Simply two days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine was launched, Ramzan Kadyrov, president of Russia’s Chechen Republic, introduced his forces had been deployed to the battlefield.
Since then, Chechnya’s chief has posted on social media common updates and movies of Chechen troopers allegedly collaborating in navy and humanitarian actions on Ukrainian territory.
On March 14, he uploaded a video of himself in a room filled with troopers, saying he was with Chechen forces close to the capital, Kyiv. The declare was not independently verified and Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov mentioned he had “no info” about Kadyrov being in Ukraine.
This was not the primary time Chechen forces have been deployed to conflicts the Russian military has participated in. Additionally they took half within the 2008 warfare in Georgia, the primary section of the battle in Ukraine in 2014-15, and the Syrian warfare.
Observers, nonetheless, say regardless of their status as fierce fighters, Chechen forces despatched to Ukraine haven’t performed a big position on the battlefield. Their presence has been perceived as a public relations train, one which displays each Kadyrov’s personal political posturing and the Kremlin’s propaganda wants.
Who’s Ramzan Kadyrov?
Kadyrov got here to energy in 2007, three years after his father, former Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, was assassinated. The 2 fought within the first Chechen Warfare (1994-96) on the aspect of pro-independence forces however within the Second Chechen Warfare (1999-2000) switched sides and helped the Russian military defeat them. Because of this, Chechnya misplaced its short-lived independence and have become one of many areas of the Russian Federation.
Since coming to energy, Kadyrov has stamped out political opposition and curbed human rights and freedoms. He has been accused of ordering torture and extrajudicial killings. A string of assassinations of Russian journalists and human rights activists have been linked to Chechnya, together with the killing of Anna Politkovskaya in 2006 and Nataliya Estemirova in 2009, each of whom had criticised Kadyrov.
Plenty of his Chechen critics who had sought asylum overseas have additionally been attacked and a few killed, together with Sulim Yamadayev, a former Chechen navy commander, and Kadyrov’s former bodyguard Umar Israilov.
In 2017, the US imposed sanctions on the Chechen president over his human rights report. The Treasury Division additionally linked him to the 2015 assassination of Boris Nemtsov, a distinguished opposition chief and critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Kadyrov’s heavy-handed repression in Chechnya has drawn little response from Moscow. Based on Russian journalist and political commentator Konstantin von Eggert, that is due to the political association Putin struck with Kadyrov.
“Russia didn’t win the 2 Chechen wars. Russia was defeated,” Eggert mentioned. “[There was] an unofficial understanding that Russia goes to finance Chechnya … and goes to depart Chechnya to handle its personal affairs in trade for peace.”
All through his 15-year tenure as Chechnya’s president, Kadyrov has offered himself as a guarantor of peace, cracking down on separatists and launching “anti-terrorism” operations. He has additionally repeatedly demonstrated his devotion to Putin in his rhetoric and political exercise.
“The position of Kadyrov since he turned president has been to indicate loyalty to Putin … and to function a boogeyman, a relentless risk to Putin’s enemies,” Eggert mentioned.
In return, the Chechen Republic has loved vital subsidies from the Russian federal authorities, going as excessive as 87 % of its finances, which haven’t been lowered even when austerity measures had been imposed previously.
Federal funds have additionally repeatedly gone into the Akhmad Kadyrov Fund, together with necessary month-to-month contributions from the salaries of Chechen state and personal firm staff. The fund, which has been sanctioned by the US Treasury, is seen as Kadyrov’s monetary instrument and has been used for quite a lot of private tasks, together with allegedly paying Western actors to attend his birthday.
‘Kadyrovtsi’ in Ukraine
The deployment of Chechen troops to Ukraine has been yet one more act of loyalty from Kadyrov in the direction of the Kremlin. In his February 26 video, he mentioned: “The president took the best choice and we’ll perform his orders below any circumstances.”
Kadyrov has claimed that Chechen volunteers able to go to Ukraine are within the tens of hundreds. A report from Russian state broadcaster RT reported some 12,000 Chechen troops had been ready to deploy to Ukraine, however there was no affirmation of what number of are literally on the bottom.
