The death of one of the most famous Ichkerian generals from the two wars in Chechnya, Isa Munaev on February 1, again drew public attention to the involvement of Chechens in the conflict in eastern Ukraine (Echo.msk.ru, February 2). Munaev arrived in Ukraine and led the Dzhokhar Dudaev international peacekeeping battalion, named after the late president of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. The battalion was comprised of Chechens who have fled to the West (see EDM, November 7, 2014). A naturalized citizen of Denmark, Munaev arrived in Ukraine last summer and quickly became popular among the Ukrainians, who valued his support in fighting off the Russian army in Donbas (eastern region of Ukraine encompassing the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces) (Gazeta.ru, February 3).
During the first Russian-Chechen war of 1994–1996, Munaev commanded a Chechen military group and had the rank of colonel. At the start of the second Russian-Chechen war, in December 1999, Munaev was appointed the military superintendent of Chechnya. In 2002, he became the commander of the Southwestern Front. Munaev was wounded in 2004, but managed to cross the Main Caucasus Ridge into Georgia and travel to Denmark, where he received political asylum. On March 4, 2014, Munaev, as chairman of the socio-political movement Svobodny Kavkaz (Free Caucasus), announced the establishment of the Dzhokhar Dudaev peacekeeping battalion for “international assistance to the Ukrainian people in their struggle with the Russian occupiers” (Obozrevatel.com, July 4, 2014). The last time he was in combat was on February 1, 2015, near the eastern Ukrainian town of Debaltseve, which has recently become synonymous with the heavy fighting between the Ukrainian army and the Russia-backed forces (Facebook.com/dostali.hvatit, February 2). That same day, the death of Munaev was confirmed by the Chechen forces in Ukraine (YouTube, February 2).
The death of the Chechen commander, however, took an unpleasant turn for the Russians when Adam Osmaev succeeded Isa Munaev as head of the battalion. Osmaev was earlier accused of a conspiracy to assassinate the President Vladimir Putin (Meduza.io, February 3). Osmaev was detained in Odessa in February 2012 one week prior to the Russian presidential elections that Vladimir Putin won. Osmaev was first charged with plotting to assassinate Putin, but those charges were later dropped and he was released after serving about three years in prison for illegal possession of explosives. After his release, Osmaev set up the Dzhokhar Dudaev peacekeeping battalion. His wife, Amina Okueva, was also member of the battalion (Kavkazsky Uzel, February 3), playing the role of a spokesperson. At the same time, the Chechen politicians living in exile in the West in exile gave her the responsibility of representing Ichkeria in Ukraine (Ichkeria.info, December 28, 2014).
Apart from the Dzhokhar Dudaev battalion, there is also another Chechen peacekeeping battalion in Ukraine, the Sheikh Mansur battalion, which is commanded by Muslim Cheberloevsky, a close associate of Isa Munaev and a veteran of two wars in Chechnya. That battalion is located in eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk region, but no information is available about its activities.
More Chechen volunteers would have joined the Chechen battalions fighting in Ukraine had the Ukrainian government resolved the legal status of these units. Nearly all the Chechens who go to fight the Russians in Ukraine are either citizens of European countries or have political refugee status in one of those countries. European states prosecute those known to have participated in military actions in Ukraine. So the uncertainty of the status of the volunteers and the lack of clarity about their future after the end of hostilities makes it harder for the would-be volunteers to go to Ukraine. For example, it is unclear whether the volunteers will be allowed to stay in Ukraine after the war is over until their legal problems with the European countries are resolved. A member of the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s parliament), Semyon Semenchenko, has promised to legalize the Chechen battalion (Comments.ua, February 2).
Some in Russia could not disguise their glee over the death of Isa Munaev. Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic inside the Russian Federation, expressed his opinion about Munaev’s death on his Instagram page, saying it was the result of internal conflicts among Chechens fighting under the Ukrainian flag. According to Kadyrov, “[Munaev’s] killing was organized by Adam Osmaev and Amina Okueva, who acted on orders from the SBU [the Security Service of Ukraine] and the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency]” (Instagram.com/p/yniTIVCRsH, February 2). In his posting, Kadyrov twice misspelled the last name of the president of Ukraine. Kadyrov also addressed all the Chechens fighting on the Ukrainian side: “Stop immediately! This is not your war. Urgently come back home. This is your chance to stay alive. Otherwise you will be killed too. None of you will be allowed to leave the battlefield alive. All of you know me well. None of you will dare even to look in the direction of Russia. I will not allow you,” Kadyrov said.
Kadyrov, as usual, accused the West of all the problems in Ukraine. He did not mention, however, those Chechens fighting in Ukraine under the Russian flag. Multiple videos are available on YouTube showing the pro-Russian Chechen presence in Ukraine. Those Chechens will apparently fight on the pro-Russian side until they receive orders from Moscow to stop (Fakty.ictv.ua, December 5, 2014).
It is unlikely the remaining Chechen fighters on the Ukrainian side will heed Kadyrov’s call. Rather, according to Ukrainian media, the Chechens who want to take revenge for Isa Munaev’s death already expressed their wish to go to Ukraine (Joinfo.ua, February 3). Munaev’s death will boost the positions of those Chechens who arrived from Europe to help the Ukrainians against Russia; and more Chechens will likely join the groups fighting and dying under the Ukrainian flag.