Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is primarily Vladimir Putin’s war, but if there is a second man whose name and reputation will be tied to the devastation unleashed by Moscow it is Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.
His fighters were part of the first wave assault on the country, and died in large numbers around the Hostomel airbase, with one key commander among those killed.
Elite Chechen squads were also reportedly recruited for failed attempts to assassinate key Ukrainian leaders in the first 48 hours of the invasion, western intelligence said.
More recently Kadyrov’s men have appeared among forces imposing a brutal siege on the port city of Mariupol, where targets have included a maternity hospital and the suffering of hundreds of thousands has become emblematic of Ukrainian pain.
And the Chechen leader himself even posted a video on social media recently, which he claimed was a strategy session filmed in a basement bunker in Ukraine. He used it to menace Kyiv residents with the prospect of a “personal visit”.
Ukrainian intelligence services say the video was likely false bravado, filmed at home in Chechnya. Intelligence from phones and internet suggested he never crossed into Ukraine, and even Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov declined to endorse the video, saying the Kremlin had “no data” on a possible trip into Ukraine.
But regardless of veracity, the footage was useful propaganda, signalling how closely and enthusiastically Kadyrov has associated himself with this war.
He appears to see the invasion of Ukraine as an opportunity to boost both his power and his profile. Sending his men is a way for Kadyrov to prove his loyalty to the Russian leader whose patronage is the basis of his authority.
“There are many thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of Chechens who hate him, who resent him and many families who are in a state of latent blood feud against him and his family, so Kadyrov understands if he wants to to survive he needs Russia and Vladimir Putin’s backing,” said Emil Solomon Aslan from the Institute of Political Studies at Charles University in Prague. [Continue reading…]