Based on Harold Chambers, a North Caucasus analyst, Chechen forces linked to Kadyrov – often known as “Kadyrovtsy” – had been a part of the convoy that headed to Kyiv and are additionally within the besieged metropolis Mariupol.
“The Kadyrovtsy in Ukraine have been given standard goals [ie, neutralising Ukrainian leadership, counterinsurgency, stopping desertion], whereas taking part in an important half in Putin’s preliminary psychological warfare marketing campaign,” Chambers advised Al Jazeera.
Though Kadyrov has mentioned Chechen forces are collaborating within the combating, the declare has been challenged by Russian-backed separatists and a few observers.
In a March 15 publish on social media, Igor Girkin, a former commander of Russian-backed separatist forces in Donetsk, mentioned Chechen troopers had not participated within the combating in Mariupol. In a March 16 interview, Alexander Khodakovsky, commander of the Vostok battalion, a part of the Donetsk separatist forces, mentioned Chechen troopers got here to Mariupol ill-equipped.
“They confirmed up all wrapped up, fairly, bearded, dressed up … I regarded round – gentle armoured autos. That they had no assist means,” Khodakovsky mentioned.
Ruslan Leviev, founding father of the Battle Intelligence Staff, a analysis collective that makes use of open-source knowledge to map out Russian navy exercise, advised Al Jazeera he has seen no proof of Chechen forces collaborating in combating.
“They stand behind the entrance line and do ‘fairly movies’, shouting ‘Akhmat – Energy!’ and ‘Allahu Akbar!’” he mentioned.
Different Chechen forces are in Ukraine which have joined the Ukrainian aspect. They’re a part of the Dzhokhar Dudayev and Sheikh Mansur volunteer battalions, which had been additionally engaged in combating in jap Ukraine in 2014-15. They’re made up of Chechens who overtly oppose Kadyrov, however in response to Chambers, haven’t instantly confronted “Kadyrovtsy” on the entrance line thus far.
The Dzhokhar Dudayev battalion is probably going deployed to struggle within the east, whereas Sheikh Mansur fighters are a part of the forces defending Kyiv, he mentioned.
Other than claiming numerous navy successes, Kadyrov has additionally posted on social media about Chechen troopers distributing humanitarian assist, which he mentioned had been purchased with cash from the Akhmad fund.
“There’s a clear communication or PR process which is carried out by Chechen troops in Ukraine,” Grigory Shvedov, chief editor of Caucasus-focused Kavkazkiy Uzel media outlet, advised Al Jazeera.
In his opinion, the deployment of Chechen forces to Ukraine is an opportunity for Kadyrov to show his usefulness after violence and insecurity within the North Caucasus declined lately, and the big subsidies Chechnya receives from the federal finances began to look unjustified.
This comes as sanctions imposed on Russia on account of the invasion are placing a big pressure on its federal finances and should undermine its capacity to distribute funding to regional governments, together with the Chechen one.
Kadyrov’s technique of demonstrating loyalty and enthusiasm for the warfare appears to be working, notably as reviews have emerged that components of the Russian political institution and financial elite have opposed the invasion.
On March 16, throughout a gathering to debate financial assist for Russia’s federal areas, which Kadyrov attended together with different regional heads, President Putin turned and thanked him for his service, including “say hiya to your guys”.
“This reveals that this PR isn’t solely a [Chechen] initiative, however one thing which is demanded from the very best stage,” Shvedov mentioned.
Other than utilizing Kadyrov’s communications ways within the effort to win the knowledge warfare at dwelling and overseas, the Kremlin could quickly resort to a few of his different political methods. Based on Shvedov, the warfare in Ukraine is prone to improve the necessity for oppressive social management in Russia.
“The Chechenisation of Russian society after this tragedy in Ukraine will solely improve. And it’s not solely repression itself, but additionally the usage of energy to construct legitimacy,” he mentioned. “We’re already seeing [this] and the one query is how far it might go.”