MOSCOW -- Russia's Constitutional Court has upheld the legality of a law designed to support a controversial border agreement between the Russian republics of Ingushetia and Chechnya.
The court on December 6 ruled that Ingushetia's Supreme Court had no right to cancel the deal, which concerned land swaps between the two republics and has prompted angry protests in Ingushetia.
On October 30, Ingushetia's Constitutional Court ruled that the agreement was illegal because "it changes the territory of Republic of Ingushetia," something it said requires approval by referendum.
But the head of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, took the issue to the Moscow-based Constitutional Court with a request for support of the agreement.
Yevkurov and the leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, signed the agreement behind closed doors on September 26.
Yevkurov and Kadyrov said the agreement was approved by the parliaments of both republics several days later, despite demonstrations by protesters in Ingushetia who say it unfairly hands parts of the republic to Chechnya, its larger neighbor to the east.
The protesters have called for Yevkurov's resignation and a public referendum on the deal.
Some Ingush lawmakers said later that the legislature in Magas had not approved the deal.
The issue has raised concerns about the possibility of a regional conflict in Russia, which is home to a large number of ethnic groups.
It also has amplified concerns about the power and influence of the Kremlin-backed Kadyrov, who was appointed by President Vladimir Putin in 2007 to head Chechnya.
Kadyrov has publicly threatened the protesters in Ingushetia.
On October 26, Kadyrov visited Ingushetia with a large entourage of armed men to confront a protest leader. The meeting ended without violence.
Ingushetia and Chechnya were parts of a single administrative region during the Soviet era, but they split after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
There are strong concerns about the loss of territory in Ingushetia, which lost control of the disputed Prigorodny District to another neighbor, North Ossetia, after a conflict in 1992 that killed some 600 people -- mostly Ingush.
Rights activists say Kadyrov rules through repressive measures and has created a climate of impunity for security forces in the North Caucasus.
Kremlin critics contend that Putin has given Kadyrov free rein because he relies on him to rein in separatists and militants after two wars in Chechnya.