Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Demarcating Chechen-Daghestan Border Seen Creating Problems for Makhachkala and Moscow

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 5 – Daghestan and Chechnya have expressed willingness to resume talks on demarcating their border, talks that were suspended by the former leader of Daghestan but that are necessary if the two are to meet Moscow’s deadline of the end of 2021 and continue to receive grants from the federal center (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/06/chechnya-daghestan-express-willingness.html).

            Given Ramzan Kadyrov’s tight control of the Chechen government, Grozny enters such talks with a single united position and therefore any changes in the border are unlikely to happen if the Chechen leader opposes them. But the situation in Daghestan is much more complicated and much more dangerous.

            On the one hand, the authorities in Makhachkala are divided with different bureaucracies, often under the control of different nationalities, having staked out different positions they are reluctant to give up. And on the other, Daghestanis living along the border have their own views and insist that they be full partners in any decision.

            Those complexities were enough to cause former Daghestani head Vladimir Vasiliyev to suspend the talks during his period in office, fearful that even discussing the border would spark controversies that would undermine his position, possibly sparking the kind of mass protests that have taken place in Ingushetia.

            But his successor, Sergey Melikov, is not only under more pressure from Moscow to get an agreement but is more inclined to go along with the center and then use force against the population if that is what is required. (On Melikov as a very different leader than Vasilyev, see windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/10/will-new-man-in-daghestan-act-as-mvd.html.)

            Melikov, however, faces a very difficult situation. The government in Makhachkala remains divided on where the border should be drawn, just as it was in Vasiliyev’s time, and local people and political leaders are if anything even more insistent that they must have the predominant voice in deciding where the lines will be drawn.

            Moscow wants an agreement, but it doesn’t want to have to intervene in the negotiations or to be forced to deal with any politicization of the issue. That means that Melikov must find a way forward now, in the midst of a Duma election campaign when such issues can be politicized, in a way that satisfies the center without destroying his base of support in divided Daghestan.

            The Kavkaz-Uzel news agency has surveyed a variety of experts in the regions about their expectations for the upcoming talks and the range of possible outcomes (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/364665/).

            Milrad Fatullayev, the editor of the Derbent news agency, says that Daghestan is divided in two ways on the borders. The central republic government is split among several bureaucracies, each with its own goal, and Makhachkala itself is divided from the border regions which assume they and not the republic capital or Moscow should make these decisions.

            That situation led Vasiliyev to suspend the talks but Melikov is going ahead. Fatullayev doesn’t exclude the possibility that any shift of the border in any section will produce a more serious public reaction, one that will force either Melikov or Moscow to use force against protesters even at the risk of further destabilization.

            Dagehstani political analyst Eduard Urazayev is more optimistic and says that Melikov may now be in a position to insist on transparency in the talks and the exchange of territory rather than one-sided concessions. But transparency may only open the way to a politicization of the issue, and what appears to be a balanced exchange to some won’t look that way to others.

            In this process, Urazayev continues, Moscow will only be an observer, at least as long as the two sides work toward an agreement. But if this leads to conflicts between the two republics, the central government will have to intervene, something it is reluctant to do because if it does here, others may expect similar treatment to their benefit elsewhere.

            According to Rasul Asad, who operates the “Ask Rasul” telegram channel, the big question is what role local communities will have. Those living along the border want a say and they’d like an agreement; but what those on one side want and what those on the other do in many places appears to be far apart.

            Makhachkala thus will have to intervene; and if it doesn’t or fails to control the situation, then Moscow will, he suggests. According to him, the red line for Moscow would be any attempt to politicize the issue in support of this or that candidate in Duma elections. Anyone who tries that will be brought up short quickly.

            Other analysts in the region broadly shared these views.


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