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

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership 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.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid