Putin became the warlord of Chechnya to threaten Ukraine. It didn’t work.

In the first days of the war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin reached out to the Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov to provide the fighters he wanted to land at the airport north of Kyiv and launch his advance. Russian public into the capital.

That unit was rammed and its commander was killed by Ukrainian forces as they attempted to capture Hostomel Airport. But Mr. Putin has time and again turned to Mr. Kadyrov’s forces from Chechnya, reveling in the Chechens’ fearsome reputation as Russia pushes once again to the capital — and Mr. Kadyrov appears happy to comply. .

“We are in Hostomel, these days we are 20 kilometers from you,” Kadyrov said on his personal Telegram channel earlier this week, as Ukrainians prepare for the onslaught in Kyiv. . “Should I knock on your door?”

A shaky video shows him in a dark bunker, laughing with Chechen military officers as he looks at documents blurred on the screen, although Ukrainian sources say it was not filmed in Ukraine. and said some server logs from Mr. Kadyrov’s web activity showed he was in Chechnya at the time.

Photo of Ramzan Kadyrov in 2019 talking with Russian President Vladimir Putin.


alexey nikolsky / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

In many ways, the relationship between Mr. Putin, the Muslim Chechen, and Mr. Kadyrov in particular, has become symbiotic. Mr. Putin polished his own reputation during his early years in power by sending troops to Chechnya, a Russian republic on the country’s southern flank, to defeat an Islamist insurgency. Mr. Kadyrov’s father, Akhmat Kadyrov, a rebel religious leader, sensed which way the wind was blowing and pledged allegiance to the Kremlin, helping Russian forces quell the separatist movement and route the capital. Grozny city.

After his father was killed in a bombing, the young Kadyrov strengthened his family’s alliance with Moscow. He secures Chechnya’s loyalty in exchange for massive cash flows that enrich his family and help him build a massive security apparatus that is sometimes billed as his own private army. . His forces have since been implicated in some of the worst human rights abuses in modern Russia, including the mass detentions of Mr. Kadyrov’s opponents, along with accusations of torture. and the disappearance of both his critics and ordinary citizens, Russian and international human rights groups say. .

Alexey Malashenko, a Russian North Caucasus expert at the Moscow-based Institute, said: “For Ramzan, this is to show Vladimir Putin that his loyalty knows no bounds and that he will send his own men to support the president’s mission in Ukraine. of the World Economy and International Relations.

By deploying his forces behind Mr. Putin’s war in Ukraine, Mr. Kadyrov is also demonstrating public support designed to show any opponent in Chechnya that he is closely aligned with the Kremlin. Russia and remind them of his strength. request.

For Putin, leaving the Chechen National Guard battalions at their disposal would provide a military force that could restore a sense of fear that Russian troops have largely lost since the start. invasion, when fierce Ukrainian resistance cost the lives of several thousands of Russian soldiers and the loss of many tanks and planes.


A satellite image shows a damaged hangar at Hostomel Airport outside Kyiv.


Satellite image © 2022 Maxar Tec / via REUTERS

Although their numbers are unclear, Moscow will likely use Mr. Kadyrov’s forces for any street fighting that might accompany any attempt to capture Kyiv.

“They are not trained for the conventional battlefield,” said Munira Mustaffa, chief executive officer of the Chasseur Group and non-resident fellow at the New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy. “They were there to promote their image as fearsome warriors and sell the reputation for barbarism they earned in defeating the Chechen uprising.”

Mr. Kadyrov’s forces have been deployed to other hotspots before.

They were stationed in Crimea before Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula in 2014. In Syria, they battle other Chechen fighters who are fighting Putin’s ally, President Bashar al-Assad , and they often take the lead when the Syrian government initiates a wave of towns and cities.


Chechen troops and military equipment at Ramzan Kadyrov’s residence in February.


Yelena Afonina / Zuma Press

Days before his deployment at Hostomel Airport, Mr. Kadyrov paraded National Guard soldiers armed with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns through the streets of Grozny. In a flash video posted on his personal Telegram page, Mr. Kadyrov, standing with his sons and the official Chechen mufti, said 12,000 Chechens were ready to fight in Ukraine.

“I’ve gathered you guys, we should be ready for anything,” he said.

However, the independence of Chechen units in Ukraine caused problems in coordination with the Russian military. It may have been a factor in the battle for Hostomel airfield, where soldiers from the 41st motorized regiment of the Chechen National Guard along with their leader Magomed Tushayev were killed. Chechen battalions remain largely self-sufficient without integrating into the broader Russian military structures. They travel together and speak mostly in Chechen on videos posted on Mr. Kadyrov’s social networking sites.

Other Chechen units have arrived in Ukraine from the east and are currently on the outskirts of Mariupol, the besieged Ukrainian city on the Sea of ​​Azov. Mr. Kadyrov’s close ally, Adam Delimkhanov, also a lawmaker in Moscow, is leading the Chechen army against Ukrainian forces that have taken a position at the Azovstal Iron and Steel Works.

The Russian missile targeted the Ukraine region closest to the Polish border, hitting an airfield near Lviv; Kyiv fire brigade put out fires as shelling left residential areas in ruins; President Biden and Xi Jinping prepare to hold talks on Ukraine. Photo: Ismail Coskun / Associated Press

The Ukrainian army also mocked the Chechens. Ukraine’s National Guard has posted a video showing fighters from the Azov Battalion, some of whom have been accused by the United Nations of war crimes in 2016, oiling lard. and warn them to go home.

The invasion also created an opportunity for anti-Kremlin Chechen groups to target Mr. Kadyrov’s forces. A former Grozny native, who has lived in Kyiv since fleeing Chechnya after Russia imposed its rule, joined a battalion of Chechens fighting for Ukraine.

“I intend to fight to show the world who the Chechens are and how we are different from Kadyrov’s thugs,” he said.

Write letter for Thomas Grove at thomas.grove@wsj.com

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https://www.wsj.com/articles/putin-turned-to-a-chechen-warlord-to-intimidate-ukraine-it-hasnt-worked-11647614020 Putin became the warlord of Chechnya to threaten Ukraine. It didn’t work.

Ethan Gach

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