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Chechnya At War

Twenty years ago, the first war between the Russian Federation and its independence-minded republic of Chechnya ended. The nearly two-year conflict was some of the worst violence Europe had seen since World War II and serves today as a bitter example of the horrors of modern warfare.

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Chechens Now Fighting On Both Sides In Ukraine

Eighteen years after the signing of the Khasavyurt Accord that ended the 1994-96 Chechen war, a veteran Chechen field commander has issued a timely reminder that there are still three sides to the ongoing struggle for the hearts and minds of the Chechen people.

In a statement dated August 28, Isa Munayev appeals to the United States and “the countries of the democratic world” to provide “comprehensive military assistance” to the Ukrainian people, whom Munayev describes as victims of Russian imperial aggression, just as the Chechens were 20 years ago.

Munayev identified himself in that statement as commander of the Dzhokhar Dudayev international volunteer peacekeeping battalion and a brigadier general of the armed forces of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI) of which Dudayev was the first president.

He spoke to RFE/RL’s Radio Marsho a week ago, shortly before he travelled to Ukraine to show “international support for the Ukrainian people.” The strength of his battalion, and who is bankrolling it, is not known.

Now in his late 40s, Munayev played a key role in the defense of Grozny at the start of the 1999-2000 war, and continued fighting after the resistance forces retreated south to the mountains, acquiring a reputation for his courage and tactical skills.

In late 2007, however, he distanced himself from ChRI President Doku Umarov following the latter’s abandonment of the cause of Chechen independence and proclamation of a Caucasus Emirate. Munayev left Chechnya soon afterward, but continued to serve until December 2008 as ChRI prosecutor-general.

Meanwhile, evidence continues to mount of the presence on the side of the pro-Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine of hundreds of fighters sent by Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov.

Those fighters are apparently primarily volunteers from among the various police and security forces subordinate to Kadyrov, who has consistently denied that there are any “Chechen battalions” in Ukraine, even after the “Financial Times” quoted a fighter named Zelimkhan who said he and his comrades in arms had been sent to Ukraine in mid-May on Kadyrov’s orders.

Kadyrov has admitted, however, that a few dozen Chechen volunteers from among the 2 million (according to his estimate) Chechens living outside Russia have travelled to Ukraine on their own initiative to fight, and that a handful of them have been killed.

Republic of Ingushetia head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov similarly said in early June that 25 residents of his republic had travelled to Ukraine to fight, of whom four had been killed. In a subsequent interview, Yevkurov, a former Russian military-intelligence officer, affirmed his readiness to head to Ukraine himself “to defend those who are being humiliated and killed.”

In contrast, both the Defense Ministry and the presidential and government press service of the largely unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia in May denied media reports that the breakaway Georgian region had sent volunteers to fight in Ukraine.

How many “kadyrovtsy” either volunteered or were sent to Ukraine is unclear, but separate, unconfirmed casualty reports suggest the figure may have been as high as 1,000.

From left: Chechen regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov accompanied by Russian journalists Oleg Sidyakin and Marat Saichenko addresses media following release from captivity in Ukraine, Grozny, Chechnya, May 25, 2014.
From left: Chechen regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov accompanied by Russian journalists Oleg Sidyakin and Marat Saichenko addresses media following release from captivity in Ukraine, Grozny, Chechnya, May 25, 2014.

Between 35-45 corpses were reportedly sent back to Chechnya  in late May, and between 120-150 in August. In addition, Ukrainian military sources claimed to have killed some 200 Chechens near Slovyansk in late June.

Other reports, also unconfirmed, suggest that Kadyrov’s men did not distinguish themselves in battle.

There have been several such reports over the past few weeks that Chechen units fighting under the command of Russian officers in eastern Ukraine have been disbanded and sent home for cowardice and/or desertion, surrendered to Ukrainian government forces, or asked for safe passage to retreat to the Russian border.

Kadyrov immediately rejected as untrue reports that any Chechens had surrendered: he declared that “once a Chechen takes up arms, he doesn’t surrender.”

The Grozny warlord reminding Moscow who is boss

A Chechen special forces officer rides atop an infantry fighting vehicle with a flag portraying Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov during Victory Day parade in central Grozny, on May 9, 2013. Fighter jets screamed over Red Square and heavy tanks rumbled over its cobblestones as Russia flexed today its military muscle on the anniversary of its costly victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. Smaller Victory Day celebrations were held on the central squares of cities across Russia as well as at Moscow's Black Sea port of Sevastopol on Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. AFP PHOTO / ELENA FITKULINA (Photo credit should read ELENA FITKULINA/AFP/Getty Images)

Men with guns are everywhere in Grozny. They stand on street corners, hang out in hotel lobbies and swagger through shopping malls, Uzis hanging from the waist.

