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

Photogallery Early Nigeria Results Show Buhari Leading; Tampering Concerns Mount

One local group monitoring polls is concerned politicians might use security agencies to 'fiddle with the election collation process' at state level More

UN: 7,300 Civilians Killed in Boko Haram Insurgency

A senior UN humanitarian official tells the United Nations Security Council 1,000 people have been killed this year More

Turkish President Warns Iran About Trying to Dominate Middle East

Warning comes amid growing concerns inside Turkey that it will be sucked into a sectarian conflict with its neighbor More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
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.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More