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Moscow Again Moves To Rein In Kadyrov

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (right) and Kremlin envoy Aleksandr Khloponin share a happier moment in Grozny last year.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (right) and Kremlin envoy Aleksandr Khloponin share a happier moment in Grozny last year.

Presidential envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District Aleksandr Khloponin has intervened to put a halt to the escalating war of words between Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov and his Ingushetian counterpart, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, over the disputed border between their respective republics. This is the second time within six months that the Kremlin has moved to thwart an overt bid by Kadyrov to extend his influence beyond the borders of Chechnya.

The dispute between the two leaders erupted six weeks ago following the killings in a special operation of a group of Islamic militants in the Ingushetian village of Galashki. Kadyrov claimed credit for that operation and publicly deplored the purported inability of the Ingushetian leadership to crack down on the Islamic insurgency. He said if Yevkurov was incapable of "restoring order" in Ingushetia, or had no interest in doing so, "we shall do it for him."

Kadyrov also warned that he might insist on formally delimiting the border between the two republics. Ingushetia became a separate federation subject only in 1992 when the then-Checheno-Ingush ASSR was divided.

Yevkurov for his part repeatedly dismissed Kadyrov's account of what happened in Galashki as untrue. He also stressed that it is inappropriate for the heads of federation subjects to quarrel publicly.

In the wake of the suicide bombing in the Ingushetian village of Sagopshi on August 19 in which seven Ingush police officers were killed, Kadyrov switched tack, publicly positioning himself as leader and protector of the Vainakh people (the collective ethnonym for the Chechens and Ingush). He sought in particular to induce the Ingushetian police to side with him against Yevkurov.

'This Land Is My Land...'

When that gambit failed, Kadyrov upped the ante by accusing Ingushetia of "seizing more and more Chechen territory." He said that Ingushetia had illegally occupied thousands of hectares of land in Goragorsk alone (in the extreme north of Chechnya). Kadyrov said he would raise with Moscow the issue of formally delimiting the border between the two entities, given that "everyone knows that Sunzha Raion and much of the territory of Malgobek Raion is part of Chechnya." Kadyrov said formalizing the border would "strengthen the ties of friendship" between the Chechen and Ingush peoples.

Kadyrov's outrage at the Ingush encroachment onto Chechen territory left unpopulated in the wake of the 1994-96 and 1999-2000 wars is wholly understandable. But his counterclaim on Sunzha and Malgobek would eviscerate the Republic of Ingushetia and render it unviable. The two districts together not only account for up to 75 percent of the entire territory of Ingushetia, which is already the smallest of the 83 federation subjects; their transfer to Chechnya would leave Ingushetia split into two segments separated by Sunzha Raion. Prior to the 1934 merger of Chechnya and Ingushetia, Sunzha and Malgobek were linked by the contiguous Prigorodny Raion, which was transferred to North Ossetia when the Checheno-Ingush ASSR was reconstituted in 1957.

Yevkurov, however, countered that since both republics have passed legislation on local government that define the territorial limits of individual municipalities, the precise location of the border has already been determined, and any attempt to revise it would lead to conflict. The daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" similarly affirmed last week that the border already exists. Yevkurov tasked Prime Minister Musa Chiliyev with implementing the demarcation of the border. He further accused Kadyrov of seeking to extend his authority beyond the borders of Chechnya.

Yevkurov also reminded Kadyrov of the formal agreement signed in March 2003 by Kadyrov's father, Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov, and the then-president of Ingushetia, Murat Zyazikov. That document stipulated that the article of the Chechen Constitution designating Sunzha Raion part of the Chechen Republic refers only to the settlements of Sernovodskoye and Assinovskaya, both in the extreme east of Ingushetia. It says the Chechen Republic Constitution does not extend to the rest of the territory of Sunzha Raion. An Ingush journalist who was present at the signing of that agreement confirmed that the two men viewed it as final, definitive, and not subject to revision.

Even though Kadyrov derives his legitimacy primarily from his father, whose political wisdom and foresight he invokes in virtually every public statement he makes, he apparently refuses to acknowledge that written commitment as legally binding. Instead, he claimed to be in possession of archive documents that prove the legality of his demand that the border should correspond to that separating the two regions prior to the creation in 1934 of the Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Oblast.

Khloponin: 'Simmer Down'

Khloponin on September 7 unceremoniously ordered Kadyrov and Yevkurov to stop sniping at each other once and for all, and turn the issue over to working groups that should "sit down and discuss things calmly." He advised Kadyrov and Yevkurov to "think over what documents" they plan to base their respective arguments on.

Khloponin did not suggest a time frame for reaching agreement. Chechen parliament speaker Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov had said earlier that Grozny intended to have ready by January 1, 2013, the documentary evidence to substantiate Chechnya's territorial claims.

Khloponin's formulation suggests that Moscow has rejected Kadyrov's implicit demand to regulate the dispute in his favor. The rationale for doing so is presumably that whether or not Kadyrov's claims on Sunzha and Malgobek are legally valid, Yevkurov is needed as a counterweight to Kadyrov's ambitions and therefore his position must not be undermined. The Russian leadership similarly blocked in April a bid by Kadyrov to install Chechnya's mufti, Sultan-hadzhi Mirzayev, as chairman of the Coordinating Council of Muslims of the North Caucasus.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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