They are Kadyrovtsy, the fighters who became policemen after Ramzan Kadyrov, their militia leader, became head of the Chechen Republic under a deal with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president.

The Kadyrovtsys’ distinctive tight black uniform with a Chechen flag patch on the right arm and a Russian one on the left reflect how many Russians regard today’s Chechnya: a rival power base to parts of the Russian security state.

Tensions between Moscow and Grozny came to the fore after the murder in February of Boris Nemtsov, the opposition politician, for which three former Chechen security officials were arrested.

This week, after security forces from the neighbouring Stavropol region shot dead a Chechen man in Grozny, Mr Kadyrov felt compelled to remind Moscow who was boss in Chechnya.

Mr Kadyrov instructed his security officials: “If someone appears on our territory without your knowledge — no matter if a Muscovite or someone from Stavropol — I order you to shoot to kill.”

The Chechen government insists the Stavropol officials had come as paid assassins and lacked documents for a legal operation. But Mr Kadyrov’s aggressive response raises a bigger political question: his regime may have stabilised war-torn Chechnya, but could it now weaken the Russian state as a whole?

“Kadyrov has tried to build a state within the state for a long time,” says Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya, a Caucasus expert at International Crisis Group. “He only listens to Putin, and nobody else.”

While other republics in the North Caucasus exchange intelligence on the Islamist insurgency with which the restive region struggles, the Chechen arm of Russia’s Federal Security Bureau, the successor to the KGB, refuses to do so.

“It shares what it feels like sharing with Moscow, and lets the centre decide what it sends back down south,” says Mark Galeotti, an expert on the Russian security services at New York University and author of a book on the Chechen wars.

Chechnya’s warlord rulers have clashed over their claim to special status with other parts of the security apparatus before. So far, they have had their way.

In 2013, Mr Putin replaced his top investigator in Chechnya after only seven months on the job following a run-in with Chechen officials.

Sergei Bobrov, a highly decorated general at the Federal Investigative Committee, had pressed on with an investigation into the murder of three women in the Chechen village of Geldagan even after his staff received threatening phone calls telling them to stop.

Two people from Geldagan said their village belonged to the area of influence of Magomed Daudov, a former fighter under Mr Kadyrov’s father and now the republic’s prime minister. “No investigator can build a case without asking him what to do,” said one of the two.

The same year Mr Bobrov was forced out, the Federal Investigative Committee released several Chechen men with links to Mr Kadyrov whom the FSB had detained on charges of extorting, kidnapping and torturing other Chechens in Moscow.

In Chechnya, some believe that Mr Kadyrov ordered Mr Nemtsov’s murder just steps from the Kremlin walls because he thought this would be a service to his political overlord.

“That man is getting really worried what will happen to him if Putin is no longer there,” said a government critic in Grozny who asked not to be named for fear of retribution. “With the criticism from the west, the economic crisis and rumours about disagreements in Putin’s circle, he realised that Putin will not be there for ever. Once Putin is gone, he loses everything.”

Others see the Nemtsov murder as a result of infighting. In Grozny, speculation is rife whether Mr Daudov or Adam Delimkhanov, a Duma member and brother of the commander of interior ministry troops in Chechnya, have ambitions to replace Mr Kadyrov.

True or not, these theories point to the precarious nature and the built-in risks of Mr Putin’s solution for Chechnya. But the Russian president does not appear to share such concerns.

He considers Chechnya a model that can be applied elsewhere. Last November, he suggested to Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, that Ukraine pacify its eastern Donbass region by buying it off with money and autonomy as he had done in Chechnya.

Chechen special forces fficers ride atop an armoured personnel carrier during Victory Day parade in central Grozny, on May 9, 2013. Fighter jets screamed over Red Square and heavy tanks rumbled over its cobblestones as Russia flexed today its military muscle on the anniversary of its costly victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. Smaller Victory Day celebrations were held on the central squares of cities across Russia as well as at Moscow's Black Sea port of Sevastopol on Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
The Kadyrovtsy who enforce the will of the Chechen leader

That is more than an abstract idea. Moscow is bringing other parts of the North Caucasus in line with some of Chechnya’s draconian practices. In 2013, Mr Putin replaced the head of Dagestan, who had tried to counter the creeping Islamist insurgency through dialogue with Salafi Muslims.

Since then, Dagestan has cracked down on Salafism as Chechnya has. Dagestan authorities have also started using Mr Kadyrov’s practice of punishing insurgents’ families by destroying their houses and expelling them.

