Fighters from the Chechen battalions have emerged as Ukrainian war figures most touted by the media - some of them involuntarily (as, for example, the Akhmat fighter Ochur-Suge Mongush, who tortured a Ukrainian prisoner on camera), and some quite consciously, such as Ruslan Geremeyev, an accomplice to Nemtsov's murder, who had headed Kadyrov's mercenaries in Ukraine and posted all his adventures on social media before he was wounded. Ramzan Kadyrov tries to present his soldiers as Russian patriots, who willingly and effectively carry out combat tasks, but in reality they are mercenaries from various regions, either forcibly recruited (as punishment for various violations) or lured by the money (promised but often not paid), poorly capable of performing real combat tasks, but assiduously making and posting staged “Rambo-style” videos, often from far behind the lines. The Insider's sources, who fought in Kadyrov's forces, say they are treated like cannon fodder by the army, and those who want to desert are killed or tortured, for example by montage foam being injected up their anuses.
Not a jihad
Big money you won't get
Going to war under threat of reprisal
Fighting to “atone before Kadyrov”
No other Russian military unit has as many cameramen on its roster as Kadyrov's army. Professional cameramen, handling two cameras each, record Kadyrovites' “victorious feats” on a daily basis. Kadyrov's troops are distinguished by their expensive gear, brutal appearance and ostentatious shouts “Akhmat is power”. Even under fire, every Kadyrovite who has a camera pointed at him is obliged to address his Padishah and assure him that he is carrying out his orders. Because of their narcissism and restless passion for social networking, the Kadyrovites have been nicknamed “Tik-Tok warriors”. Most of the videos are staged - they show the Kadyrovites firing in bursts at the windows of an empty high-rise, shooting up a railroad track for some reason, or “rescuing” civilians from the basement, to which they first had forced them to move.
In reality, Kadyrov's mercenaries are hardly equipped for real military operations - they have no heavy weapons, no artillery, no aviation; all they can do is invade a territory that has already been seized, terrorizing civilians. The notorious recent story of the sadist Mongush from the Akhmat battalion, who tortured a Ukrainian prisoner on camera, is just one example. In reality, Kadyrov's forces have been involved in many war crimes, such as the Bucha massacre. Being completely unprepared for a real war, they often suffer heavy losses themselves, for example, in the first days of the invasion of Ukraine their convoy was attacked by Bayraktar drones, and dozens of Chechen mercenaries were killed.
Their “exploits” are also broadcast on local television and filmed by a team of cameramen from the Chechen State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company. Many wiretaps of phone calls to the head of Chechnya can be found on the Internet. For example, from the audio intercept of a telephone conversation between the Chechen information minister Akhmed Dudayev (Vladislav Surkov's cousin) and the press secretary of the Russian Spetsnaz University Nurid Epiyev, it is clear they were planning to deceive journalists by telling them how they “took the city.”
Even the Russian side often voiced skepticism about the combat readiness of the Kadyrovites. For example, Alexander Khodakovsky, commander of the Vostok battalion of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the unrecognized DNR, spoke in this manner. He not only gave a low opinion of the actions of Kadyrov's troops, but also said they were suitable only for second- and third-tier operations, namely for mopping up occupied territories and checking IDs. After Khodakovsky's statement, Adam Delimkhanov, deputy of the State Duma and Kadyrov's cousin, met with him. Khodakovsky managed to avoid bringing public apologies to the head of Chechnya. Apparently, another form of apology befitted his rank - an explanation. “The commander explained himself for his careless words about Chechen fighters participating in the special operation in Ukraine. It turns out he had made his assumptions based on false information. But now, having seen our fighters in combat, Alexander [Khodakovsky] is personally convinced of their high professionalism,” the Chechen leader wrote in his Telegram channel.
Former Defense Minister of the self-proclaimed DNR Igor Girkin (Strelkov), one of those who started the war in Donbass in 2014, has been and continues to be an even harsher critic. He regularly and disparagingly speaks out about how badly the Kadyrovites are fighting. In one of his latest revelations, Girkin reviews a video of a fighter firing a grenade launcher while standing in an open area and disregarding all precautions. He pointed out that in a real fight there was a 70% chance that the Chechen fighter would have been immediately killed.
Not a jihad
The Kadyrovites are the highest paid mercenaries in Chechnya. The authorities are ready to pay big money so that people will agree to fight in Ukraine. During the first and the second Chechen war the separatist authorities of Ichkeria didn't pay the militia, but there was never any shortage of men who were willing to fight for the idea. Unlike the Ichkerians, the Kadyrovites are not eager to go into battle, and they go to Ukraine for the sake of money they've been promised. But not everyone gets what they've been promised. Thus, several fighters who returned from Ukraine posted an open video message, in which they complained that they were deprived of their social benefits and denied medical treatment.
The authorities try to convince Kadyrovites that fighting the war in Ukraine is the right thing from the point of view of Islam. For example, Chechen Mufti Salah Mezhiev and some of Kadyrov's pet theologians have admitted that participation in the war against Ukraine is jihad (a righteous war). Kadyrov himself has often said that the war in Ukraine is the sacred duty of all Muslims and that all Muslims should be happy to die for the cause (though for some reason he did not send any of his relatives to the war). People in Chechnya don't seem to believe in the righteousness of the war in Ukraine; they don't leave wishes typical of shahids under the photos of their dead relatives but ask for forgiveness of all their sins instead. Posthumous epitaphs from survivors are extremely important for Muslims.
