Monday, January 27, 2020

Territorial Swap Between Two Russian Oblasts Could Become Model for Redrawing Borders Elsewhere, Geographer Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 22 – Plans nearing completion for Kaluga Oblast to give land around the village of Zheltyanka to Bryansk Oblast in exchange for Bryansk giving Kaluga a major forest may become a model for territorial changes among the federal subjects of the Russian Federation, according to Aleksey Gunya of the Moscow Institute of Geography.

            Moscow’s call for the federal subjects to finalize the delimitation and demarcation of their borders has unintentionally called attention to a often-neglected reality: administrative borders in Soviet times were changed frequently, often involving swaps of territory from one union republic to another or from one subordinate unit to another.

            Under Soviet rule, union republic borders were changed more than 200 times; and those of autonomous republics, oblasts and krays 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.)

            Since 1991, however, both Western pressure in the name of stability and Moscow’s fears that any shift of borders could have an unpredictable domino effect, most have forgotten this history and have considered border changes only when the latter are the result of or spark violence and protests.

            In many places, especially in the predominantly ethnic Russian oblasts of the Russian Federation, border changes have continued right along, and the one between Bryansk and Kaluga, how being finalized by the parliamentarians in the two subjects, is only the latest (

            This shift likely would have passed completely unnoticed were it now for the suggestion by Gunya that what Bryansk and Kaluga have agreed to not only represents a model of how to reach agreements on borders but also highlights that it is often not the borders themselves that are a problem but enclaves or land use on each side (

            The demonstrations that arose in Ingushetia as a result of the backroom deal between then-Ingush head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov and Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov in September 2018 showed Moscow that any border shifts must involve broader discussion. That is why, the geographer says, the center has put border changes between Chechnya and Daghestan on hold.

            The Chechen-Daghestani border dispute highlights the reality that “there is not a problem of borders as such” but rather arranging things in such a way that the side which gives up one thing receives something else of equal value to it in compensation, the Moscow geographer continues.

            “Recently, an exchange took place between Bryansk and Kaluga Oblasts,” Gunya says; and it is instructive. “The village of Zheltyanka in Khvastvich district entered Bryansk Oblast as an enclave. And the oblast dumas without difficulties agreed to exchange territories. Between Chechnya and Daghestan exist dozens of such ‘pawns.’”

            One possibility, the geographer argues, would be “to compose a list of them for exchange.” But that is only the beginning. People on both sides must be educated about geography rather than assuming as most of them do that what is theirs now has always been theirs and must always be theirs. That will be no easy task.

            The situation of the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia is different in principle that between Chechnya and other neighboring republics.  That is because in Soviet times, Chechnya and Ingushetia were part of a single district, the Chechen-Ingush ASSR, which was created, then disbanded and then reestablished.

            But just as bad cases don’t make for good law, so too the exceptional characteristic of the Chechen-Ingush border should not become the basis for deciding how to approach borders among other federal subjects, Gunya says. What Byansk and Kaluga are doing is a far more appropriate way. 

No comments:

Post a Comment