Ethnically Non-Russian Formations in Russia’s War on Ukraine: Bashkortostan

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 52


Executive Summary:

  • Russia is expanding the number of “volunteer battalions” from non-ethnically Russian regions, especially Bashkortostan.
  • Most battalions are named after Soviet or post-Soviet heroes—likely to prevent inflaming local patriotic (nationalist), anti-Russian, or anti-colonial sentiments in Bashkortostan.
  • Moscow, in legitimizing these formations, is trying to avoid the mistakes made with the Wagner Group of giving too much latitude to its leadership, keeping the new formations under strict Kremlin control.

Russia has initiated the formation of “volunteer” battalions to shore up manpower problems in Ukraine. Many of these battalions come from the ethnically non-Russian parts of the Russian Federation. The “volunteers” from Bashkortostan have played an important role in the war against Ukraine. As of late 2023, many of these battalions from Bashkortostan have taken on rather significant combat roles.

The battalion named for Minigali Shaymuratov, a Tatar cavalry general and hero during the Great Patriotic War, was formed in the summer of 2022. A detailed open-source study of this military formation provides greater insights into its core elements.

  • Organization: The initiative to create the battalion came exclusively from the former and retired members of the local siloviki—a person who works for a state organization that is authorized to use force—in Bashkortostan. Specifically, at the end of May 2022, Alik Kamaletdinov, chairman of the regional public organization “Veterans of the Marines and Special Forces of the Russian Navy,” posted an announcement asking volunteers to create a Bashkir battalion to take part in the “special military operation.” Local big businesses provided the battalion with equipment and initial training (, July 6, 2022).
  • Finances: In addition to the private sector, the Bashkortostan government allocated large sums of money to provide material support to both recruiters and their families (, July 6, 2022). Over time, the scope of material support increased. As of now, any volunteer interested in joining the battalion will receive, on top of regular monthly payments and other bonuses, 400,000 rubles ($4,300) as a one-time payment  (, March 21).
  • Operations: The battalion was primarily employed during the battle of Bakhmut, where it mainly carried out defensive operations.  (For more information on the battle, see “Prigozhin, the Kremlin, and the Battle for Bakhmut,” March 20, 2023;, July 30, 2023). Later, the battalion was likely used to launch Russian offensive operations at the end of 2023, with battalion members primarily acting as stormtroopers (, December 25, 2023).

The battalion’s involvement in high-intensity operations has led to severe staffing issues. In late 2023, the head of Bashkortostan, Radiy Khabirov, admitted the battalion “has lost a great deal of people and has now changed its composition almost completely” (, November 29, 2023).

The battalion named for Salawat Yulayev, a Bashkir poet and hero who led Pugachev’s rebellion in the 18th century, was initially formed in November 2022. Now, three such battalions bear the same name (, November 18, 2022). Analysis of the military formation’s activities highlight the following characteristics: 

  •  Age-Related Restrictions: Initially, the battalion only accepted men below the age of 50. The limit, however, has since been changed to 55 (, August 10, 2023). A large number of volunteers ready to join the battalion and/or a high volume of losses in Ukraine likely precipitated this change.
  • Composition and Organization: Russian Colonel Artur Yumaguzhin, who took an active role in the Chechen wars, organized the battalion. Members of the siloviki make up 70 percent of the formation. According to local sources, the battalion’s core members come from the Special Rapid Response Unit (SOBR), Special Purposes Mobile Unit (SPMU), Federal Penitentiary Service, as well as Rosgvardia (Russian National Guard) and include paratroopers, border guards, and private security contractors.

In addition to the battalions mentioned above the following formations have also played an active role in Moscow’s war:

  • The battalion named for Alexander Dostavalov, a Bashkortostan native and paratrooper who died in a battle in the North Caucasus in 2000, was formed in the summer of 2022. The creation of this formation was another initiative of Yumaguzhin (, July 12, 2022). The formation— formally operating under Rosgvardia’s umbrella—performs military tasks independently and under the direction of Rosgvardia’s leadership (, accessed March 30).
  • The battalion “Vatan” (“Motherland”) was formed in April 2023. Based on local sources, the battalion accepts candidates up to the age of 60 (, April 12, 2023). The initiators and organizers of this formation are unknown.
  • The battalion “Northern Amurs” was created in late April 2023 and is considered to be one of the “oldest” Bashkir military formations, with an average age between 50 and 60 years old (, May 10, 2023). According to local sources, the battalion operates under the purview of Rosgvardia (, March 4, 2023).
  • The battalion named for Dayan Murzin, an intelligence officer and hero of the Great Patriotic War, is formally subordinated to the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) (, March 4, 2023; April 26, 2023).
  • The battalion named for Tagir Kusimov, a Soviet general from Bashkortostan and hero of the Great Patriotic War, was formed in May 2023. It is officially part of the mechanized infantry regiment “Bashkortostan” under the direct control of the MoD (, May 11, 2023;, May 12, 2023).

Some important features of these Bashkir formations are essential to outline to better understand their role and purpose. Apart from the battalion named for Salawat Yulayev, most of these formations were named after Bashkirs who gained prominence either during the Soviet period or after 1991. This is likely because local authorities do not want to inflame local patriotic (nationalist), anti-Russian, or anti-colonial sentiments by using the names of pre-1917 Bashkir heroes. Additionally, Moscow appears to be ready and willing to revert to its pre-1917 historical methods and start using ethnically non-Russian (para)military formations in its wars and other geopolitical “adventures” (see War by Other Means, April 12, 2019).

Officially, these formations are directly subordinated to the Russian state. Their members’ public appearances and statements, however, paint a different picture. The majority of statements found on Telegram consistently praise the head of Bashkortostan for his role in supporting the fighters and their family members—not the Russian military-political leadership (, September 27, 2023; accessed March 30).

Moscow, in legitimizing these formations, is trying to avoid the mistakes made with the Wagner Group of granting too much autonomy to its leadership. Today, at least in terms of arms, munitions, and operational functions, these formations operate under the umbrella of either the MoD or Rosgvardia.

Russia’s use of non-ethnic Russians to fight their battles is not a new trend. However, that there is a rise in these formations now, during Russia’s war in Ukraine, is not a coincidence. The rise in nationalism among non-ethnic Russian republics across the Russian Federation is likely a factor of the Kremlin’s involvement with these formations. To suppress ideas of nationalism and separatism and as Russia runs out of manpower, the Kremlin will likely turn to these non-ethnic Russian formations to fight their wars for them.