Friday, June 25, 2021

Last Two Bi-National Republics in Russia on Brink of Fateful Territorial Dispute

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 21 – The last two binational republics in the Russian Federation, Kabarino-Balkaria and Karachayevo-Cherkessia, are currently locked in a dispute over several thousand acres of pasture land that both claim. Because the two consist of one Turkic and one Circassian nation, this territorial dispute inevitably will take on an ethno-national dimension.

            Indeed, there is a chance that the conflict over such a relatively small space could lead to the kind of mobilization that would tear about the two republics and lead to a reconfiguration of them into a single Turkic and single Circassian republic, despite Moscow’s abhorrence of both possibilities.

            Consequently, what currently appears to be a much smaller issue than the ones behind the protests in Ingushetia over the border deal with Chechnya and the current conflict between Chechnya and Daghestan over Chechen claims of land Makhachkala also claims could quickly get out of hand.

            KBR officials say they sent a proposal on delimiting the border to KChR several years ago; but in response, the KChR government sent back a very different map, one that included within KChR land the KBR says is part of its territory, Sergey Zharkov of the Prague-based Caucasus Times, says (

            In the past, many Karachay farmers had worked this land even though it was recognized as part of the KBR. When Moscow began talking about delimiting the borders, most of them moved back into their own republic. But some didn’t and attempted to root themselves by signing rental agreements.

            These farmers, Ibragim Yaganov, a KBR expert says, now occupy approximately 3,000 hectares of KBR pasture land; and what appears to have happened is that the KChR leadership has decided to back them by suggesting the border must be redrawn to show this as part of the KChR.

            The Karachay farmers would be part of a Karachay majority if that happened while they would become part of a Turkic minority if the lands in question were to be designated as part of the KBR where the Circassian Kabards are the dominant ethnic community. And so the issue is au fond an ethnic one.

            But that ethnic issue is exacerbated by two other factors. On the one hand, Zharkov says, many of the farmers have not paid the rent they agreed to, angering the local landlords. And on the other, land is becoming increasingly scare in both republics not only because of population growth bur also because of grain production to produce vodka.

            That last factor is critical because farmers are being forced to shift from herding to producing grain or being driven off the land entirely by rising crop and thus land prices, something that is unsettling traditional family and clan arrangements among all the nationalities there.

            The Caucasus Times commentator points out that the seven subjects of the North Caucasus Federal District have 27 administrative borders between them and with adjoining federal subjects. Of these, only nine – just one in three – were delimited and demarcated before the pandemic suspended such efforts.

            Now, as the pandemic promises to ease, there is a real danger that conflicts will arise in many of these places. The situation along the KBR-KChr border may soon become one of the most serious even though it has attracted almost no attention in the past especially since the two governments say they won’t move without getting public approval for what they do.

            In the past, that has been a recipe for doing nothing. But Moscow is demanding they get their borders in order now. That demand will either have to be rescinded or the border issue could become the most important anti-Moscow mobilization tool available to local people in the North Caucasus ever.

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