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Chechens fighting for Ukraine see chance to ‘free’ their homeland

The masked soldier stated that his ultimate goal was to liberate a country further east – the Russian Republic of Chechnya.

Maga is his nom de guerre and is part of a unit made up of Chechen fighters who are fighting Russian troops in eastern Ukraine.

His kinsmen are also known to support the other side. The powerful Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov called himself Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “foot Soldier” and sent his personal army to Ukraine to fight against the Russians.

Kadyrov was also a vocal critic for Russia’s performance in this conflict and suggested that Moscow use a low-yield nuke weapon in Ukraine. This would set alarm bells ringing in the West.

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The hope for Chechens in Ukraine under military command is that victory in war will spark political crisis in Russia, and with it the downfall Kadyrov who many governments, including the United States, have accused of human rights violations.

Kadyrov denied the allegations.

Maga said: “We are not fighting just for fighting,” but declined to reveal his real identity for security reasons.

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His unit is just one of many ethnic Chechen battalions that have allied with Kyiv since 2014, when Moscow-backed separatists took territory in eastern Ukraine.

The majority of the fighters hail from Europe, where their families sought refuge in the two Chechen wars following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Maga stated that younger members are the children of those who died in conflicts while older members have direct combat experience.

They are not like Kadyrov’s troops who posted videos on social media about their exploits in Ukraine.

Kadyrov claims he ended the bloodshed in Chechnya during the 20 years following 1991’s fall of the Soviet Union. He restored loyal relations with Russia and destroyed militants, rebuilding the republic’s economy.

He didn’t immediately respond to our questions regarding this article.

KADYROV IS STRONG IN HIS POSITION

Experts believe Kadyrov’s power was cemented by a combination violence, Kremlin patronage, and propaganda

Putin installed his father Akhmad to restore order in the region after two wars that ravaged it.

According to Cerwyn Moore, a Caucasus researcher, Ramzan assumed control in 2004 after his father was assassinated. He wanted to end the Islamist insurgency.

Moore, a University of Birmingham senior lecturer in international relations, said that it would take a lot to alter this kind of dynamic.

This has not dampened the hope of Kadyrov’s adversaries, including Chechens fighting Russian forces against Ukraine, that Putin’s authoritarian “power vertical”, which he has constructed, could collapse if Moscow loses in Ukraine.

These hopes have been exploited by the Ukrainian authorities. In September, President Volodymyr Zilenskiy called on non-ethnic Russians (specifically Caucasians) to reject Putin’s army and to “defend freedom now in the streets, squares.”

He invoked the legacy and sacrifice of Imam Shamil, a famous 19th Century resistance leader, in a video address that was well-produced.

A few weeks later, Ukraine’s parliament voted for recognition of what it called Russian occupation of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. This was the country that gained de facto independence from Moscow in the middle of the 1990s.

It is headed by Akhmed Zakayev (government-in-exile), who told Ukrainian media that he visited Kyiv often to meet Ukrainian officials. He also considered Chechen units fighting for Ukraine a vanguard.

He stated that the armed forces of Chechen Republic of Ichkeria were being renewed here today to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Ukraine on Oct. 24,

Moore claims that Zakayev’s movements are “fragmented” and pose little threat to Kadyrov at the moment.

He said that the current war offered an opportunity for younger generations, including those fighting in Ukraine to explore their culture apart from the Chechen leader.

He said: “The fact they are creating even a kind of semi-virtual identity under the umbrella Ukrainian resistance to Russia,” was a powerful sign.

Maga’s other fighter, identified as “Tor”, was an aid to his efforts. He described a Caucasian community in Russia, which was both technologically connected and politically curious.

He said that for now, most people in the Caucasus region support the official position of Russia as a bulwark to Western aggression. He said that there would be a new reckoning.

“It’s inavoidable,” Tor said, “like tomorrow’s sunrise.”

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