Kadyrov Takes Chechen Special Forces Training to New Heights

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 12 Issue: 57

(Source: CNN)

Chechen special services operating under the auspices of Ramzan Kadyrov and trained by an ex-major of the Russian security services’ Alpha group, Daniil Martynov, keep expanding their activities to new areas. Martynov helped Kadyrov to rid himself of his special bodyguards from the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), who were obstructing his activities in Chechnya (Moskovsky Komsomolets, December 4, 2013). The question, however, is why does this republic need its own special forces? The Chechen special forces are formally part of the Russian Ministry of Interior and an integral part of the Terek special unit. They are officially called the Rapid Reaction Special Group in the Terek group of the Main Directorate of the Ministry of Interior in the North Caucasian Federal District. In reality, the Chechen special forces are completely autonomous and loyal to the leadership of Chechnya. Aleksei Filatov, the vice president of the International Association of Veterans of Alpha, said that during his ten years of deployment in Chechnya, there was not a single member of the group who did not guard Kadyrov at least once. He said Martynov, among others, was also a personal bodyguard to Kadyrov, “but when his mission was over, he remained in Chechnya in a new capacity” (Aif.ru, May 25, 2014).

It is unlikely that an officer of an elite force like Alpha, even in his capacity as an ex-officer, could go against the interests of his own group and deprive them of a profitable contract with the Chechen Republic and replace them with a local bodyguard force. This transition must have been carried out with permission from top-level commanders or was even part of a special operation to create a new local group in Chechnya. As time went by, Moscow’s views of the Chechen special forces must have transformed significantly, and now this group is seen as having a much broader purpose than simply protecting Ramzan Kadyrov.

The creation of the Chechen special services was surprising to many Russians (Sobesednik.ru, January 12, 2014). In an attempt to alleviate Russian public concern, the Chechen authorities announced, in the summer of 2014, that they needed special forces to combat a possible incursion by Islamic State militants (see EDM, June 26, 2014). It was a plausible explanation, especially after some militants in Chechnya pledged allegiance to the Middle Eastern radical jihadist organization (YouTube, December 28, 2014).

It was also understandable why Kadyrov’s special forces went to Jordan for training (Vz.ru, June 12, 2014). Jordan is certainly a good training ground for special forces to drill for combat against the Islamic State; the Chechen special forces have trained in Jordan repeatedly (Rg.ru, February 4). Moreover, the Chechen special services will represent Russia at the annual Warrior Competition in Amman in April (Lifenews.ru, February 21). The tournament is probably the main reason that the Chechen forces were drilling so much in Jordan—to feel more confident in the environment where the competition will take place. Ramzan Kadyrov has said he ardently hopes the Chechen special services will compete against the United States’ special services in this tournament, and is counting on beating the Americans. Such a victory is particularly important for Kadyrov because, if the Chechens win, his special services will gain more recognition in Chechnya and in Russia as a whole.

Combating the Islamic State is only one of the possible uses of the Chechen special forces, otherwise it is hard to explain why officers from the Chechen Rapid Reaction Special Group, which is part of the federal and regional bureaus of the Russian interior ministry, would undertake a group parachute jump at the North Pole—certainly one of the places Islamists are least likely to strike. According to Kadyrov, Chechen forces will travel to the North Pole from March 30 to April 5. After landing, the group will conduct a 50-kilometer march to improve search and rescue operational skills in the severe weather conditions of the Far North and the Arctic (Lenta.ru, March 24).

To prepare for the trip to the North Pole, the Chechen group drilled in Siberia’s Perm region, learning mountain skiing. The regional authorities reportedly panicked, since they did not know why armed Chechens had arrived in their region (Ura.ru, January 20). A group of eight persons from the Chechen special forces, who were trained as skydivers, has received the name Flying Squad. According to Daniil Martynov, all of them received special training for a year, received certificates from the Russian Parachuting Federation and are professional skydivers.

Ski drills and training for work in temperatures of minus 40–50 degrees Celsius are not useful in Chechnya, where temperatures in the mountains do not drop lower than minus 20 degrees Celsius. Militants normally do not hide in places where the security services would need to use skis to capture them. Thus, fighting the Islamic State is probably not the sole purpose for the creation of the Chechen special forces, even though Chechens do play a prominent role in the radical group. It appears that the Chechen special forces may be preparing to assist the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. They could be used in breach of Russian law for specific objectives, when it would be inappropriate to use members of the FSB’s Alpha group. The mere existence of this special services group in Chechnya makes Ramzan Kadyrov an outstanding political figure not only in the North Caucasus, but at the federal level inside Russia. His newly elevated status, however, will hinder him rather than help, because it will meet serious resistance from federal officials who still remain suspicious of Kadyrov’s aspirations.