By Paul Goble
Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov aspires to annex far more of Ingushetia than even the portion he got a month ago, more than a third of the smaller republic and possibly all of it into a reconstituted Chechen-Ingush Republic. But Kadyrov also has his eye on a district in Daghestan, according to an article in Moscow’s Voyennoye obozreniye today.
That article features a map of Kadyrov’s territorial aspirations to underscore its basic conclusion that whatever anyone hopes for, “the Chechen-Ingush conflict will be continuing,” opening a Pandora’s box of border changes and violence all around that North Caucasus republic (topwar.ru/148645-checheno-ingushskij-konflikt-prodolzhaetsja.html).
Kadyrov’s aspirations with regard to Ingushetia are not only well known but have been much commented upon by Ingush activists who see the border agreement he secured form Yunus-Bek Yevkurov as only a way station on the route for the absorption of their republic by the more numerous Chechens.
But the Chechen leader’s territorial goals with regard to Daghestan have received much less attention at least in recent years. The Moscow article suggests that they deserve more attention because they could easily become an even more explosive conflict than the one Chechnya and Ingushetia have been locked in over the last six weeks.
Kadyrov’s primary focus is on the Aukhovsky region in Daghestan which was part of Chechnya before the Chechens were deported by Stalin in 1944 but has since been part of Daghestan. In recent times, there have been clashes between the Chechens who have returned there and other ethnic groups.
The Chechen leader last year visited the area to push for establishing a regional government, and the Chechen community there appealed to Putin for a boost in status, something that did not sit well with the other nationalities who viewed it as an effort by Kadyrov to set the stage for its annexation (youtube.com/watch?v=kjOn9cHmvkI and flnka.ru/video/17213-chechency-dagestana-prizvali-putina-vossozdat-auhovskiy-rayon.html).
A detailed article from 2014 provides a good retelling of the complicated history of the relations of the various ethnic groups in this region and in particular their land disputes as the population has exploded. Its author, Gulya Arifezova, explicitly says that rumors have long circulated that Kadyrov has a personal interest in this Daghestani region (kavpolit.com/articles/auhovskij_rajon_konflikt_dlinoju_v_pokolenija-4114/).
Given the Moscow military journal’s reference to the possibility that Kadyrov will now seek to annex the region, the danger of an explosion needs to be kept in mind. But so too do three other factors that may restrain Kadyrov unless he has concluded that he has nothing to lose by going for broke.
First, unlike in Ingushetia, which is mono-ethnic, Daghestan is the most ethnically diverse place in the Russian Federation. Any effort to change one border there would likely trigger demands for changes of others both in the south and in the north.
Second, again unlike in Ingushetia, the head of Daghestan is very much Putin’s man, and it is implausible that the Kremlin leader would support either explicitly or implicitly a move that would undermine Makhchkala.
And third, Moscow and the Daghestanis are well aware of these realities and would certainly resist Kadyrov far more vigorously than Yevkurov did. That doesn’t mean that the Chechen leader won’t try something, but it makes it less likely that he would get away with it.
Obviously, Moscow security planners, the chief readership of Voyennoye obozreniye, are concerned about what even an effort to change Daghestani borders would mean for Russian control. Otherwise they would not have published the provocative map showing that Kadyrov hopes for yet another Anschluss.