Relatives don't leave wishes typical of shahids but ask for forgiveness of all their sins instead
Over the phone, fighters' relatives ask them not to risk their lives. They say, “it's not our war, and we didn't need it.” In response, Kadyrovites willingly talk about the Ukrainian army. According to them, the Ukrainians fight very hard without giving them a break. Also, literally all the Chechen soldiers say they keep behind other Russian formations.
Big money you won't get
According to one of The Insider's sources, the soldiers of Kadyrov's regiment have been promised 600,000 rubles each for the participation in military operations - 300,000 from the Ministry of Defense and another 300,000 from Ramzan Kadyrov. The first installment of 300,000 rubles is given to the volunteers in cash prior to their departure, so some of the men travel to the combat zone with the money. This money is also used to buy extra gear. According to one of the sources, the money comes directly from the Akhmat Kadyrov Foundation. According to another source close to the special services, the money for the Foundation comes from businessmen and mandatory contributions from state employees.
All of the sources confirm that volunteers are sent to the war without any military experience, they are not even required to have served in the army. Training takes a week, during which time the recruits are told in general terms how to fire an automatic rifle and load a magazine. They are only given uniforms, and as for protective gear, they are told “you'll get it on the battlefield.” Sources say some fighters do wear armor taken off dead enemy soldiers. It is also confirmed by observations – Akhmat battalion fighters pose in looted gear in photos and videos.
On average, each unit consists of 200 people. After the so-called training, Kadyrovites are airlifted to Rostov-on-Don, from where they are taken by bus to the combat zone in Donbass, and then sent to the front line.
Everyone who has deserted is punished by being “zeroed out.” Our sources tell us that some of those who refused to fight had montage foam injected up their anuses. For each Ukrainian killed or taken prisoner Kadyrov's fighters were supposed to receive a bonus, but in reality, according to sources, no one has received the money. The same is true for war wound payouts. Three million rubles is promised but no one has actually received it. More often than not, the wounded simply get bandaged and sent back to the front, and if they refuse, they are threatened with punishment.
Deserters were punished by being “zeroed out,” and some had montage foam injected up their anuses
Generally, the siloviki commonly referred to as “Kadyrovites” comprise completely different units: the extra-departmental guards under the Chechen Interior Ministry (the “oil” regiment), the special-purpose regiment of the Chechen Interior Ministry, the Kadyrov regiment, the former North and South battalions reassigned to Rosgvardiya (whose fighters were found guilty of the murder of Boris Nemtsov), the special task force squad Terek, two special companies of the former 42nd motorized division, commandant's office guards, the special task force of the Chechen Interior Ministry, Ramzan Kadyrov's and other Chechen top leaders' personal bodyguards (500-700 people). All in all, according to various estimates, there are 18,000-20,000 Kadyrovites, but only a tiny fraction of them went to Ukraine. According to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, 2,500 mercenaries recruited from Chechnya were sent to Ukraine between March and the end of May. Meanwhile, according to The Insider, while initially only Chechen nationals were recruited, later residents of all Russian regions were accepted, from Moscow to Kalmykia.
Going to war under threat of reprisal
Since the Kadyrovites don't want to go to war with Ukraine, even for money, the authorities try to make them fight by force. Today, any young man in Chechnya can be conscripted within a few days. It is enough to be caught driving under the influence. If a man refuses, they threaten him with physical violence. Volunteer recruitment is also practiced among inmates. For example, The Insider knows of a case where an ex-militant was forced to go to war under a threat to his family.
An ex-militant forced to go to war in Ukraine under a threat to his family
Chechen bloggers claim that they often receive messages via the feedback bot from soldiers forcibly sent to the war with Ukraine. Most often they ask how to cross the front line and surrender to the Ukrainians.
So far, there is only one officially confirmed case of a Kadyrovite taken prisoner. In an interrogation video the Chechen serviceman repents of his actions and talks about frustration among his comrades-in-arms. However, according to some experts, there are many more cases of Chechen soldiers being taken prisoner, but they are simply not advertised. Perhaps because Kadyrov's men are a valuable exchange currency, and Kadyrov is willing to exchange each of his fighters for several captured Ukrainian soldiers. But such exchanges, very profitable for Ukraine, have always been kept under wraps.
Fighting to “atone before Kadyrov”
During his long years as the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov has physically eliminated many of his personal enemies and critics. He does not forgive treachery, and he dealt harshly with those who were undesirable. Now Kadyrov has changed his tactics and simply sends the guilty to fight against Ukraine.
At the end of March, Kadyrov sent Apti Alaudinov, a former deputy of the Minister of Internal Affairs of the Chechen Republic, to Ukraine. The ex-policeman had been dismissed from duty several years ago and expelled from Kadyrov’s entourage. He had been accused of being either a participant or a sympathizer of the anti-Kadyrov conspirators. The mayor of Argun, Movsar Temirbayev, was also detained as part of that affair. A few days after his release from unofficial detention in Colony No. 3, Temirbayev drove his car into an abyss. Apti Alaudinov got off with a minor scare and now has to earn forgiveness by his heroic deeds in Ukraine.
A few years ago, former imam Magomed Khiytanayev, known in Chechnya for his radical sermons against Kadyrov's enemies, also fell out of favor. According to the opposition blogger Khasan Khalitayev, Khiytanayev was also sent to Ukraine and was soon taken prisoner. Thus, for Kadyrov the war was not only a chance to show his strength and importance for the Kremlin, but also a means of tightening his grip on power within the republic, finally taking out his ill-wishers.