Saturday, November 19, 2022

Kadyrov Wants to Raise and Deploy Sufi Battalions in Ukraine But Experts Doubt That will Happen

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Nov. 18 – As part of his effort to raise forces for Putin’s war in Ukraine and perhaps reflecting difficulties in doing so, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov says that Chechen women should join reserve units and that Chechen Sufis should form their own battalions so as to be able to go to Ukraine to fight.

            But experts on religious life in the North Caucasus with whom the Kavkaz-Uzel news agency spoke as well as opponents of the Chechen leader say that this likely is a PR move or an act of desperation and that such Sufi units have not yet been formed and are unlikely to respond to his  call (

            “All murids [followers of Sufism] should unite in groups, create and then name their battalions, companies and detachments in honor of their ustazi [teachers and founders of Sufi trends],” Kadyrov said this week. “These must be set up and prepared” to be sent to fight in Ukraine.

            Rinat Mukhametov, a specialist on Islamic communities at the Council of Muftis of Russia (SMR), says that Kadyrov may hope to use the Sufis to attract more men to his units, especially Chechens living outside the republic but members of the same Sufi orders and wirds as those within it.

            But he has grave “doubts that any Chechen Sufi detachments could possibly become an independent and serious military force,” Kavkaz-Uzel reports. In the past, most Sufi military units were anti-Russian as during the 19th century Russian-Caucasian war and more recently during the first post-Soviet Chechen war.

            The head of the NIYSO telegram channel, which speaks for many Chechens opposed to Kadyrov, says that he doesn’t think there will be an enthusiastic response to Kadyrov’s call. Some Sufis close to the regime may form these units for PR purposes but most others won’t, and the former won’t be sent to Ukraine as that would undermine Kadyrov’s regime.

            Ruslan Kutayev, president of the Assembly of Peoples of the Caucasus, says that what Kadyrov has called for reflects his difficulties in raising men and won’t work. Sufi orders will defend their own villages or regions, but they have little or no interest in fighting for Putin’s “Russian world.”

            Kutayev acknowledges that Sufism is widespread in Chechnya with “no fewer than 30 percent” of the population part of it. That explains why Kadyrov would seek to reach out to such people, but they are hardly likely to respond in the way he hopes as they are much more pacifist than he except when their own villages or region is attacked.

            And Chechen opposition leader Ibragim Yangulbayev agrees. “The Sufis have no ideological motivation for taking part in military actions,” especially those beyond their republic and not directed at defending either their own land or their faith. Like the others with whom Kavkaz-Uzel spoke, he sees no evidence that any such units have even begun to be formed.

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