Thursday, January 31, 2019

Moscow Plan to Avoid Border Clashes among Republics Seen Provoking More of Them

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 30 – In the wake of the conflicts in Ingushetia that its leader’s border accord with Chechnya provoked, Moscow’s State Registry Service has called for precise borders to be established by 2021 in 25 other cases, most if not all in the North Caucasus and many of which are likely to lead to more conflicts, according to Russian experts.

            According to Akhmet Yarlykapov, an MGIMO specialist on the North Caucasus, says the State Registry appears to have taken this step because its officials hope thereby to “prevent possible conflicts over the border.” But that is unlikely especially as most of the borders that must be demarcated and registered are in the North Caucasus (

            That is especially so because this call to demarcate borders “contradicts the long-noted tendency in Russia of ‘a drift to unitarism,’” because “for a unitary state, internal administrative borders are not so important as they are for a state of full-blown federalism.”  That will not be missed by those involved int his process.

            Moscow hopes that regional and local officials will solve these problems by focusing on detailed description of existing borders and thus reduce or eliminate any need for the center to intervene, Yarlykapov says.  But that hope, almost certainly, is misplaced given that local officials have sharply contrasting ideas on where the borders should be. 

            A key example of this, the Moscow scholar says, is the issue of the Prigorodny district, “which is included within North Ossetia but which the constitution of Ingushetia declares the territory of this republic.”

            “Territorial disputes lead to an intensification of national movements as was the case with the Ingush protest against the establishment of a border with Chechnya.” Similar issues affect Daghestan as well. Thus, this effort to minimize conflicts is likely to have exactly the opposite effect and lead to more and more serious ones.

            Aleksey Gun of the Moscow Institute of Geography says that Moscow’s action is “the first stage of work for defining the borders of the regions of the North Caucasus” and creating a map that will be more peaceful. If borders are established by mutual consent, that may be true; but if they have to be imposed or are unbalanced, the reverse will be true.

            A third expert, Nikolay Petrov of the Higher School of Economics, says that existing borders in many cases reflect the actions of one side rather than the other and have long been an irritant in relations between the republics and have helped power national movements in many of them.

            Some borders can be dealt with easily, but some in the North Caucasus, including the borders of Chechnya and Ingushetia, Daghestan and Chechnya and Ingushetia, are going to require “a political decision,” Petrov says; and Moscow almost certainly will be dragged into that process either to draw the line or confirm a line that local leaders have agreed to.

            Finally, Natalya Zubarevich,  a specialist on regions at Moscow State University, says that at some point these borders are going to have to be defined but that the process will inevitably be politicized and exacerbate ethnic feelings and tensions on one or both sides of the old borders and the new.

            Forcing the regions to come up with borders makes good “bureaucratic and rational logic,” Zubarevich says. “But political consequences depend on the size of the disputes and how sharp they are viewed by people.” Moscow is acting now in its own interests, but things may develop in such a way that many will decide it would have been better not to touch the borders.

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