Moscow signals that it is prepared to support it. If the center agrees, then it will put pressure for change; if it doesn’t, then no change is likely – even though the aspirations and anger will continue. 

                Because of the domino effect of any decision to change borders, Moscow in recent years has generally been opposed to shifts. But now that it is deferring to Ramzan Kadyrov of Chechnya, he and it have opened “a Pandora’s box” out of which are likely to come conflicts many had thought settled or had never imagined existed at all.   

            And that will be true not only in the North Caucasus but across the Russian Federation – and not just among non-Russians but among Russians as well.

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