Russia’s Constitutional Court has began hearing an appeal from the head of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, against a decision by the Constitutional Court of Ingushetia outlawing a controversial border deal with Chechnya.
Russia’s Constitutional Court in Saint Petersburg started reviewing the case on 27 November.
The Constitutional Court of Ingushetia ruled on 30 October that the border deal violated Ingushetia’s constitution, as a referendum was required in order to adopt it.
According to the agreement concluded on 26 September between the heads of Chechnya and Ingushetia, Ingushetia transferred 340 square kilometres (about 9% of its territory) to Chechnya.
This agreement and a subsequent bill in the Ingush parliament approving it provoked large protests in Ingushetia.
Seven MPs from Ingushetia’s parliament, the People’s Assembly, have warned in a statement that if the court ruled against Ingushetia’s Constitutional Court they will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
On 26 November, several single-person pickets were held in Saint Petersburg by local activists in support of Ingush activists who opposed the agreement. Despite single-person pickets being legal under Russian law, Russian media reported that they were detained.
At the court hearing in Saint Petersburg, those objecting to the land deal were represented by Ramil Akhmetgaliyev.
A day before the session, Akhmetgaliyev received a threatening SMS message ‘recommending’ he recuse himself for a trial, a colleague, Pavel Chikov, wrote on his Facebook. Despite the threats, Akhmetgaliyev proceeded with the case.
Head of opposition party Yabloko in Ingushetia Ruslan Mutsolgov, who has been a vocal critic of the deal and attended the hearing, told OC Media that it was mostly Chechens who were allowed into the court to observe the proceedings.
He said that almost all those called before the hearing expressed support for the legality of the agreement.
Representatives of Chechnya, including the speaker of the Chechen parliament Magomed Daudov, insisted on the legality of the agreement.
One representative of Chechnya, Saykhan Salamov, argued that the previous border agreement between the two republics reached in 2009 was a mistake, and asked the court to recognise the 2018 border agreement as legal.
Ayup Gagiyev, the head of the Constitutional Court of Ingushetia, was also invited to the hearing but refused to participate as he did not recognise the Russian federal court’s jurisdiction over a ruling of the Ingush Constitutional Court.
Yelena Lukyanova, a law professor at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, told Caucasian Knot in early November that ‘in general, the decision of any Constitutional Court is mandatory for execution’.
‘The Ingushetia Constitutional Court declared the law approving the agreement unconstitutional. This means that this law is no longer in force’.
Aleksandr Balabanov, associate professor at the Russian Academy of Public Administration, told Caucasian Knot that in a legal conflict of opinion between the constitutional courts of two republics, the decision of the Constitutional Court of Russia could be decisive.
He also noted that this issue went beyond the framework of legal procedures, and required political will.
Rally in distrust of the government
As the hearing got underway, around 1,000 people gathered near the House of Culture in, Nazran, Ingushetia’s largest city. The rally was organised by the Ingush National Unity Committee, headed by Akhmed Barakhoyev.
Anzhela Matiyeva, a member of the board of the Ingush Committee, told OC Media that in addition to cancelling the agreement between Ingushetia and Chechnya, protesters were expressing their distrust in the republic’s government and demanding the execution of the law on the rehabilitation of repressed peoples in Ingushetia.
The law, adopted by the USSR in 1991, stated that North Ossetia’s Prigorodny District should be handed back to the Chechen–Ingush Autonomous Republic, however, Moscow later imposed a five-year moratorium on implementing it.
Prigorodny District was transferred to North Ossetia following the deportation of the entire Chechen and Ingush populations of the North Caucasus to Central Asia in 1944.
Matiyeva said that they were demanding the resignation of the head of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, Chairman of the National Assembly of Ingushetia Magamet Yandiyev, Chairman of the Government of Ingushetia Zyalimkhan Yevloyev, as well as the return of Prigorodny District.
‘People who raised this question on the first day of the rally […] thought that the authorities would come to their senses when they saw people coming to the rally, so the organising committee removed the clause demanding Yevkurov’s resignation’, Matiyeva said.
According to him, the head of Ingushetia made an irreparable step when on 9 September he vowed that he would defend the Constitution of the republic and his people, but is now suing the court.
In parallel with the court proceedings, on 26 November, an application was filed to the Election Commission of Ingushetia to register an initiative group to hold a referendum.
The question to be submitted to a referendum concerned the public’s attitude to the agreement signed on 26 September by the heads of Ingushetia and Chechnya, and whether residents of the republic agreed with the establishment of a new border or not.
According to Ingush news site Fortanga, the authorities have already begun to put pressure on the initiators of the referendum.
Ingush human rights activist Magomed Mutsolgov, who chaired the referendum initiative group, posted on his Instagram page on 30 December that the initiators of the referendum ‘are exposed to blatant blackmail, they are threatened with dismissal from work, as well as pressure on their relatives’.