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Chechen Leader Denies Sending Fighters to Ukraine

Chechen regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov speaks at a news conference in Chechnya's provincial capital Grozny, Russia, April 12, 2014.
The leader of Russia's Chechnya region has denied sending men to fight on the side of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Ramzan Kadyrov issued a statement on Instagram Tuesday "officially" denying claims that, as he put it, "Chechen units" from Russia had "invaded" eastern Ukraine.

"No 'Chechen servicemen', especially 'Chechen military convoys', are taking part in the conflict," Kadyrov wrote.

He said Chechnya was a region of the Russian Federation which, under Russia's constitution,"has no armed forces," adding that if a Chechen was seen in the conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, "then it is his personal business."

Britain's Financial Times reported Tuesday it found a group of armed men in Donetsk who said they were part of a Chechen unit that had travelled to Ukraine to fight with the separatists.

The newspaper quoted one of the men as saying that Kadyrov had given the order for them to join the fight.

Also Tuesday, Donetsk Mayor Alexander Lykyanchenko said eight Russian nationals were among the 43 people hospitalized as a result of the fighting in around the airport, and that among the eight Russians were residents of Grozny, Chechnya's capital, and Gudermes, a town in Chechnya.

A close ally of Russian President Vladimir, Ramzan Kadyrov has been the head of Chechnya, a Muslim-majority republic in Russia's North Caucasus, since 2007.

Numerous human rights groups have reported he rules with an iron fist, using armed units he gained control over following the 2004 assassination of his father, Akhmad Kadyrov, who then headed Chechnya. Following his father's death, Kadyrov became the head of the Chechnya's security services and later its prime minister before formally becoming the republic's head.

Both father and son had fought against Russia on the side of Chechnya's separatists during Moscow's first military intervention in the region from 1994 to 1996, but switched to the Russian side when Moscow again intervened militarily in Chechnya in 2000.