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Who are the Chechens? What role can they play in the war between Ukraine - Russia

Chechen Prime Minister Ramzán Kadýrov confirms the participation of more than 10,000 Chechen soldiers in Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Chechen Prime Minister Ramzán Kadýrov confirms the participation of more than 10,000 Chechen soldiers in Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The Prime Minister of Chechnya, Ramzán Kadírov, confirmed last Friday that Chechen troops would be sent to support the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In a video posted online, Kadyrov said that invading Ukraine was the "right decision" and that they would be ready to "carry out" Putin's orders "under any circumstances."

Kadyrov has been known for his ardent support of the Kremlin, going so far to call himself a Russian "foot solider." Human Rights Watch has tracked repeated human rights abuses against the Chechen people by security forces backed by the Kremlin.

Ramzán Kadírov is the son of Akhmad Kadyrov, who served as the First President of the Chechen Republic beginning in 2003 after the Second Chechen War. In 2007,  Akhmad Kadyrov was killed in a bombing attack, and Russian President Vladimir Putin selected his son Ramzán as his successor and he has been running the country ever since.

Who are the Chechen?

The Chechens are one many ethnic groups that have been traced back to the highlands of the North Caucasus for thousands of years. While their presence can be traced back centuries, much of their recent history has been defined by their desire for independence and autonomy.

In 1917, the various ethnic group, majority Muslim, in declared independence from Russia and were recognized by various global powers as the United Mountain Dwellers of the North Caucasus.

The Soviet Union later invaded and eventually the Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was established. However, the people fought against Soviet rule. This led Joseph Stalin to declare that all Chechen people would have to leave the area and were deported to Siberia for "rehabilitation." Some historians estimate that during this process up to half of the population perished. Years later under the leadership of  Nikita Khrushchev, the Chechen people were allowed to return to their homeland during the period known as "De-Stalinization." More recently, the European Union has recognized the deportation that occurred as a genocide.

In 1991, the Chechen Republic was formed after the collapse of the USSR and many fought for their independence.This caused a major rift between the republic and the Kremlin and the country was invaded in 1994. This led to the First Chechen War which ended with the Chechen Republic defeating Russian forces, thus gaining de fact independence in 1995.

A few years later, Russia invaded again and seized control of the territory, absorbing its borders in 2000. Russian pretext for the invasion was based on various alleged residential bombings carried out by Chechen terrorists. It was not until 2009, that Moscow acknowledged that the domestic terrorist threat was over. However, it did ignore the continued fighting in the area as the rebellion continued. 

Some estimates completed by international organizations estimate that anywhere between 15,000 and 25,000 civilians died during the Second Chechen War.

How many Chechen soldiers will be sent to Ukraine?

At this point, Kadyrov has said that around 10,000 soldiers will be sent to Ukraine to reinforce the Russian army. Foreign Policy has reported that state TV in Russia weaponizing "the idea that Chechens are particularly fierce and ruthless," going on to describe the stereotype is a "carefully manicured ethos". Justin Ling added that this is being done as a part of the Kremlin's propaganda efforts which aim to "force Kyiv’s surrender—efforts that have, thus far, spectacularly backfired."

The news reports out of Russia have reported that between 10,000 and 70,000 Chechen soldiers have arrived, but Ling believes that is a "vast over estimate." Kadyrov has said that no Chechen soldiers have been killed in the fighting, but the claim has yet to be verified.

The overall support the Chechens will be able to provide to the Russian assault still unknown and their appearance surprised many experts following the invasion. But what does seem clear is that the Kremlin is trying to use stereotypical images and tropes of the Chechen fighters to demoralize Ukrainian fighters. Whether or not this tactic has been effective is still unknown.


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