Ramzan Kadyrov’s substantial interest in the development of the Chechen special forces has been noted before (see EDM, March 27, 2015). Chechnya’s ruler tries to portray these units as model Russian armed forces. A retired officer of the Alpha Group, the Russian elite special forces unit, is involved in training the Chechen servicemen, which means Moscow is quite aware of Kadyrov’s military endeavors. To train his special forces, Kadyrov built a large modern training center in the area of the Chechen town of Gudermes. The training center, unlike other similar centers in Russia, is a private enterprise (Rbc.ru, February 11). Kadyrov plans to build an entire city within the walls of the training center, which will include a school, prison, railway, subway and an aircraft runway. Chechnya’s governor has also announced to authorities that one of the largest parachute centers in Russia will be built in Chechnya. The facility will be at the International Training Center for Special Forces, between the village of Tsentoroi and the city of Gudermes (Vestnik Kavkaza, March 2). According to Kadyrov’s advisor on the training of special forces, Daniil Martynov, besides providing drilling facilities for the special forces, the training center will be open to visits by members of the Chechen public and tourists.
The Russian public started to pay greater attention to the Chechen special forces after Kadyrov’s rash admission that his people were involved in the Syrian conflict (Russia.tv, February 7, about 1 hour and 18 minutes in). Kadyrov’s statement contradicted the official Russian position that no Russian ground forces were deployed in Syria. Chechen authorities later corrected the statement, saying that it was not a Chechen special forces unit that was present in Syria, but rather a Russian federal military unit, which was not involved in the ground operations in that country (Dp.ru, February 8).
Last year, the Chechen authorities trumpeted the victories of Chechen special forces in an international competition of special forces held in Jordan in the spring of 2015, describing them as a “triumph” (RIA Novosti, April 24, 2015). Grozny decided to create another military unit that would be able to operate in extreme conditions. Before the end of March of this year, the Chechen authorities plan to dispatch the republic’s special forces unit to the North Pole. Kadyrov’s paratroopers will practice conducting combat operations in the harsh climate there (Vesti.ru, March 20).
On his personal Instagram account, Kadyrov stated that his aide, former Russian security forces officer Daniil Martynov, will oversee dispatching the Chechen special forces to the North Pole (Instagram.com, March 20). Such an operation will require significant expenditures to ensure reliable communications and security for the group in the harsh environment of the North Pole, which means that it is being supported by the Russian state.
Specialists have asked why Chechen special forces were created when the Russian military already has Alpha and other elite units. Several years ago, the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta estimated that Kadyrov’s forces were quite substantial, numbering from 10,000 to 30,000 men (Onkavkaz.com, March 21). Chechnya is the only region in Russia allowed to maintain its own regional armed forces. But why does Moscow not allow other regions of the North Caucasus to have their own special forces? The security situation in neighboring Dagestan, for example, has been far worse than in Chechnya since at least 2008–2010.
The games with Chechen forces strikingly resemble the experiences of the Russian Empire in the past. At the time, the North Caucasian mountaineers were part of the Russian Emperor’s personal guards, as the mountaineers protected his life from possible coup attempts. Currently, when Moscow spends substantial resources on training the Chechens who are loyal to Russia, the analogies with the Russian imperial past are quite strong.
By allowing Kadyrov to pursue this program, President Vladimir Putin is creating the only ethnic-based unit of special forces in Russia. It will be logical if the Russian president eventually grants the Chechen special forces federal status and makes them his personal special forces unit, though this would, in effect, contravene Russian laws. At first, it seemed the authorities were preparing the Chechen special forces for deployment in the North Caucasus because the Chechens know the area better than the Russian forces, despite all the preparation the latter undergo at training centers in Nalchik and Makhachkala (Thequestion.ru, January 16). However, the Chechen unit’s planned landing at the North Pole demonstrates that Moscow regards the Chechen forces as a tool to be used not only for the problems in the Caucasus but also for a wider spectrum of problems at the national level.
In the past half year, hardly a month has passed by without tactical military exercises being held in Chechnya (Regnum, March 22). Kremlin officials apparently believe that the situation in Chechnya remains unstable and requires Russian federal forces on the ground, such as police units from other regions of the Russian Federation. Central Russia’s Tula region, for example, recently dispatched 80 police officers to Chechnya (Mk.ru, March 22). Other Russian regions, from Kaliningrad to Sakhalin, also regularly send reinforcements to Chechnya. Thus, Moscow does not regard the situation in the North Caucasus as entirely stable. It remains quite plausible that the government is preparing the Chechen special forces to fulfill tasks in the region in the near future if the situation somehow deteriorates.