Nezavisimaya Gazeta on December 19 quoted Said-Magomed Kakiev, the former commander of the Zapad special-purpose battalion who is currently Chechnya’s deputy military commissar, as confirming that servicemen from the Zapad Battalion and the Vostok Battalion—the other Chechen-manned special-purpose unit of the Russian Defense Ministry’s 42nd Motorized Infantry Division—have been sent to South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The newspaper noted that reports of Chechen spetsnaz being among the Russian “peacekeeping” troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia began to appear after the International Olympic Committee named Sochi as the site for the 2014 Winter Olympics, but that the Russian military had consistently denied the reports. Nezavisimaya Gazeta quoted Kakiev as saying that “part of the ‘Zapad’ battalion is located in the zone of the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict, part is undergoing training to carry out a peace-keeping mission [and] part is busy with operations in Chechnya.” The newspaper also quoted the commander of the Vostok Battalion, Sulim Yamadaev, as saying that soldiers from that unit are operating in South Ossetia.
Nezavisimaya Gazeta quoted the former deputy commander of the group of Russian forces in the Transcaucasus, Lieutenant-General Yury Netkachev, as saying that Chechens were sent to Abkhazia “to neutralize possible military actions by Georgia aimed at disrupting the Olympics in Sochi.” According to the newspaper, Kakiev indirectly confirmed this, claiming that forces from the Zapad Battalion are located in an area that might be the target of a strike by Georgian forces. “We are standing by,” Kakiev said. “Chechens are not afraid of losses and are ready to die in carrying out the military mission.” Kakiev claimed that Chechen servicemen were involved in a fierce clash between Russian “peacekeepers” and Georgian spetsnaz that took place in November.
However, a reserve colonel who participated in United Nations peacekeeping operations in Angola, Vyacheslav Patenko, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that according to international rules on peacekeeping operations, combat units—not to mention special forces—are not permitted to be involved in peacekeeping operations. He also said that Kakiev’s information was greatly exaggerated. Likewise, Colonel Igor Konashenkov, an aide to the commander of the Russian military’s land forces, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta: “Units of spetsnaz, including from the Chechen ‘Zapad’ battalion, are neither in Abkhazia nor South Ossetia.” He did not rule out, however, that Chechen soldiers might be serving in Russian “peacekeeping” units.
On the other hand, Netkachev, who in 1998-2001 trained special forces units to guard Aslan Abashidze, who was then leader of the Georgian autonomous republic of Adzharia, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that he thought Kakiev’s information about Chechen spetsnaz being in Abkahzia and South Ossetia was reliable even though Russia’s foreign and defense ministries would never confirm it. He added that Chechen military units played a decisive role in defeating Georgian units in Abkhazia in 1993. “They have a colossal fighting spirit and experience,” Netkachev said of the Chechen units. “And of course the General Staff should use this experience and spirit in regions where Russia has its geopolitical interests.”
As Nezavisimaya Gazeta noted, the “Islamic Battalion” in Abkhazia in 1992-1993 was headed by Shamil Basaev, who was even named a deputy defense minister of Abkhazia. According to the newspaper, the Georgian Prosecutor General’s Office ordered Basaev’s arrest in 1996 for “actions aimed against Georgian statehood on the territory of the Abkhazian Autonomous Republic.”