The Chechens are in the news again for fighting alongside the Russian army in Ukraine. Chechnya is located the South-East of Russia in the Northern Caucasus. It borders Georgia to the South, the Ingushetia Republic to the West, the Dagestan republic to the North East and Stavropol Krai to the North.

The liberation war against Russian expansion started under Sheikh Ushurma Mansur. He was followed by the famous Imam Shamil who was a pioneer of the Caucasus’s struggle for freedom and is revered as a hero in Dagestan. He was declared Imam of both Dagestan and Chechnya. He was not only a religious leader but an excellent military commander who led the resistance against Russia.

The first attempt to capture Chechnya was made by Tsar Peter in 1706 but it failed. The Muslims of Northern Caucasus fought Russia for over 47 years and the conflict ended in the 1850s after the capture of Imam Shamil. In 1922, the Chechen-Ingush autonomous region was established. On February 23, 1944 Stalin ordered the Chechen and Ingush population to be deported to Siberia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan for alleged collaboration with the Nazis. It is said that 30% of them died on their way. It was Khrushchev who allowed the Chechens back to their homeland. After Soviet Union’s disintegration, the Chechens declared independence from Russia when Dudayev—a general in the Russian air force—won presidential elections. This led to Russia’s invasion of Chechnya. It ended in a humiliating defeat for Russians who were forced to withdraw after thousands of its soldiers got killed besides Chechen civilians.

The second Chechen war started in 1999 after clashes with the Russian troops in Dagestan when Chechens crossed the border. In 2000, Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, was captured and brought under the direct rule of Russia. In 2003, Chechnya became a part of Russia and Akhmat Kadyrov was elected as president. In 2006 his son Ramzan Kadyrov became the Prime Minister and in 2007, he became the president.

The location of Chechnya is very important as it links Russia to the Caspian Sea oil fields by a pipeline. Chechnya is also important because of its oil production and refineries. Its proximity to the Black Sea and Caspian Sea has great significance. Black Sea had access to the Mediterranean Sea through Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits controlled by Turkey. The Caspian Sea provided quicker access to Central Asia than land. Continuous wars among warlords, a weak economy and social unrest had adverse effects on the region of Northern Caucasus.

Today there is an insurgency in Chechnya between secular independent Chechens and Islamists using terror as means of control. After the Ukrainian invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the president of Chechnya sent a Chechen elite unit known as ‘Kadyrovtsy’ in support of Russia. In the western media, they are known as hunters, assassins and Putin’s foot soldiers. They are highly trained urban warfare and some of them are veterans of military operations in Georgia and Syria. They are equipped with high tech weapons and tanks with a mission to eliminate those wanted by Russia.

One of their targets is the Nationalist Azov Battalion of Ukraine who follows the Nazi ideology and believe in white supremacy. President Putin has already said that he is determined to demilitarise and de-Nazify Ukraine. A new factor has been added to the conflict as some Chechen groups have announced to fight the Kadyrovites and Russians in Ukraine. One such group is the Chechen Battalion of Dzhokhar Dudayev, named after first Chechen president. The other group is Sheikh Mansur Battalion, now operating close to the city of Mariupol in Ukraine.

The ‘Kadyrovtsy’ have said they are in Ukraine to avenge the killings of innocent civilians by the Ukrainian forces in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. Ukraine contributed thousands of soldiers to the NATO in its invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. Ukraine provided the second largest contingent when Iraq was invaded and was involved in the killing of innocent civilians. There is hue and cry in the western media on the killing of Ukrainians. They never raised their concern or reported to massacre Muslims the invasion of Afghanistan, Iraq, Srebrenica (Bosnia) and Syria.