Territorial Dispute in North Caucasus: Unprecedented Protests in Ingushetia

2018 / 12 / 06

Author: Aleksandre Kvakhadze, Research Fellow, Rondeli Foundation


Last October tens of thousands of Ingush rallied in the capital of Ingushetia, Magas against the agreement between Ingushetia’s leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov and his Chechen colleague on the disputed territories between two republics. The peak of activity on the demonstrations was reached on every Friday during the prayer in the city mosques. The recent protest in Ingushetia encompasses growing grievances among Ingush and other North Caucasian towards an existing political system in the region.

The matter of protests was the land-swap between Chechnya and Ingushetia. According to this land-swap, Chechnya received approximately 20 thousand hectares of disputed lands, previously administrated by Ingushetia, whereas Ingushetia received up to 2 thousand hectares from Chechnya’s Naursky district. The border dispute dates back to the early Soviet period and abolition of Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) in 1934. Ingushetia was unified with Chechnya and formed Checheno-Ingushetia ASSR. Following the demise of the Soviet Union, Ingushetia managed to return the status of a separate federal subject, which has raised the question the territorial debate between Ingushetia in Chechnya. The first attempt of the solution was an agreement between the first leader of Ingushetia, Ruslan Aushev and the president of the breakaway Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Jokhar Dudaev. The implementation of this agreement was interrupted by the Russian-Chechen war. Throughout the war in Chechnya, the disputed territories had been under control of Ingush police forces. After restoring Russian control over the whole territory of Chechnya, the Chechen leader Ahmad Kadyrov and an Ingush leader Murat Zyazikov signed the territorial agreement, that in most of its principles, resembles Dudaev-Aushev agreement. However, after an appointment of Ramzan Kadyrov as the head of Chechen Republic, the territorial dispute has still reignited. For instance, there have been several minor clashes between two republics’ law enforcement in the disputed territories. Above all, Kadyrov has attempted to increase his presence in Ingushetia’s domestic politics, and some of his officials even declared an idea of reunification of Chechnya and Ingushetia.

The rallies in Magas have shown several major regional trends. Firstly, the demonstrations in Magas were self-organized and did not have a particular organizer. The members of the elderly council of all major Ingush teips (clans), for instance, have been actively involved in the mobilization of protestors. The absence of independent and credible media sources has increased the role of social media platforms such as Watsup, Telegram, or Facebook was crucial in terms of the informational support of the rallies. Several anonymous Ingush entrepreneurs have been reportedly engaged in the financial and logistical support of the protest. The activity of the local civic groups such as ‘Opora Ingushetii’ was meaningful. Not every Ingush official supported Yevkurov’s decision on the disputed lands. For instance, the constitutional court of Ingushetia has denounced an agreement on land-swap due to the unconstitutional nature of judicial procedures.

Secondly, despite his success in the territorial dispute, Kadyrov failed to turn Ingushetia into his own backyard. More precisely, he did not get tangible support from any of the social groups in Ingushetia. Even the attempt of implementing well-tested in Chechnya humiliating methods such as the coercive filming of so-called ‘apologise videos’ of Ingush activists, who had publicly criticized Kadyrov has tanked. Overall, despite Putin’s unconditional support and the total control over Chechnya, Kadyrov has reached the highest point in his political career. He is highly unlikely to be appointed as a minister or other central position on the federal level. Hence, Kadyrov will attempt to fulfil his growing appetites only in the North Caucasus region. For instance, aside from Ingushetia, had already express territorial claims to neighbouring Dagestan over Chechen-populated Novolaksky district.

Thirdly, the rallies in Ingushetia are an inseparable component of an increasing protest and mobilization wave in North Caucasus. The first case of massive mobilization was the funeral ceremony of Yusup Temirkhanov, suspected in the high profile murder of Russian Colonel Yury Budanov, who was convicted in murdering of Chechen woman. The local media suggests, that almost all of Chechnya’s adult male population have visited Temirkhanov’s village and took part in Chechen funeral ritual tezet. Another case of mobilization was the clash between Circassians and Balkarians in village Kendelen. Unlike the previous case, the clash was interethnic and most likely, was provoked by the local elites of other interest groups. Nevertheless, both sides enabled to mobilize a sizable number of demonstrators by using social media channels.

Finally, the demonstrations in Magas have finally discredited Evkurov’s administration not only inside the republic but on the federal level. Owing to the lack of support, Yevkurov even failed to hold a counter-demonstration. Despite his re-election on the third term as a head of the republic, dissatisfaction with Yevkurov’s policy will continue to grow. His low legitimacy is also determined by the fact, that instead of being elected, he has been appointed in his current position by the Moscow.

Coincidentally, Moscow’s involvement in the recent events in Ingushetia was minimal. None of the high ranking Russian officials had made any statement on the rallies. Rossgvardia and other law enforcement structures did not attempt to disperse the rallies. Furthermore, the visit of presidential plenipotentiary envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District, Alexander Matovnikov to the rallies in Magas was not welcomed by the protestors. 

The rallies in Magas demonstrates the growing unrest in North Caucasus. Since his early years, Putin has managed to cleanse the political spectrum of North Caucasus from the political opposition, civil society as well as an Islamic insurgency, which has created a political vacuum. The improvement of social media combined with the poverty and harsh economic conditions in the region could create the fertile ground for the future protests.  

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