Putin sends Chechen fighters to Ukraine, with results unclear

Putin reportedly ‘frustrated’ by Ukrainian resistance

Fox News national security correspondent Jennifer Griffin reacts to reports that Putin is attempting to escalate tensions in order to deescalate them.

Vladimir Putin’s move to send the battle-hardened and much-feared Chechen fighters to reinforce his invasion into Ukraine might have initially backfired, according to reports coming out of Ukraine.

Observers said the soldiers could have been sent in as headhunters to kill or capture senior Ukrainian politicians, but they say those initial efforts have been thwarted by Ukraine’s military.

The Chechens are part of a Russian national guard unit and are well known for fighting insurgencies, using brutal tactics that even jolted Russia during its two brutal wars in the ’90s against them. The Chechens have been employed to hunt down terrorists in Syria and used by Russia to fight elsewhere, including in Georgia. They also fought the Ukrainians in Donbas when hostilities began there in 2014.

The Chechen Republic is a predominantly Muslim region in the Caucuses, and while it’s still part of Russia, it has been granted a lot of autonomy by Putin, who is close to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov announced this weekend that his troops were in Ukraine. 

Reports on their number varied from 7,000 to tens of thousands. Kadyrov said he supported Putin’s decision to invade and that his troops, “will carry out his orders under any circumstances,” Reuters reported. He also claimed none of his troops have died or suffered injuries, according to Reuters.

Yet, unconfirmed reports coming out of Kyiv claimed Ukrainian forces had taken out some 56 Chechen tanks and killed one of its high-ranking commanders on the way to the capital. While the Chechen leader denied his commander’s death, if true, observers said, even this early on in the campaign it could be a problem for Putin, given the massive fight of resistance being put on by Ukrainian military forces against the Russian aggressor.

Theodore Karasik, a fellow on Russia and Middle East affairs at the Jamestown Foundation, told Fox News Digital, “The Chechens are getting hit for now, and it’s based on the fact that they [the Ukrainians] did their homework. They understood how Chechens fight.” 

Putin and Russia are said to have relied on Chechen fighters many times in past decades.
(Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)

Karasik said even with the Chechens’ historic background of being lethal fighters on the battleground, during these early stages of the invasion, “instead of the Chechens targeting them, (the Ukrainians) have targeted the Chechens. They got them before they had time to really act. That doesn’t mean the Chechen units are inactive, but they are getting slowed down tremendously in these first few days.”

Karasik, who has written a book on Russia’s actions in the Middle East, as well as on the Chechen conflict with Russia, said he saw these reports as adding to the anxiety of the Russian general staff. “When [Sergei] Shoygu, the defense minister, has to go sit with Putin at a distance because Kadyrov was mouthing off and whining that they’re getting their a–es kicked, this will send a shock wave about a response. So, this is why I think we’re seeing a bigger aggression by Russia.”

“We are only in day 5, and the Chechens got surprised because of Kadyrov’s relationship with the Kremlin. This looks bad for him. So, his highly trained fighters, some of whom have trained in other theaters, have to go back and fight harder, and Putin knows that,” Karasik said. 

As the Ukrainian military is fighting to keep control of Kyiv and Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, observers expected to see the Chechen units moving in with them. Karasik warned that some of the Chechens likely will be assigned to “a ‘kidnap and kill’ portion, since they have had a history of doing these types of operations.”

Global affairs analyst Jonathan Wachtel, who as a journalist based in Moscow in the ‘90s, covered conflicts in the former Soviet Union, including Chechnya, told Fox News Digital that maybe one reason Putin sent the Chechens in so early on in the fighting was to boost the morale of the troops, given the heavy losses they’re taking. 

Military service is compulsory in Russia, so many conscripts may not have the will to fight, particularly against people who are predominantly ethnic Slavs following similar cultures. Having the feared Chechen fighters in the arena might shake things up at this early stage. 

“As fighters, they have a reputation that goes back centuries of being ferocious and instilling fear among invading armies that tried and failed to crush them. So, you end up with Chechen characters in novels by Tolstoy and Pushkin, some of the great literary giants of Russian literature, and this fear of the Chechens fighter is not for nothing,” Wachtel said.

He continued, “They’re known for being extremely capable in battle, strategically shrewd, cunning, relentless and vicious  — they fight to the death even when they know that they are outnumbered.”

Wachtel, who worked under U.S. Ambassadors to the United Nations Nikki Haley and Kelly Craft, said when Putin came to power, he crushed Grozny, the capital city of Chechnya, and launched a ruthless military campaign, but the Chechens ran a ferocious counterinsurgency and acts of terrorism against civilian targets that caused the Russians plenty of problems.

He said while it seemed an unusual relationship between Putin and Kadyrov, the Russian president “managed to work out a relationship with him and his fighters to have loyalty where they can maintain leadership of the region of Chechnya in exchange for Russian financial and infrastructure support.” 

Wachtel concluded, “In this fashion, and as ironic as it is, given the tangled and violent history between Russians and Chechens, he is essentially in Putin’s pocket and that’s because it is helpful to him as well, he maintains power and control and ensures that his people are getting the support they need.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has claimed there have been some 4,500 Russian casualties so far, and while the Russian defense ministry did acknowledge on the weekend for the first time that some of its soldiers had been killed and injured, it didn’t give a number.

Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said 352 Ukrainian civilians have been killed, including 14 children, during Russia’s invasion. Some 2,000 citizens have also been hurt in the fighting so far. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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