The new commander of the Dzhokhar Dudayev battalion since Munayev’s death is Adam Osmayev, a British-educated Chechen who spent two years in jail in Odessa, charged with hatching a plot to assassinate Vladimir Putin. He said the charges were trumped up. He was released from prison late last year and said he was on the frontline “within a day or two”. He is hoping that Ukraine’s government will officially allow foreigners to fight in its army in order to entice Chechens away from fighting in Syria.
“People are going from Chechnya to the Middle East out of a sense of hopelessness; if the Ukrainians made the right conditions they would come here instead. Many people go there not from ideology but are brainwashed when they get there,” he said.
Another Chechen man who did not want to be named said he was trying to persuade other Chechens, via online forums, not to travel to the Middle East but to come to Ukraine instead.
“Why are Chechens fighting for Isis, why are they fighting against Kurds who have never done us any wrong? For Kobane, which they had never heard of before? That is not a Chechen war. This, here in Ukraine, is a war for Chechens. If we defeat Russia here, we are closer to freeing our homeland.”
He, too, has a personal history of fighting the Russians, and of personal tragedies. Two of his cousins were captured, tortured and executed in 2001 by Russian troops, Bolotkhanov said, despite the fact they were “completely peaceful people”.
But when Kadyrov’s father, Akhmad-Khadzhi Kadyrov, first took over the reins of the republic, men like Bolotkhanov who had fought against the Russians were given the chance to be amnestied and join the new battalions loyal to Kadyrov and Russia.
“In 2002 I signed up for the battalions and served until 2012, ending with the rank of major. I performed the hajj six times. If I had stayed with the rebels, or if the war had continued, I would never have had that opportunity. It’s all thanks to Kadyrov.”
He said there is nothing strange about Chechens fighting alongside their long-standing enemy, Russia.