Sunday, February 17, 2019

If Border Demarcation Process in North Caucasus isn't Open, There Will Be Trouble, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 16 – Russian officials who try to carry out the demarcation of borders among the republics without the participation of the population will cause problems as happened when the leaders of Ingushetia and Chechnya did so in September 2018 and as is taking place now in talks between Daghestan and Chechnya, two close observers of the situation say.

            Anton Chablin, a frequent commentator on the North Caucasus, says that by trying to resolve border issues behind closed doors, the officials themselves are creating problems, sparking dissent and even promoting what he calls a new form of “separatism” in the region (

            That is because some in border regions conclude that the leaders of their own republics are selling them out by failing to listen to them and defend their interests. That makes them more suspicious of what the powers that be are doing in other areas and contributes to dissent, radicalization and worse.

            In support of that conclusion, Chablin cites the words of Denga Khalidov, the vice president of the Russian Congress of Peoples of the Caucasus.  Khalidov says that all discussions that occur behind closed doors spark “rumors” and these rumors in turn are used by “provocateurs” who do not wish for stability.

            “There are no problems when society is included in such work,” he continues. “But the powers that be sometimes do not feel this societal demand.”  They believe they can solve problems without reference to the people, clearly forgetting the precedents where this has proved not to be the case.

            Chablin says that it is “difficult not to agree” with that argument.  And he adds: given that Moscow has directed that 25 borders among the subjects of the North Caucasus be demarcated, “how many more scandals will there be” if officials think they can resolve everything in private.

            What neither Chabin nor Khalidov address, however, is the reality that if the opinions of those involved on the ground by border changes are considered, the process will be far more difficult and potentially just as explosive as when their opinions are simply ignored.  Indeed, such involvement almost certainly would make any resolution impossible.

            That is certainly the calculus of officials in the region; but having been ordered by Moscow to take action, they have apparently decided on a strategy that seems to them the only one that will make it possible for the North Caucasus republics to obey what the center currently requires. 

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