Vladislav Surkov, a Kremlin adviser on Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Ukraine for Mr Putin, this year negotiated treaties for a far-reaching integration of the two Georgian breakaway regions with Russia in exchange for more economic aid.

As far as Mr Kadyrov is concerned, the deal is very clear. “If you entrusted this region to me, I must ensure security [here]. If not, please be so good and fire me.”

Ramzan Kadyrov: Chechen warlord accused of brutal rule

People walk past burnt out kiosks at a street market close to a destroyed building housing the housing the local media known as the Press House, in central Grozny, on December 4, 2014. Heavily-armed gunmen attacked a police post killing several officers before storming a building housing the local media and a school in the capital. AFP PHOTO/ELENA FITKULINA

When Chechnya’s ruler Ramzan Kadyrov ordered his security forces last week to open fire on any Russian policeman who appeared on his territory without prior approval, he openly stated a rule that many of his subjects have suffered under for several years: inside the North Caucasus republic, he, and he alone, is master.

Even though war officially ended six years ago, the Chechen republic continues to be one of the most violent places in Russia.

Gleaming Grozny City Rising From Ruins...GROZNY - JANUARY 20: General view of downtown in Grozny the Russian region of Chechnya on January 20, 2015. The new Grozny City development is the centerpiece of a transformation that has changed the capital of Chechnya from the charred wreckage that was left after the wars of the 1990s and remained until only a few years ago. (Photo by Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Six years after the war, the capital city may have been rebuilt but the Chechen republic remains one of the most violent places in Russia

Local residents and human rights advocates accuse the former warlord of imposing a brutal rule. There are frequent disappearances and killings and no avenues for redress.

“This is a kind of island which lies outside of the reach of Russian law. It will be done as Kadyrov or those close to him say,” says a Chechen human rights activist who asked to remain anonymous because his group has been the target of attacks.

He added that Russian president Vladimir Putin had “given our republic as a fiefdom to Ramzan. He is now the only lord and father. He submits to nobody but Putin, and Putin doesn’t want chaos here.”

The conflict in Chechnya began when the republic tried to secede from Russia after the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991. Over the course of two brutal wars which ended with the suppression of this secessionist cause, the insurgency has morphed into a jihadi uprising and spread all over the North Caucasus.
Since a group of Islamist insurgents launched an armed attack in downtown Grozny last December, the regime is cracking down even harder. In the Naursky district north of Grozny, seven young men were abducted in December.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov prays as he visits a recently rebuilt district in the Chechnya's capital Grozny, on May 1, 2012. Kremlin-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, a 35-year-old former Chechen rebel, took power in 2004 and has described Islamic law as superior "to the laws of the Russian federation." AFP PHOTOSTR/AFP/GettyImages

  • Born October 1976, his father was Akhmad Kadyrov, who as chief mufti declared jihad against Russia during first Chechen war.
  • In the first Chechen war of 1994-96, Mr Kadyrov fought against Russia together with his father.
  • At the beginning of the second Chechen war in 1999 he and his father sided with Moscow. After restoration of federal government in 2000, Mr Kadyrov became chief bodyguard for his father, who became head of the Chechen republic.
  • After his father’s assassination in 2004, Mr Kadyrov became deputy prime minister and in 2006 prime minister.
  • In February 2007, Russian president Vladimir Putin installed Mr Kadyrov as head of the Chechen Republic, replacing Alu Alkhanov.

Family members of two of them say they know who took them and which police station they were taken to, but their lawyer was told that they had been taken elsewhere.

Several more disappeared from Groznensky, a rural district surrounding the regional capital. They have yet to be found.

Other small groups of young men have been abducted from areas all over the country.

Separately, security forces rounded up the relatives of those involved in the December 4 attack, burnt down their houses and expelled them from the country.

In February, three people were killed in an explosion in an industrial area of Grozny. According to two local human rights activists, the authorities said the three were suicide bombers, arrested their relatives, held them for two days and on the third day expelled them from the republic.

The police have also gone after anyone whose contact was found on the phones of the alleged suicide bombers. Five are still unaccounted for, and two died while under arrest.

They were buried in secret and their families have been forbidden from talking about their deaths. But according to local human rights workers, the two died from torture during questioning.

“Kadyrov has total carte blanche to do inside the republic whatever he wants. Everything is allowed,” says Sergei Babinets, a member of a joint mobile group of Russian human rights organisations which rotates activists through Chechnya.

“If he wants to burn houses, he burns houses. If he wants to conduct mass cleansings, he conducts mass cleansings. If he wants to kill someone, he kills someone.”

