Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, confirmed on Saturday that he sent Chechen militia forces to assist Moscow in its invasion of Ukraine. 

While the exact number of deployed Chechen fighters is uncertain, according to Russian state media RT, Kadyrov claimed that some 12,000 pro-Russian Chechen fighters were ready to be sent to Ukraine. 

“As of today, as of this minute, we do not have one single casualty, or wounded, not a single man has even had a runny nose,” said Kadyrov, who denied Ukrainian claims that the deployed Chechen forces had suffered losses. 

However, Magomed Tushayev, a senior Chechen commander of the Chechnya National Guard, was reportedly killed in a fight with Ukrainian forces on Saturday. 

Kadyrov, who urged Ukrainians to overthrow the Ukrainian government in Kyiv, stressed his commitment to Putin and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

“The president (Putin) took the right decision and we will carry out his orders under any circumstances,” Kadyrov said.

Who are the Chechens? 

Numbering around 1.5 million, the Sunni-Muslim Chechens are Russia’s sixth largest ethnic minority group and are mainly concentrated in Chechnya in the Caucasus region. Tsarist Russia incorporated Chechnya into its expanding empire in the 19th century. The Chechens opposed Soviet rule in the early 20th century and were granted autonomy in 1922. 

Following accusations of cooperation with Nazi Germany in the 1940s, Chechens suffered mass deportations ordered by the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Chechen rebellions against Russia in the 1990s resulted in two brutal Russian-Chechen wars, which claimed the lives of thousands of people on both sides. Russia eventually flattened the Chechen capital Grozny in 2000 but failed to extinguish the Chechen independence movement. 

Why are Chechens fighting for Russia? 

The current Chechen leadership’s pro-Russian affiliation may come as a surprise given the historically tense and often violent Russian-Chechen relations. However, there are deep divisions within the Chechen community. 

Akhmad Kadyrov, the late father of the current Chechen leader, was a Chechen nationalist who initially fought against Russia. However, following his criticism of radical foreign jihadists during the second Russian-Chechen war, Kadyrov decided to switch sides and offered his services to Russia in 1999. Kadyrov senior was appointed Chechnya’s first president in 2003 with a clear pro-Russian orientation. He was assassinated in 2004, but his son – the current Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov – has continued his pro-Russian policy in exchange for considerable Chechen autonomy within the Russian Federation. 

Rival Chechen militias in the Donbas war

Ukraine has served as a battleground for rival Chechen militias who have participated on both sides of the armed conflict in the eastern part of Ukraine – also known as the Donbas war – since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. 

Pro-Russian Chechen militias have served alongside Moscow-friendly rebels in eastern Ukraine, while anti-Russian Chechens have fought against Russian interests in Ukraine and opposed Moscow’s annexation of Crimea with its native Muslim minority population. 

Pro-Russian Chechen militia in Ukraine 

In the current Russian-Ukrainian war, Russia is reportedly using the brutal image of Chechen militants as a tool of psychological intimidation against the local Ukrainian population. Jean-François Ratelle, an expert on Russia at the University of Ottawa, believes that Moscow is deliberately trying to terrorize Ukrainians with the presence of Chechen militias. 

“The [psychological operation] is about making people believe that what happened in Chechnya will happen in Ukraine—that they’ll rampage the city, loot, rape, and kill,” he said.

While their actual impact on the battle in Ukraine is still unclear, Kadyrov has reportedly urged Putin to allow the feared Chechen fighters to “finish off the Nazis,” Moscow’s description of Ukraine’s democratically elected pro-Western government led by Jewish President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. 

While the regular Russian military is in control of the main invasion operations, Pro-Russian Chechen special forces in Ukraine have reportedly been given decks of cards of the Ukrainian leaders and are tasked with detaining or killing senior Ukrainian officials with Zelensky as the top target. 

Share this article