Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said he did not send any Chechens to Ukraine to fight with the pro-Russian forces in the east. On his Instagram account, he claimed there are millions who live outside of his area and he cannot keep tabs on everyone.
“If someone saw a Chechen in the zone of conflict, he’s there on his own,” Kadyrov said according to the Associated Press.
However, people did not see a Chechen here or there. Trucks filled with Chechens entered Donetsk as early as Sunday, which was the day Ukraine held their presidential election. At first, Christopher Miller from The Kyiv Post said the men were part of the Vostok Battalion, but one woman asked the men where they were from and the men responded, “Chechnya.”
Courtney Weaver with Financial Times was able to interview a few of the fighters and they confirmed the group was from Chechnya. The leader of this group, Zelimkhan, said that “Russia can’t openly attack Ukraine” and “[E]verything is underground.”
“Our president [Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov] gave the order. They called us and we came,” said Zelimkhan.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry told Weaver Moscow did not send any forces into Ukraine.
“If they are Chechens, they are citizens of the Russian Federation. We can’t control where our citizens go,” a ministry official told Financial Times. “But I can assure you that we have not sent our forces there.”
Vice News released a video with proof there were many well-armed Chechens in Donetsk.
Kadyrov was anti-Russia, but switched to pro-Russia during the second separatist war. His father was Chechnya’s first pro-Moscow leader and Kadyrov took the reigns after his father was killed. From the AP:
Following his father’s death in a rebel bombing, Kadyrov rebuilt the region with generous Kremlin funding and squelched the rebel resistance with his ruthless paramilitary forces, which have been blamed for extrajudicial killings, torture and other abuses.
Putin praised Kadyrov last week after he negotiated the release of two Russian journalists arrested by Ukrainian forces and accused of assisting the rebels. The Chechen leader has not said how he got the journalists freed, but has directed threats at Ukrainian authorities.