Those who speak up almost always pay a high price. After the Joint Mobile Group criticised violence against the families of suspected insurgents, their office in Grozny was torched.

A month later, masked men stormed the office of Memorial, another rights group in the Chechen town of Gudermes and intimidated staff there.

The climate of fear further undermines the constitutional and legal institutions of the Russian state in Chechnya.

“There is a huge number of torture cases where people know who took the victim away and where the victim is being held. But the investigator in charge of the case does not call the perpetrators for questioning, does not detain them, and does not pass the case on to the prosecution. Judges never call these perpetrators as witnesses,” says Mr Babinets.

“They have told us directly: if I call this [policeman] for questioning today, they’ll come for me tomorrow. The judges, prosecutors, investigators are just afraid.”

According to Mr Babinets, not a single case of torture or abduction on which his group filed a complaint has been taken up by a Chechen court since the group started work in 2009.

The dysfunctionality of the legal system has encouraged many Chechens to seek help abroad. There is a rising tide of complaints about torture and disappearances to the European Court of Human Rights.

While the court often struggles to find enough evidence of torture, it has awarded damages to Chechens whose family members disappeared in the hands of the security apparatus.

In this context, Moscow tidies up after Mr Kadyrov.

Mr Babinets says the fines included in the Strasbourg court’s rulings against the Grozny authorities are always paid — by the federal government in Moscow.

“But the remaining parts of the verdicts, which often call for a proper investigation, are never implemented,” he adds.

Increasingly Chechens consider emigration. The republic records a net outflow of its people, according to official migration statistics, which are believed to under-report outward migration. Those who fear the Chechen authorities try to leave Russia altogether because they do not feel safe in Moscow either.

There are no reliable statistics on how many have left, but a Chechen refugee wave that hit Germany in 2013 is seen by most experts as a good indicator.

Berlin received more than 15,000 applications for political asylum from Russia that year, more than four times the total a year earlier. According to German officials, more than 90 per cent were from Chechnya.

“Of course we want to live where our ancestors lived, and die where our ancestors died,” says one man from the Chechen village of Alkhazurovo who applied for foreign passports for his entire family last year. “But there is a point where it is better to leave.”

Here is the blood-stained note written by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in hiding before he was caught

Tsarnaev boat note

BOSTON (Reuters) – Jurors in the trial on Tuesday of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev got to see the blood-stained message that prosecutors say he wrote on the inside of a boat he was hiding in before his violent capture, explaining his reasoning for killing innocent people.

“We Muslims are one body you hurt one you hurt us all,” the message read, citing what it said was aggression in Muslim lands. “I don’t like killing innocent people it is forbidden in islam, but due to said (…) it is allowed,” the message read, with a word missing due to a bullet hole.

Boston Police Officer Todd Brown identified a photograph of the message, displayed to the jury on screens in U.S. District Court in Boston, showing bullet holes and blood dripping over the words.

Tsarnaev, 21, is accused of killing three people and injuring 264 with a pair of homemade bombs at the race’s crowded finish line on April 15, 2013, as well as fatally shooting a police officer three days later as he and his brother tried to flee the city.

Federal prosecutors contend that Tsarnaev, who emigrated with his family from Chechnya, was driven by an extremist view of Islam and a desire to strike back at the United States in revenge for military campaigns in Muslim-dominated countries.

Defense lawyers argue that his older brother, 26-year-old Tamerlan, was the driving force behind the attacks and that his younger brother followed him out of a sense of submission. Tamerlan Tsarnaev died four days after the bombing when his younger brother inadvertently ran him over with a car as he fled a gunbattle with police.

Tsarnaev, who was shot and seriously injured before being captured in a dry-docked boat in Watertown, just outside Boston, faces the death penalty if convicted.

Earlier on Tuesday, an FBI agent testified that Tsarnaev attended the world renowned race the year before the attack and posted an ominous tweet about people being “defeated.”

FBI agent Stephen Kimball said Tsarnaev, using the Twitter handle J_Tsar, wrote “they will spend their money and they will regret it and then they will be defeated” on April 16, 2012, the day of that year’s marathon. Kimball said “yes” when asked if the FBI believed he attended the race in 2012.

Defense attorney Miriam Conrad questioned Kimball about other tweets from Tsarnaev, including ones citing rap lyrics, and jokes like “I want to study a broad or two”.

“Is it fair to say that in addition to the 45 tweets that the government chose for you to introduce, there are a lot of tweets about things like girls, cars, food, sleep, homework, complaining about studying,” she asked.

“Yes,” Kimball responded.

Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev federal court sketch
Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev federal court sketch

Conrad also pointed out that a background photo on one of Tsarnaev’s two Twitter accounts was of the city of Grozny in Chechnya, not of Mecca, the sacred city for Muslims in Saudi Arabia, as Kimball had earlier suggested.

Other FBI agents on Tuesday described how some 3,000 piece of evidence, including shrapnel and body parts, were retrieved from the blast sites near the marathon finish line, some on surrounding rooftops as high as four-stories.

The jury has heard from 33 witnesses, including victims and emergency workers, during the trial’s first four days. That brisk pace reflects the fact that defense lawyers, who opened their case by acknowledging Tsarnaev committed the crimes, have so far cross-examined only four witnesses.

The bombing killed Martin Richard, 8; Krystle Campbell, 29, and Lingzi Lu, 23. Massachusetts Institute of Technology police officer Sean Collier, 27, was shot to death three days later.

Warlord Doku Umarov’s brother behind Grozny attack — Death Toll in Grozny rises to 20

Kadyrov said that the time when parents weren’t held responsible for the actions of their sons and daughters is over.

GROZNY, December 5. /TASS/. Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov said that Akhmat, a brother of late warlord Doku Umarov, was behind the terrorist attack in Grozny on December 4.

“There is evidence that Doku Umarov’s brother has financed, organized and so bears responsibility for the attack,” Kadyrov told reporters on Friday. “Russia’s law enforcement agencies must demand his extradition from Turkey.”

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said that a total of 11 militants have been killed in a special counter-terrorism operation in the republic's capital Grozny.

Kadyrov said Umarov’s brother had deceived eleven militants who infiltrated Grozny. They were told that their goal was to reach Grozny and to open fire as another 400 gunmen who were allegedly staying in the city would join them.

Kadyrov said that all eleven militants were killed in the operation and later identified.

Kadyrov’s relative killed

Umar Kadyrov, a close relative of Chechnya’s head Ramzan Kadyrov, was killed in the anti-terrorist operation in Grozny, Kadyrov wrote on his page of a social network on Friday.

“The events in Grozny echoed with pain in the hearts of all Chechens and millions of Russian citizens,” he said. “I deliberately refrained from speaking about a heroic death of my close relative Umar Kadyrov who was only 22. But he lived a bright life for Allah, for Islam and for his people.”

Families of militants to be expelled from Chechnya

Family of a militant who commits a murder will be expelled from Chechnya without the right to return, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov wrote on one of his official pages in social networks.

“If a militant in Chechnya kills a policeman or any other person, the militant’s family will be immediately expelled from Chechnya without the right to return. Their house will be pulled down together with the foundation,” Kadyrov said, noting that he would not allow anybody to spill blood in Chechnya.

Earlier on Friday, Kadyrov held a meeting with ministers, regional administration chiefs and the heads of internal affairs departments where he put up an extremely tough but fair condition.

Kadyrov’s strong reaction must have come in the wake of the Thursday’s terrorist attack in Grozny.

A group of unidentified gunmen moving in three cars attacked a traffic police checkpoint in Grozny in the early hours on Thursday.

After that, the terrorists sneaked into the local Press House where the editorial offices of the republic’s newspapers, Internet publications and federal media outlets are located.

Chechen law enforcers blocked the Press House building and launched a security operation in central Grozny. As a result, 11 terrorists were neutralized.

10 police killed, 28 injured in Grozny anti-terror operation

RIA Novosti/Said Tsarnaev

Ten police officers were killed and 28 injured during an anti-terrorist operation in the Chechen capital, Grozny, the National Anti-Terrorist Committee has reported. The operation prevented major terrorist attacks planned in the city, the committee said.

“In the course of the counter-terrorist operation 10 local police officers were killed and 28 were wounded, having shown bravery while on civilian and military duty,” the National Anti-Terrorist Committee said in a statement.

RT’s video agency RUPTLY has obtained exclusive video of the last hours of the operation.

The footage from the location shows a building on fire, with emergency services trying to put out the flames.

The cameraman is at the scene of the fierce shootout between the security forces and the assailants. The close-up shows the shots hitting the building, and then intensifying.

Later, shoulder rockets are used in the violent fighting, with people ducking and wincing at the sounds of incessant shooting.

The incident started after midnight when a group of armed men traveling in three cars attacked a police checkpoint outside Grozny. Then the gang proceeded into the city and occupied the Press House building in the city center.

At 8 am, the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, wrote on his Instagram page that he was personally supervising the anti-terrorist operation and that it was “entering its final phase.”

Still from Ruptly video

RT’s sources in the area say sporadic gunfire is still being heard.

Investigative measures are ongoing, the committee reported.


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