Chechen troops are also fighting alongside the Russians in the Ukraine war. But that could become a problem for the Kremlin, as intelligence information from Britain suggests. Others, too, see few advantages for Putin in the Chechens.
According to British intelligence, the Russian armed forces are having serious problems with supplies and troop reinforcements in their war against Ukraine. The Ministry of Defense in London announced on Wednesday that Russia would have to deploy many auxiliary troops to break down the Ukrainian resistance, including thousands of fighters from the autonomous republic of Chechnya.
The Chechen forces would primarily be deployed around the embattled port city of Mariupol and in the eastern Ukrainian region of Luhansk. They would likely be made up of both volunteers and National Guard units otherwise used to protect the rule of ruler Ramzan Kadyrov, a close Putin ally.
Inconsistent command “that continues to hamper Russian operations”
But these troops could become a problem for Russia, according to British military intelligence. “The combat deployment of such diverse personnel demonstrates Russia’s significant resource problems in Ukraine and likely contributes to a patchy command that continues to hamper Russian operations.”
Even Kadyrov himself spoke of “mistakes” made during Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine. “In the beginning there were mistakes, there were some shortcomings, but now everything is 100% according to plan,” Kadyrov said at a political forum. The tasks set by President Vladimir Putin would be fulfilled in full. Kadyrov’s troops are fighting in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk.
On February 26, two days after the war began, Kadyrov announced that Chechen troops were being sent to Ukraine. “The President (Putin) made the right decision and we will carry out his orders no matter what,” said the 45-year-old.
Chechen soldiers feared for brutality in Ukraine
The support of the Chechen ruler comes as no surprise given that Kadyrov has worked side by side with the Kremlin for years. Kadyrov was often described as Putin’s “puppet” or “attack dog”.
“Kadyrov earned this reputation through his absolutely brutal and feudalistic firm grip in Chechnya, where he has essentially been the leader since the assassination of his father,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. Kadyrov has been heavily criticized internationally for surveillance, human rights violations and torture of LGBTQ people.
The Chechen troops are feared. Ukrainians said the Chechens were among the Kremlin’s most brutal invading forces, AFP news agency reported. Kadyrov himself does not shy away from publishing videos of his soldiers on Telegram.
Losses and feuds among Kadyrov’s military
According to AFP, Kadyrov said in mid-March that around 1,000 of his troops were in Ukraine – a number that is difficult to verify. “No one knows exactly how many Chechens are fighting in Ukraine or where exactly they are stationed,” Russian political expert Alexei Malashenko told the news agency.
However, it is unclear what influence Kadyrov’s military have in Ukraine. According to the British newspaper The Guardian, “large numbers” of Chechen troops have been killed near the Hostomel airfield, including a commander. Elite Chechen squads were also reportedly recruited for failed attempts to assassinate key Ukrainian leaders in the first 48 hours of the invasion, Western intelligence agencies said.
According to the Guardian, there are also feuds between Chechen commanders and the Russian secret service, which make cooperation difficult, and a lack of integration into the regular army. For example, troops in videos would emphasize that they are under the command of Kadyrov, not the Russian military hierarchy.
Kadyrov uses war for “personal advertising”
But the brutality that Chechen soldiers are accused of is primarily a psychological weapon designed to frighten the people of Ukraine. The announcement of Kadyrov’s troops’ entry into the war and the associated propaganda are part of Russia’s efforts to destabilize the enemy, says Aurélie Campana, a professor of political science at Laval University in Quebec, Canada.
“Kadyrov is taking part in the operation in Ukraine to demonstrate his absolute loyalty to Putin and to maintain his influence,” political expert Konstantin Kalachev told AFP. “For him, the operation is a personal advertisement.”
Emil Solomon Aslan of the Institute for Political Studies at Charles University in Prague also told The Guardian: “There are many thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of Chechens who hate him, who reject him and many families who are in a state of latent blood feuds against him and his family, so Kadyrov understands that he needs Russia’s and Vladimir Putin’s backing if he is to survive.” Therefore he wants to show absolute loyalty and that he is useful.
The longer the war, the more problematic
But the role played by 45-year-old Kadyrov in the Ukraine war is different, according to a report by the Guardian. His social media campaign also aims to recruit new men for the war. So should be lured with money bonuses. However, according to the Guardian, videos such as Telegram were not shot directly at the front in Russia’s war of aggression and served to recruit and strengthen Kadyrov.
However, political scientist Campana believes that the longer the war in Ukraine lasts, the more difficult the relationship between Putin and Kadyrov could become. “Deploying these troops is a risky gamble. Their poor integration into the chain of command could diminish the benefits of engaging alongside regular units of the Russian army. As Kadyrov’s triumphalism does not seem to have kept pace with the reality of this war, could become a political burden for Putin.”
Sources: DPA news agency, British Ministry of Defense on Twitter, Al Jazeera, Federal Agency for Civic Education, “Politico”, NPR, AFP news agency via France24, “The Conversation”, “Guardian”