Thursday, January 27, 2022

Moscow Imposing Its Own Rules on Border Zones of Non-Russian Republics

 Paul Goble

            Staunton, Dec. 7 – Even though the borders between non-Russian republics and other federal subjects are administrative rather than international, many of the non-Russian republics have declared exclusion zones along them into which people can go only with special permission and by showing documents to guard posts.

            While control of border zones is a less sensitive issue than border changes, Moscow’s moves to restrict what republics can do as far as establishing such zones is potentially inflammatory, especially in cases where the borders themselves are not yet delimited or even in open dispute. 

            Few republics appear to have gone as far in this direction as the smallest, Ingushetia, which has already lost territory both as a result of transfers after the return of its people from deportation and by agreements like the one with Chechnya that have sparked dissent there since 2018.

            Many Ingush support such zones because they fear that otherwise neighboring republics and especially Chechnya will encroach on their territory and then demand recognition of what they will call “facts on the ground.” That is a large problem along the Chechen-Ingush border and a smaller one along the Ingush-North Ossetian one.

            Last month, Magas agreed to remove one village district near the Ingush border from the zone because Russian officials had objected to its inclusion as the district did not in fact touch the border and therefore was according to them in violation of existing federal law. Independent-minded Ingush have protested (

            Among the most vocal critics of what Moscow has done has been Ayup Gagiyev, the head of Ingushetia’s Constitutional Court that the central Russian government has demanded be disbanded.  But Gagiyev, who was one of those who objected to the 2018 border deal with Chechnya, carries great weight with the Ingush people, and others have joined in supporting him.

            The situation along the Chechen-Ingush border is increasingly fraught. Chechen firms are developing land along the Fortanga River which marks the border between the republics. That is a problem because since Soviet times, the flow of the river has changed and left more land in Chechnya and less in Ingushetia.

            Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov has denounced the Ingush who are objecting to the border as he defines it and to Moscow’s insistence that the border zones in Ingushetia be limited. He says that if Ingush activists don’t shut up, he will simply seize all the land his  firms are already working near and far more besides.

            Ingush activists are furious at Kadyrov for his pretensions, but they are also angry about something else. Their own government has not objected even pro forma to what the Chechen leader and his representatives are doing on the border with Ingushetia, and that unhappiness is likely to lead to more protests in the future.   

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