Staunton, June 22 – Since the current drive for demarcating republic borders in the North Caucasus began at the end of last year, both Chechen and Daghestani officials have suggested that any disputes can be solved by exchanging territories so that neither republic will gain size at the expense of the other.
But close observers of the situation say that in fact any territorial swaps will in fact make things worse, not only by exacerbating tensions between the two republics with each viewing the claims of the other as an attack on itself and within Daghestan where people near the border will view any changes as yet another reason for hostility to the republic government.
Given that the population of Daghestan along the border with Chechnya is even more multi-ethnic than the residents of the republic as a whole, such hostility will tend to mobilize people along ethnic grounds and thus make management or even control of that republic more difficult if not impossible.
The Kavkaz-Uzel news agency interviewed four local experts who were unanimous that the assumption by many that territorial swaps are the best way to avoid having border demarcation become the occasion for larger ethnic and political struggles in the region (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/336956/).
Daghestani journalist Magomed Magomedov says that land swaps have been discussed in principle since the start of border demarcation talks but there have been problems. However, in his view, Grozny’s sharp reaction to the Kizlyar border post fiasco had more to do with a show of force by the Chechens than anger about the pace of territorial exchanges.
Albert Esedov, head of the Daghestani branch of the Yabloko party, says that when talks about the borders restart next year, he is certain that the situation will quickly deteriorate. In his view, the only way forward is for borders to be set locally and not by the heads of the republics. Otherwise, the former will become increasingly alienated from the latter.
Gadzhimurad Sagitov, editor of Makhachkala’s Novoye delo, says that what happened at Kizlyar reflects the Daghestani side’s failure to come up with proposed candidates for territorial swaps and an effort by the Chechens to force them to by creating a crisis over the removal of border signs. That will be repeated if Daghestan doesn’t do more.
But he warned that no territorial swaps can occur without new conflicts: “the republic authorities can’t offer” anything to those they’d be taking land away from and so the local people won’t agree but will protest. Makhachkala doesn’t have enough influence or credit to get its way on this issue for long.
And Shamil Khadulayev, the head of Daghestan’s Coordination Council for NGOs, said that what makes the situation all the more dangerous is that the republic leaderships aren’t communicating with local people. After Kizlyar, it turned out that residents there didn’t know about any land swap.
In any future deals, he continues, “it won’t be easy to find territory for exchange by the Daghestani side.” Those who will be told they must sacrifice one thing will not in any case be those who will gain, and consequently, the former will be angry not only at the Chechens but at Makhachkala and the beneficiaries of such swaps.