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Ingush Protests Over Rushed Land Swap With Chechnya Becoming Problem For Kremlin

Delegation of representatives of the Mountain Republic at the Versailles Peace Conference, Turkey, 1920

The border dispute with Chechnya and Ingushetia has exploded into a full-blown problem for the Russian leadership. Since the leaders of the two Russian republics decided to swap land in a deal that many see as done without the people’s blessing, and in a non-transparent way, demonstrations have grown in Ingushetia as the people take to the streets in rage. Calls for the leader of Ingushetia’s resignation mount daily.

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At the scene of the protests on Monday, “well over 1,000 people” milled about at different points throughout the day, estimated Tanya Lokshina, the Russia program director at Human Rights Watch, who was present. Speakers took turns addressing the crowd, which had been sequestered to a barricaded square along the main street since the protests were sanctioned by authorities on Oct. 7. Those voices unanimously spoke about their land being given away without their consent.

Territorial questions are sensitive for the Ingush. In 1944, Josef Stalin abolished Ingushetia and deported its residents en masse to Central Asia. When the republic was restored 13 years later, it had lost 20 percent of its original territory to neighboring republics. The Ingush maintain that the land belongs to them, and the recent swap comes as another blow. On Monday, protestors emphasized the sacred nature of their land. The current land swap, they said, gave Chechnya many of their ancestral “birth villages,” reported The Moscow Times.

The leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, is seen as a much stronger figure than Yunus-bek Yevkurov, the Ingush leader, and the people feel the deal was rammed through in favor of the Chechens.

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“Just like then [referring to 2011 protests against Vladimir Putin’s re-election], the people today came out to the square because they felt lied to, they feel that their opinions don’t matter, that this decision — a very emotional one — was made without them, without authorities ever even trying to maintain some illusion that they were part of the process,” said Tanya Lokshina, the Russia program director at Human Rights Watch.

“It is unprecedented that parts of the elite and parts of the siloviki” — officials with ties to law enforcement — “have supported protestors,” said Yekaterina Sokirianskaia, director of the Conflict Analysis and Prevention Center think-tank. “Not just in this region, but anywhere in the country under Putin,” reported The Moscow Times.

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