PUBLICIDAD

Iberdrola

'Hunting' and terrorising: the main objectives of Chechen fighters in Ukraine

The presence of this brigade of more than 10,000 soldiers plays a key role in psychological warfare
Miembros del servicio se reúnen en una plaza durante el discurso del jefe de la República de Chechenia, Ramzan Kadyrov, dedicado a un conflicto militar en Ucrania, en Grozny, Rusia, el 25 de febrero de 2022 REUTERS/CHINGIS KONDAROV

REUTERS/CHINGIS KONDAROV  -   Service members gather in a square during a speech by the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, dedicated to a military conflict in Ukraine, in Grozny, Russia, 25 February 2022.

While Ukrainian and Russian delegations meet in Belarus, Moscow intensifies its offensive against cities such as Mariupol and Kiev. Chechen leader and loyal Kremlin ally Ramzan Kadyrov has joined the invasion, confirming the involvement of more than 10,000 fighters from Russia's Caucasus republic in the invasion of Ukraine. However, some Telegram propaganda channels estimate that the number of Chechens could be as high as 70,000. The republic's current leader is the son of Ajmad Kadyrov, a former leader of the Chechen forces who pledged allegiance to Vladimir Putin in exchange for military and political support.

A propaganda-heavy video and the cry of "Allah is great" was Kadyrov's way of announcing the participation of his soldiers, the so-called Kadyrovites, in the offensive against Ukraine. In addition to members of the national guard, the Chechen leader displayed in Grozny some of the weaponry destined for Ukraine, such as tanks and guns. 

Miembros del servicio se reúnen en una plaza durante el discurso del jefe de la República de Chechenia, Ramzan Kadyrov, dedicado a un conflicto militar en Ucrania, en Grozny, Rusia, el 25 de febrero de 2022 REUTERS/CHINGIS KONDAROV
REUTERS/CHINGIS KONDAROV - Service members gather in a square during the speech of the head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov dedicated to a military conflict in Ukraine, in Grozny, Russia, on February 25, 2022.

The Chechen fighters are highly experienced in urban combat, an aspect that could help Russian troops take the capital, as well as other key locations in the country. As reported in a Russian Defence Ministry press release, the Chechens are "fulfilling their missions in the Kiev region and other cities". Kadyrov, for his part, has assured that his battalion does not aim to "fight against Ukraine or the Ukrainian people".

"Our position is to ensure the security of our state and our people. And we do not want them to attack Russia by using Ukraine," said the Chechen leader and close friend of Putin. Kadyrov has recommended that Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky call Putin and apologise. He also pointed out that on Ukrainian territory there are "many terrorists" who "murdered women, children and old people in the republic of Chechnya". 

Miembros del servicio marchan a lo largo de una calle tras el discurso del jefe de la República de Chechenia, Ramzan Kadyrov, dedicado a un conflicto militar en Ucrania, en Grozny, Rusia, el 25 de febrero de 2022 REUTERS/CHINGIS KONDAROV
REUTERS/CHINGIS KONDAROV - Service members march along a street after the speech of the head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov dedicated to a military conflict in Ukraine, in Grozny, Russia, on February 25, 2022.

For the moment, Chechen mercenaries have announced the seizure of several Ukrainian arsenals near Hostomel, a town near Kiev which, since Moscow's offensive began, has seen several battles between Russian troops and the Ukrainian army. Both sides are fighting for control of the airport, a key airfield because of its capacity to receive large cargo planes. Through his Telegram channel, Kadyrov has also claimed that his soldiers have taken over a Ukrainian military installation "without casualties". In this regard, videos have circulated on social media of fighters raising Russian and Chechen flags in some areas of the Ukrainian national territory.

Miembros del servicio conducen vehículos blindados de transporte de personal con banderas que muestran una imagen del antiguo líder checheno Akhmad Kadyrov tras el discurso del actual jefe de la república Ramzan Kadyrov, dedicado a un conflicto militar en Ucrania REUTERS/CHINGIS KONDAROV
REUTERS/CHINGIS KONDAROV - Service members drive armoured personnel carriers carrying banners showing an image of former Chechen leader Akhmad Kadyrov after a speech by the current head of the republic Ramzan Kadyrov, dedicated to a military conflict in Ukraine
Kadyrov calls for "a large-scale operation"

The Chechen leader, despite signalling that his soldiers have no intention of fighting the Ukrainian people, has called on the Russian army to expand its military offensive "in all directions". "The time has come to make a concrete decision and start a large-scale operation," he said.

Meanwhile, according to Ukrainian sources, Ukrainian forces managed to destroy a column of 56 Chechen tanks near Kiev. During this attack, according to the Ukrainian report, Chechen General Magomed Tushayev, head of the 141st motorised regiment of the Chechen National Guard, was killed, although other sources claim that he is still alive. Tushayev, in addition to being one of Kadyrov's strongmen, has been directly linked to the campaign against the LGBT community carried out by the Chechen authorities. 

