Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Grozny Forcing Chechens to Fight for Russian Side in Ukraine

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 7 – The Chechen government of Ramzan Kadyrov almost certainly at the behest of Moscow is using threats and torture to get Chechens to go to Ukraine to fight for Russian separatist forces. A few have gone as losses have been reported. But resistance to this program is high.

            Oleg Leusenko, a Russian blogger, has posted a letter from a Chechen student about this Grozny program.  She reports that such a recruitment effort has been going on but that “very few want to sign up” after they learn how they are going to be used (

            The recruiters initially denounced those who refused as “cowards,” but they did not leave it at that. Later on the same evening after one of her relatives had refused, masked men broke into his house, seized him, beat him almost to death, and then released him only the following morning.

            According to the woman, “very few people in Chechnya have signed up to be mercenaries in Ukraine. Residents of the country know what is actually happening there, and the entire people” – apparently a reference in this case to the Chechens – “are sympathetic to the Ukrainians.”

The only people who have signed up are former police types and criminals, she says, noting that in the hopes of raising more troops, Kadyrov has opened recruitment centers not only in Grozny but in Achkhoy-Martyan, Znamensky, and Gudermes. Moreover, she reports, Kadyrov officials are openly agitating for Chechens to sign up.

That Grozny and Moscow have had some success in this effort, however, is confirmed by the reports that there have been Chechens among those killed in the counter-terrorist operations in Ukraine.

            While a small thing in some respects – the numbers of Chechens being sent is probably very small – this program is important to note for three reasons.  First, it is yet another example of the way in which Russian forces are being introduced into Ukraine in a way that gives Moscow plausible deniability.  For that reason, more such efforts are likely in the future.

Second, given the thuggishness of the Kadyrov regime, those he will be sending are likely to be willing to commit even more atrocities than even the local ethnic Russians or cover Russian forces. At the very least, such Chechen “fighters” in Ukraine are likely to commit horrors that again Moscow will be happy to use but easy to disown if need be.

And third, the introduction of such Chechen forces not only further complicates the fighting in eastern regions of Ukraine but also sets the stage for provocations against the Crimean Tatars. Because many observers are unlikely to distinguish between members of the two Muslim groups, these Chechens may be used to discredit the Crimean Tatars.


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