OUTSIDE OF DONETSK, Ukraine (Reuters) – Chanting “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest), dozens of armed men in camouflage uniforms from Russia’s republic of Chechnya train in snow in a camp in the rebel-held east Ukraine.
They say their “Death” unit fighting Ukrainian forces has 300 people, mostly former state security troops in the mainly-Muslim region where Moscow waged two wars against Islamic insurgents and which is now run by a Kremlin-backed strongman.
Seasoned Chechen fighters, whose combat experience often dates back to the 1994-96 and 1999-2000 wars, fight on both sides in east Ukraine, adding to the complexity of a conflict in which the West says Russian troops are involved.
“This is volunteer battalion Death,” deputy commander of the group who only gave his nickname “Stinger”, told Reuters in a former tourist camp the unit turned into their base outside of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk in east Ukraine.
“There are about three hundred of us in Donetsk region. We have battlefield experience from 10 to 20 years starting from 1995,” said the man, in his forties, a pistol fixed to his thigh.
He had a little Chechen flag in green, white and red stitched to his cap and speaks Russian with a strong Caucasus accent. Several cars with Chechen registration plates are parked in the camp.
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