El jefe de la República de Chechenia, Ramzan Kadyrov, se dirige a los miembros del servicio mientras hace una declaración, dedicada a un conflicto militar en Ucrania, en Grozny, Rusia, el 25 de febrero de 2022 REUTERS/CHINGIS KONDAROV
REUTERS/CHINGIS KONDAROV - Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov addresses service members as he makes a statement, dedicated to a military conflict in Ukraine, in Grozny, Russia, on February 25, 2022.

In principle, this squad has been transferred to Ukraine to 'hunt' certain Ukrainian officials, although Moscow also uses Chechens to psychologically undermine Ukrainian soldiers and citizens. Kadyrov's fighters, some of them veteran of military operations in Georgia or Syria, are strongly associated with negative ideas, such as brutality and violence on the battlefield. However, these stereotypes respond to the actions carried out by Kadyrov's authoritarian regime, not only in places of conflict, but also among Chechen citizens.

Miembro de las fuerzas especiales de Chechenia durante el discurso del jefe de la República de Chechenia, Ramzan Kadyrov, dedicado a un conflicto militar en Ucrania, en Grozny, Rusia REUTERS/CHINGIS KONDAROV
REUTERS/CHINGIS KONDAROV - Member of the Chechen special forces during the speech of the head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov, dedicated to a military conflict in Ukraine, in Grozny, Russia, 25 February 2022.

Torture and oppression are indispensable tools for the Moscow-dependent government in Grozny. The absence of press freedom has led to journalists fleeing the area after threats from the Chechen leader himself, as was the case with Yelena Milashina of the Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper of the famous reporter Anna Politkovskaya, who was murdered for denouncing abuses by the Russian army during the Chechen wars.

En esta foto de archivo tomada en febrero de 2000, soldados rusos descansan en la plaza Minutka, en Grozny, Chechenia, Rusia. Vladimir Putin parece más invencible que nunca en sus 18 años en el poder, después de que los rusos invadieran Ucrania, bombardearan Siria y hackearan la campaña electoral de Estados Unidos AP/DMITRY BELYAKOV
AP/DMITRY BELYAKOV - In this file photo taken in February 2000, Russian soldiers rest in Minutka Square, in Grozny, Chechnya, Russia.

Milashina's work has focused on the repression of homosexuals in Chechnya, which has been condemned by several NGOs who even speak of 'concentration camps for homosexuals'. The situation for women is not much better. Honour crimes exist and are justified on the basis of tradition and religion.

For these reasons, the ferocity of the Chechens is central to Russia's psychological warfare against Ukraine. As several analysts have explained, this psychological process tries to make citizens believe that what happened in Chechnya during the wars between pro-Russian forces and separatists will happen in Ukraine, i.e. the fighters will take cities by force, loot, rape and kill. However, Jean-François Ratelle, a professor at the University of Ottawa and an expert on Russia and the Caucasus, tells Foreign Policy that this "is clearly not going to happen". Ratelle believes that the Chechens are not ready to storm Kiev.

El jefe de la República de Chechenia, Ramzan Kadyrov (R), habla con el presidente ruso, Vladímir Putin, en la residencia estatal de Novo-Ogaryovo, a las afueras de Moscú, el 31 de agosto de 2019 AFP/ALEXEY NIKOLSKY
AFP/ALEXEY NIKOLSKY - Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov (R) speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the state residence in Novo-Ogaryovo, outside Moscow, on August 31, 2019.
Ukraine, the scene of Chechen clashes 

Kadyrov's forces, like the Russian troops, will encounter strong Ukrainian resistance. In this regard, other Chechen groups at odds with Russia have announced that they will fight the Kadyrovites in Ukraine. Akhmed Zakayev, chairman of the Chechen separatist government-in-exile, has urged Chechens abroad to fight with the Ukrainian army against the Russians and also against their compatriots. The Chechen battalion Dzhokhar Dudayev has joined this call and reported that they will fight against Moscow's forces. This brigade is named after the first president of the Chechen Republic. 

El líder regional de Chechenia, Ramzan Kadyrov, sostiene un Kalashnikov pintado de blanco mientras inspecciona a las tropas antes de su despliegue para un ejercicio en el Ártico en un aeropuerto a las afueras de Grozny, Rusia, el martes 9 de marzo de 2021 AP/MUSA SADULAYEV
AP/MUSA SADULAYEV - Chechnya's regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov holds a white-painted Kalashnikov as he inspects troops before their deployment for an Arctic exercise at an airport outside Grozny, Russia, Tuesday, March 9, 2021

This is not the first time that Chechens have fought each other in Ukraine. Since the Donbas war began in 2014, the region has become a battleground between pro-Moscow Chechens and pro-independence Chechens. In this camp, the role of General Isa Munaev, who fought with Ukrainians against the Russian army until his death in 2015, is noteworthy.

In addition to the Chechens themselves, some Ukrainian militias, such as the nationalist Azov battalion, plan to confront the offensive by Kadyrov's men, whom the Ukrainian National Guard has described as "orcs".