By Paul Goble
Anger about the accord Yunus-Bek Yevkurov reached with Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov prompted thousands of Ingush to come into the streets of Magas, the republic capital today, blocking the republic that either approved or did not approve the agreement, and led Russian Guardsmen to fire over the heads of the crowd.
In the course of the day, the protesters changed from demanding a referendum on the agreement to a demand that the accord be scrapped without one to an insistence that the republic government leave office and give way to new elections; and those taking part added Islamist slogans to the nationalist ones they had first used.
As frightening as the mass protests must be for the republic leadership and for Moscow, splits within the Ingush establishment should be even more worrisome. The republic supreme court came out against the accord, and some deputies of its parliament said that they had not approved the measure despite Yevkurov’s claims.
The situation within Ingushetia is fluid and changing fast. Among the best coverage of today’s events is found at takiedela.ru/news/2018/10/04/konflikt-o-granice/, newsru.com/russia/04oct2018/magas2.html, actualcomment.ru/miting-v-ingushetii-protiv-dogovora-o-granitse-s-chechney-glavnoe-1810041133.html, capost.media/news/mainhotnews/v-magase-otkryli-strelbu-vo-vremya-mitinga-protiv-peredela-granitsy-s-chechney/, and polit.ru/article/2018/10/04/border/.
But the events there have been compounded by three additional developments: Ingush in Moscow and other Russian cities are rushing to support the opponents of the treaty, new reports show that Putin’s rating in the North Caucasus has collapsed even further than elsewhere in the Russian Federation, and Kadyrov is threatening military action against Ingushetia (grani-ru-org.appspot.com/War/Chechnya/m.273167.html, censoru.net/29885-kavkaz-na-grani-vzryva-v-ingushetii-massovye-protesty-siloviki-otkryli-ogon.html, and aucasustimes.com/ru/opros-na-severnom-kavkaze-rejting-vladimira-putina-padaet-na-fone-jekonomicheskogo-spada/).
Given that the protesters in Magas have said that they will not end their protests until their demands are met and given that Kadyrov is threatening to use violence against them, there is a very real risk that the border agreement based on a territorial swap that Moscow thought would calm the situation is going to have exactly the opposite effect.
Indeed, it may provoke a new war in the North Caucasus, one in which Moscow will have to restrain its most important client there, Kadyrov, or face the prospect that it will lose control over much of the region. Indeed, some Western analysts are even suggesting that these developments could presage the end of the Putin presidency.
After all, Putin has put all his chips on Kadyrov; and now Kadyrov, despite massive subsidies from Moscow and despite being allowed to act almost without regard to Moscow’s interests is now acting in a way that threatens Russian control (rusmonitor.com/avraam-shmulevich-sobytiya-na-kavkaze-govoryat-o-skorom-padenii-putinskogo-rezhima.html).
The situation is changing far too rapidly for any such sweeping conclusions; but it is clear that what the Kremlin thought was a solution to a small problem has transformed the situation into a large one, raising questions about the stability of borders, on the one hand, and Moscow’s control of the republics, on the other.
Neither Putin nor anyone in his entourage imagined that things would come to such a pass, the latest example of when small things no one really expects to matter may cast an enormous shadow on the course of events.