News / Europe

    Chechens Fighting in Ukraine Could Erode Support for Separatists

    From left: Chechen regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov accompanied by Russian journalists Oleg Sidyakin and Marat Saichenko addresses media following release from captivity in Ukraine, Grozny, Chechnya, May 25, 2014.
    From left: Chechen regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov accompanied by Russian journalists Oleg Sidyakin and Marat Saichenko addresses media following release from captivity in Ukraine, Grozny, Chechnya, May 25, 2014.
    James Brooke
    Pro-Russian separatists battling Ukrainian forces in eastern regions say they’re facing a shortage of fighters, but they seem to have found a source hundreds of miles to the east, in Russia’s conflict-torn North Caucasus.

    Chechens, renowned for bloody tenacity and fearlessness during two wars in the southern Russian region over the past two decades, have joined in the battle against Ukrainian armed forces around the Donetsk region.

    While the presence of battle-hardened Chechens may bolster the fight on the battlefield, it’s an open question whether they will actually help or hinder the separatist cause.

    “It kind of undermines the whole theme that this is a local battle," said Michael
    Bohm, a Moscow-based journalist and an author of a book on Russian psychology. “For the average grandmother, grandfather, for the average person, who is not particularly in favor of Kyiv but doesn’t want to join Russia, they are not going to look very favorably upon this."

    For older Ukrainians, the arrival of fighters from Chechnya — a region long associated with terrorism — is distasteful at best.

    Between 1994 and 2009, Moscow fought two full-scale wars and battled a low-level insurgency, trying to hold onto the Muslim majority republic. During that period, Chechnya’s ethnic Russian population plummeted, from 23 percent in 1989 to less than 2 percent today. To many observers, the wars were the latest chapters in a 200-year clash of between Muslim Chechnya and Christian Russia.

    For weeks, as the insurgency in Donetsk and other eastern regions gained force, the militants appeared to be mainly a mix of disaffected Ukrainian citizens — ethnic Russians and ethnic Ukrainians — plus small numbers of Russian citizens from across the border. In the past week, however, Western and Ukrainian media have documented and interviewed fighters who identified themselves as Chechen.

    Donetsk Mayor Oleksandr Lukyanchenko said that Chechens were among the 43 separatists hospitalized after a major battle for the Donetsk airport earlier this week. And Chechen fighters reportedly were among the 34 Russian citizens whose remains were sent back to Russia on Thursday.

    Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov posted on the Internet photos of well-armed men he said were Chechens performing Muslim prayers during the Donetsk airport battle, identifying them as soldiers of Chechnya’s strongman leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.

    Kadyrov, who was installed as Chechnya’s leader by Moscow, said any Chechens fighting in eastern Ukraine went there as private citizens.

    "No 'Chechen troops' and especially no 'Chechen military convoys' are taking part in the conflict,” he wrote on his Instagram page.
     
    There is no doubt that Chechens are now fighting in Ukraine, said Yaroslav Kovalchuk, director of the internal politics department of the International Center for Policy Studies in Kyiv. He also said the presence of Chechen fighters would hurt the separatist cause.
      
    “Earlier, a large part of local population supported or were loyal to the militia, because they thought it is local people,” Kovalchuk said. “Now, when they see Chechen people, they see indeed that it is not local gunmen, but it is military men coming from another country."
     
    Chechens are not the only foreigners reported fighting alongside local separatists.

    Cossacks — the legendary horseback-riding communities that populate parts of Russia and Ukraine and that are known for their warrior ethos — ran patrols and manned checkpoints in Crimea before the Black Sea peninsula was annexed by Russia in March. Serbian militiamen were also spotted there. An Associated Press reporter who watched a parade Sunday in Donetsk reported seeing one fighter wearing a patch identifying him as from a Cossack unit from southern Russia.

    The sophistication of the training, weaponry, and equipment being used by some of fighters in eastern Ukraine has also led many to conclude that the Russian security and military intelligence agencies are funding, or sending, operatives over the border.

    "What we are seeing is a lot of mercenaries, from all over — veterans of the Afghan war, the Chechen war, both wars,"  Bohm said. "It is a good way to make money."
     
    Ukraine's ambassador to the United Nations, Yuriy Sergeyev, on Thursday demanded that Russia end what he called “mercenary activities” in eastern Ukraine.
     
    Turning to Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, he asked: “What are hundreds of Chechens doing in Ukraine? Did they come to protect Ukrainian Orthodoxy or Slavic unity?”
     
    The Russian diplomat replied that Sergeyev's “ironic comments about Chechens” were “pointless.”

    You May Like

    Video For Many US Veterans, the Vietnam War Continues

    More than 40 years after it ended, war in Vietnam and America’s role in it continue to provoke bitter debate, especially among those who fought in it

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    100 immigrants graduated Friday as US citizens in New York, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in cities across country

    Family's Fight Pays Off With Arlington Cemetery Burial Rights for WASPs

    Policy that allowed the Women Airforce Service Pilots veterans to receive burial rites at Arlington had been revoked in 2015

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: tate from: France
    June 01, 2014 2:07 PM
    Where does Russia take money from to fund this bloodshed in Ukraine? It's EU who buys its gas in Russia and gives it all means to attack those,who want to be part of the West!!!

    by: Ali from: China
    June 01, 2014 2:06 AM
    But if the mercenaries are killed, who is to take the pay and spend it?

    by: meanbill from: USA
    June 01, 2014 12:45 AM
    The Chechens and other foreign fighters, (are the Russian little green men), and they are from the "Russian Foreign Legion" military -- and they are battle tested, battle hardened, experienced fighters...

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora