Russian channels have been broadcasting footage leveraging the presence of Chechen soldiers in Ukraine. According to reports, the flow of these photos is being utilized as a psychological warfare against Ukrainians. Experts believe Moscow’s weaponisation of Chechen fighters, based on preconceptions about Chechens, is part of a propaganda campaign attempt to force Kyiv’s surrender—efforts that have so far backfired dramatically.
Ramzán Kadrov, the Chechen Prime Minister, confirms that more than 10,000 Chechen soldiers are actively participating in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
According to reports, a network of pro-Kremlin Telegram groups has stated that somewhere between 10,000 and 70,000 Chechen fighters—which Kadyrov has dubbed as “volunteers”— are preparing to depart for Ukraine to bolster Moscow’s main forces.
Who are the Chechens?
The Chechens are one of numerous ethnic groups that may be traced back thousands of years to the North Caucasus’ highlands. While their presence dates back centuries, their yearning for independence and autonomy has defined much of their recent history.
The numerous ethnic groups, the majority of whom were Muslims, declared independence from Russia in 1917 and were recognised as the United Mountain Dwellers of the North Caucasus by several global powers. Later, the Soviet Union invaded, leading to the formation of the Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. People, however, battled against Soviet control. As a result, Joseph Stalin declared that all Chechens must leave the region and be transported to Siberia for “rehabilitation.”
According to some historians, up to half of the people died as a result of this process. Years later, during the “De-Stalinization” period, the Chechen people were allowed to return to their motherland under the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev. More recently, the European Union has declared the deportation to be a genocide.
A history of conflict between Chechenya and Russia
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Chechen Republic was founded, and many people fought for their independence. This sparked a severe split between the republic and the Kremlin, culminating in the invasion of the country in 1994.
The First Chechen War followed, resulting in the Chechen Republic defeating Russian forces and obtaining de facto (self-rule) independence in 1995. But as claimed Russian President Vladimir Putin, has pledged to eliminate the separatist movement, fueling unrest in the breakaway area.
Therefore, Russia invaded again a few years later, seizing control of the territory and absorbing its borders in 2000. The Russian invasion justification was based on a series of alleged Chechen terrorist residential attacks. Moscow did not declare the end of the internal terrorist threat until 2009. However, it did disregard the continuing fighting in the area as the insurgency raged on.
According to some estimates from international organisations, between 15,000 and 25,000 people were killed during the Second Chechen War.
Russian perception of Chechnya
The brutal battle between Russian soldiers and Chechen separatists, which raged periodically from the mid-1990s to 2009, has affected Russian perceptions of Chechnya. More recently, in Chechnya, Kadyrov initiated a harsh attack on LGBTQ individuals that went much beyond anything seen elsewhere in Putin’s socially conservative Russia.
Anti-Chechen sentiment is believed to be still rampant in the region, despite Kadyrov’s status as a loyal Putin lieutenant: Over the last two decades, there have been reports of violent clashes between ethnic Chechens and Russians. Putin’s deployment of Chechen special troops in his battles has cemented their ominous reputation.
Kadyrov, a Chechen warlord and close ally of Putin, was one of the most outspoken advocates of not just initiating a military operation against Kyiv but also annexing the entire country in the weeks leading up to Putin’s declaration of war.
Chechen soldiers in Ukraine?
Kadyrov has stated that 10,000 soldiers will be dispatched at this point to Ukraine to reinforce the Russian army. Russian state television is weaponizing “the notion that Chechens are particularly aggressive and cruel,” according to Foreign Policy, and the stereotype is a “well manicured worldview.”
As per a video posted by the news outlet Egazet on Saturday evening, Akhmed Zakayev, the leader of the Chechen separatist government in exile, made a statement announcing his intention to establish volunteer detachments of Chechens residing abroad to fight with the Ukrainian government. Even in places where Chechen fighters have scored gains, Ukrainian security forces have halted their attacks for the time being. Images circulated to pro-Ukrainian media have shown Chechen tanks with the telltale V blazing at the side of the road.
The overall help the Chechens will be able to provide to the Russian attack is unknown, and their emergence following the invasion surprised many analysts. However, experts claim that the Kremlin is only attempting to intimidate Ukrainian forces by using stereotypical pictures and tropes of Chechen fighters.
The psychological warfare fits in nicely with Russia’s broader efforts to stop the invasion of Ukraine before it even started. However, it does not appear to be working very well. The speed with which the conflict in Ukraine has progressed implies that Russia anticipated far less resistance than it has encountered, a conclusion confirmed by Western intelligence.
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