Staunton, December 29 – Speaking to a meeting of 20,000 Chechen volunteers in Grozny yesterday, republic head Ramzan Kadyrov said that he and they are ready to perform tasks for Vladimir Putin “which can be solved only by volunteers” and not by “the regular army, air force, navy or nuclear forces” (interfax.ru/russia/415873).
“Putin has helped [the Chechens] for 15 years,” Kadyrov continued. “tens of ands [of Chechens] who have passed through special preparation ask the national leader of Russia to consider us a volunteer special detachment of the Supreme Commander that is ready to defend Russia, its stability and borders and to fulfill a military task of any complexity.”
And he added that “America and Europe have declared economic war on Russia and are trying to sow chaos, panic, and mass disorders in the country.” But, “the Russian people have united around their leader Vladimir Putin … [and] the Chechen people in this unity occupies one of the central places.”
Kadyrov did not say what special tasks he and his Chechen forces might perform for Putin. He may be saying no more than reiterating his proposal made on NTV two weeks ago to send Chechen volunteers to fight in Ukraine’s Donbas (interfax.ru/world/413478) or reemphasizing his personal loyalty to the Kremlin leader in bombastic terms.
But there are at least two other disturbing possibilities. On the one hand, Kadyrov may have been offering to make his Chechen fighters available for irregular warfare or active measures that Moscow may want to maintain plausible deniability of its own direct involvement, including attacks against facilities and individuals beyond the borders of Russia.
And on the other, Kadyrov may also have been offering the Chechens to Putin as a special palace guard, a janissary-type force that he is suggesting the Russian president could count on in the event of a challenge to his rule from within the Russian security services themselves.
There is a long tradition of such forces in Russia. In 1917, for example, the so-called Savage Division consisting of North Caucasians came very close to entering Petrograd under the command of General Krymov and drowning the revolution in blood, being dissuaded on the Pulkovo heights by agitators who urged its members to go home and take power there.
But Kadyrov's offer could backfire on both him and Putin. Many in the Russian government will see this as yet another indication that the Chechen leader has become more an agent of the Russian president than a loyal part of the Russian state. And many more will see this as a dangerous indication of both what Putin may do and of what the Kremlin leader may fear.