Speaking to journalists in Grozny, Kadyrov said categorically that “there are no Chechen battalions in Ukraine.” He added that if there were, those individuals who had alleged Chechen involvement would have fled from Slovyansk in terror long ago.
This was not the first time the Ukrainian military had reported the participation of Chechen forces in the ongoing standoff. Two months ago, the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff claimed that Chechnya’s infamous Vostok motor-rifle battalion had been deployed to the Crimean town of Djankoy. In fact, the Vostok battalion was disbanded in late 2008 after its commander, Sulim Yamadayev, fell out with Kadyrov and its personnel were subsumed into other Russian military units based permanently in Chechnya.
Another source, too, has cast doubts on Kadyrov’s denial. Earlier this week, Kavkazcenter, the official website of the North Caucasus Islamic insurgency, posted what it said was a letter it had received from a member of one of the Chechen security forces subordinate to Kadyrov who had been sent first to Crimea and then to Slovyansk. The man, whom Kavkazcenter identified as “Musa,” said morale among his unit was poor because they couldn’t understand why they had been sent there and had no grievance against the Ukrainians who, “unlike the Russians, have never done anything bad to us.”
“Musa” added that lacking any motivation, he and his comrades “are simply going through the motions of fighting.” By doing so, he said, they have incurred the wrath of the Russian military officers (to whom they are presumably subordinated) and of Kadyrov himself, who, according to “Musa,” had promised Russian President Vladimir Putin that “the Chechens will be in the vanguard.”
Kadyrov’s denial that any “Chechen battalions” are currently deployed in Ukraine was, moreover, formulated in such a way that it does not preclude the presence on Ukrainian soil of informal military units from Chechnya. Kavkazcenter claimed in mid-March, first, that the Chechen authorities had opened recruiting offices for “volunteers” wishing to fight in Ukraine and then that those offices had been suddenly closed.
Kavkazcenter did not give any estimate of how many young men had been “recruited.” But Kadyrov said this week that “tens of thousands” of volunteers in Chechnya are ready to travel to Ukraine to “defend the peaceful population” against the “criminal actions” of “fascist extremists.”
Meanwhile, Chechnya is poised to profit from the Russian annexation of Crimea. The Chechen airline Grozny-Avia has been designated the main carrier for flights to and from Simferopol.