Russia is facing a new problem and this concerns the new front that the Chechens have launched outside the North Caucasus. As a result of the brutal suppression of the Chechen armed resistance, only three small groups are left in the republic: the group led by Hamzat, who is also the emir of all the Chechen rebels (checheninfo.com, April 10); the group of Aslanbek Vadalov; and the group that remained after the destruction of the Gakaev brothers, Hussein and Muslim (youtube.com, January 24, 2013), which is now led by Emir Makhran (chechenews.com, November 10, 2012). Geographically, these three groups are based in different parts of mountainous Chechnya: Emir Hamzat is in the western part of Chechnya on the border with Ingushetia, Emir Aslanbek is in the eastern part of Chechnya on the border with Dagestan, and Emir Makhran’s group is in the central part of the republic—in the Vedeno, Kurchaloi and Shali districts.
Pressure on the Chechen militants fighting against Kadyrov inside Chechnya has led to the main forces of the Chechen militancy concentrating outside Russia. Moreover, the policy of driving the militants out of the region has created a new situation in which the Chechen militants launched a second front against Russia abroad. Initially, the new front surfaced in Syria, where around a thousand Chechens concentrated and were prepared to fight for Islamic values (see EDM, December 12, 2013).
The Chechen factor has also played a notable role in the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation since it started. Initially, the Ukrainian media discussed the possibility that Chechens had joined the conflict on Russia’s side against Kyiv (see EDM, May 30). However, statements in the Ukrainian media pushed those Chechens who reside in Europe to open a second front against Russia inside Ukraine. The same Chechens who left Russia at the time of the war now think that they have the full right to take revenge against Russia (zulikhan.livejournal.com).
The involvement of Chechens in the hostilities in Ukraine against Russia is not limited to a handful of cases, but has become a mass phenomenon (studway.com.ua, May 25). Reports about the first Chechens killed defending Ukraine’s freedom arrived earlier this month. On July 12, Artyom Netrunenko (a.k.a. Umar Valkiria), a 25-year-old of mixed Ukrainian and Chechen extraction who was a member of a Ukrainian interior ministry paramilitary unit, was killed in the suburbs of Luhansk when separatists fired on a car carrying him and four other Ukrainian servicemen (umma.ua, July 12). Friends of Netrunenko decided not to bury him until the liberation of Luhansk, when he will be given a funeral with full military honors as a hero of Ukraine.
The Free Caucasus socio-political movement caused an uproar when it announced the formation of an international peacekeeping battalion of volunteers that accepts all people who are willing to fight for the freedom and independence of Ukraine. The battalion was named the Dudaev battalion after the first President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Dzhokhar Dudaev. Isa Munaev, who was a brigadier general in the armed forces of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, was appointed commander of the volunteer peacekeeping battalion (chechenews.com, March 3).
Munaev was one of the most famous heroes of the Second Russian-Chechen war. At the start of the war in 1999, the Chechen president, Aslan Maskhadov, appointed him as the military commandant of the republic. The Russian media later incorrectly announced that he had been killed (Kommersant, October 3, 2000). As Chechen forces retreated from Grozny into the mountains, Munaev was promoted to the rank of general and he was appointed the commander of the southwestern front (compromatwiki). Munaev left Chechnya in 2004 or 2005 after being seriously injured on the battlefield and ended up in Denmark, where he became one of the founders of the Free Caucasus socio-political movement. Along with Chechens, Georgians and Azerbaijanis living in Denmark also belong to this organization.
Responding to questions last month, Munaev said that he did not represent anyone else apart from a movement made up of multiple ethnic groups (bolshoyforum, June 4). Munaev said he was holding talks with Ukrainian authorities about allowing the Dzhokhar Dudaev international peacemaking battalion into Ukraine. The Ukrainian authorities, Munaev said, are afraid of a possible harsh Russian response to such a move. Munaev is known for his uncompromising stance on Russia, and a recent statement for the press testifies to the toughness of his position. “[A]nyone from my people who does not live with the thought of eliminating the Russian Federation is the same to me as Putin,” he said. “[A]ny enemy of the Russian Federation is automatically without any preconditions my friend!” (golosichkerii, June 29).
Not only Chechens, but also Ukrainians and Russians who live in the West are signing up to join this battalion so they can fight on Ukraine’s side under Isa Munaev’s command. Azerbaijani Isa Sadykov was appointed as deputy commander of the volunteer battalion. Sadykov is better known as the former deputy minister of defense of Azerbaijan who opposed the government in Baku and currently resides as a political asylee in Norway (haqqin.az, June 6).
One report stated that “apart from other nationalities of the world, over 300 Chechens signed up for the battalion with the single aim of helping the Ukrainian people defend their freedom and independence in the armed fight against imperial Russia” (golosichkerii.com, June 29). Thus, the overall number of volunteers currently probably exceeds 500. Of course, it is hard to imagine that Kyiv will agree to allow in volunteer fighters from other countries; but to not use this volunteer battalion would also be a big mistake on the part of the Ukrainian government.
Thus, we are seeing how the confrontation between Chechens and Russia is reaching a new stage, one that involves Chechen emigrants. This new development has a greater significance than the armed jihadist insurgency against the authorities in Chechnya. It is estimated that about 120,000 Chechens emigrated to European countries alone. This figure demonstrates that, in the future, Moscow will have to deal with a formidable force of manpower residing outside of Russia that continues to harbor deep resentment against the Kremlin for its two brutal wars in Chechnya and could become a valuable source of volunteers for the Ukrainian army should Kyiv go this route. At a minimum, Ukraine could capitalize on tapping into the knowledge of former military commanders like General Munaev, who has a vast amount of experience in fighting in urban warfare in Grozny. His knowledge of urban combat could help Ukrainian commanders deal with a major looming challenge in retaking the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, where pro-Russian rebels are well prepared for a future Ukrainian drive to retake those cities.