Chechen soldiers have gained a reputation as fierce warriors in two wars against Russia. Now, Chechens can be found fighting in Ukraine - on both sides of the conflict. Professor Emil Aslan from the Institute of Political Studies at Charles University in Prague joined Cormac Ó hEadhra on RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime to talk about why Chechen soldiers are in action in Ukraine. (This piece includes excerpts from the conversation which have been edited for length and clarity - you can hear the discussion in full above).
The Chechen deployment on the Russian side is down to a few reasons, explains Aslan. "One of the reasons is that the Russians are facing a huge lack of manpower. That's why deploying this force of 12,000 Chechens is a huge asset to them in tactical terms.
"Another thing is this reputation of fierce fighters that the Chechens have cultivated, this perception of tough fighters, I think the Russians think deploying the Chechens might exert some kind of psychological pressure on Ukrainians."
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From Politico, inside the mind of Putin backer and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov
But there are also Chechen fighters on the Ukrainian side too. "You have basically two camps", says Aslan. "You have the pro-Moscow camp and anti-Moscow camp. Ramzan Kadyrov represents the pro-Moscow camp and his paramilitaries are making up formalised forces as part of the National Guard forces of the Russian Federation. They were deployed by Kadyrov, with the backing of Putin, I understand.
"Then you have a lot of people who go against Russians, and they basically stem from Western Europe or some other areas, which are not under Russian control. These guys are those veterans of the Russian-Chechen wars who want to continue in the fight against the Russians, including some of their sons. A lot of those fighters appear to have been born after the Chechens had to escape the country and find refuge in Western Europe and elsewhere."
According to Aslan, the soldiers who are fighting for Kadyrov in Ukraine are a mixed bunch. "You have former veterans, former insurgents, who switched sides because they were forced by the Russians, or had some problems with the insurgency. You have Chechens who have been part of the police force without experience with any insurgency. And you have youngsters who have been forced to join the Chechen fighters from Chechnya and they basically lack this extensive military experience."
You have the pro-Moscow camp and anti-Moscow camp
However, the resilience of the Ukrainians may have come as a surprise to the Chechens. "I think that pretty much surprised everybody, including the Chechens. Even the Americans thought the Ukraine resistance would last no longer than 72 hours.
"Back in 2014, the Russians annexed Crimea, and they also started off this Donbas civil war within Ukraine. It appears that some Chechens were deployed by the Russians and they were pretty effective back then. I think that the Russians expected that the same would happen, but it didn't happen, because the Ukrainians had seven to eight years to prepare themselves for a large-scale Russian attack."
One of the reasons why Kadyrov is helping out Putin is because of cold, hard cash. "Chechnya is very much dependent on money coming from the Russian budget", says Aslan. "Around 80% of the Chechen Republic's budget is made up from the direct money coming from Moscow so Ramzan Kadyrov is very much dependent economically on Moscow to run his Republic.
"Another thing is that there is such a thing in Chechnya as blood feuds. This old custom is still well in the life in Chechnya. But Chechens who resent Kadyrov, whose relatives were killed or raped or had bad things were done to them, are not capable of retaliating against the Kadyrov regime because their families would be wiped out."