Combining Ingushetia and Chechnya Seen Sparking Larger War
by Paul Goble

On-going series: Crisis in the Caucasus - 2008
The Russian / Georgian Conflict and Its Impact on Azerbaijan

Window on Eurasia: Original Blog Article

Vienna, October 22 ­ Russian human rights activists have seconded the warning of former Ingush President Ruslan Aushev that Moscow and Grozny will face an explosion if, as seems increasingly likely, they proceed with plans to combine Ingushetia and Chechnya in the hopes of pacifying the former.

Last week, Aushev told that Moscow hopes to save Ingush president Murad Zyazikov and the situation in Ingushetia by re-combining Ingushetia and Chechnya into a single federation subject, a task that for leaders in all three capitals is now "issue number one."

According to Aushev, despite all the practical and political problems this effort is certain to face, there is a 70 percent chance it will go through. Moscow has already decided on a strategy for both Chechnya and Ingushetia and the other non-Russian republics, a strategy that reflects in his words the latest application of the Stalinist principle of divide and rule.

The Russian government will declare martial law in Ingushetia and name a new head of the administration there, the former Ingush president said. That situation will continue for "a year or two" and then "the republics will unite." The new entity will not refer either to Ingushetia or Chechnya but instead will be called the Vaynakh kray.

Moreover, he continued, Moscow will take this step as part of its broader effort to reduce the number of federal subjects in the Russian Federation. As a result of its efforts, Aushev said, there will remain only eight republics, including Tuva, Sakha, Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, Daghestan, a united Ingushetia and Chechnya, Ossetia and Kabarda.

"That is the complete list - all the rest must be unified."

This step, he said, is both the result of the problems Stalin's rule in the region left behind and a Stalinist approach to dealing with ethnic problems. "The mines which today exist in the Caucasus were in every case laid by Stalin: Daghestan, Khasavyurt district, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Ossetia, and Kabarda ­ all were united and divided under Stalin."

"Why didn't [the Soviet leader] unite the Balkars with the Karachays, and the Kabardinians with the Cherkess?" The reason, Aushev said, is that Stalinism and the Stalinist approach to nationality questions "is not simply the name of Stalin but the name for the principle of 'divide and conquer.'"

And consequently, the Ingush leader said, "the unification of Chechnya and Ingushetia is [just the latest] manifestation of Stalinism."

Today, Albert Khantyyev, an activist with the Nazran office of the Memorial Civil Rights Office added some important details about this process and suggested why if Moscow does go ahead with it, there will be problems not only in the two republics slated to be combined but in the north Caucasus as a whole.

Khantyyev noted that the idea of combining the two republics is not new: Over the last few years, the Chechen parliament has taken up this idea several times each year, but most Ingush have been against this idea, not only because of Chechen actions in the early 1990s but because even when the two groups were part of one republic, Chechens kept the Ingush down.

In the Chechen part of the combined republic, the authorities opened more than 20 industrial plants while in Ingushetia they had only two. Unlike in Grozny, he continued, there was no airport in Nazran and its rail and bus stations were in terrible condition. As a result, many Ingush were forced either to move into the Chechen portion of the republic or go elsewhere.

Once the two republics split, with Ingushetia choosing to remain inside the Russian Federation and Chechnya attempting to achieve independence, the situation in Ingushetia dramatically improved: an airport and hotel were built and small business began to function and provide employment.

Consequently, Khantyyev said, "if a referendum were conducted [on unification], part of the population might back the idea of unification with Chechnya in the belief that Kadyrov [in contrast to Zyazikov] could stop the arbitrary actions of the federal force structures and help take back from North Ossetia the Prigorodniy district."

But he continued, "such people are a minority in Ingushetia," because they remember how the Chechens treated them in the past and have no interest in being treated even worse than they are being treated now, and because "the federal center will never permit any arrangement that would return the Prigorodniy district to Ingushetia."

In Khantyyev's option, the whole idea of combining the two republics into one is "absurd." "Where would be the capital? Who would be the president? If an Ingush, the Chechens will be unhappy, and if a Chechen, the Ingush will be."

And consequently, he concluded, "no one in Ingushetia needs this unification. We are told that 'you are brother Vaynakhs.' But even Zyazikov [who most Ingush believe is anything but sympathetic to the feelings of his own nation] has declared that although [the Ingush and Chechens] are brothers, each brother ought to live in his own home."

Other activists shared Khantyyev's view. Roza Mal'sagova, the editor of the web portal noted that the Ingush parliament has voted against this idea and if it were to happen, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov would undoubtedly be given "carte blanche" to act as he pleased to pacify the Ingush."

"One could not dream up a greater crime in relation to [these two] peoples than that," she said. And Natalya Estemirova, who works for Memorial in the Chechen capital, agreed. Unifying the two republics or even continuing to talk about this possibility "will provoke a new war," one that could engulf not only Chechnya and Ingushetia but their neighbors as well.

Back to Goble Index

Back to Crisis in the Caucasus - Index

AI Home Page | Magazine Choice | Topics | Store | Contact us