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

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

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.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs