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'When Ukrainian sun rises': How Russia absorbed Chechnya and prospects for independence

'When Ukrainian sun rises': How Russia absorbed Chechnya and prospects for independence Chechen fighters in Ukraine are fighting, among other things, for the independence of their homeland (photo by Getty Images)

Ukrainians are not alone in the fight against Russia's imperial ambitions. Representatives of different nations are fighting on our side, including the Chechen people, who are trying to bring the independence of their homeland closer. Read about the Russian takeover of Chechnya, the conditions under which it can become free, and what Ukraine has to do with it in the RBC-Ukraine article.

Sources used: the publications of the Center for Countering Disinformation at the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, the American magazine The Atlantic, Wikipedia, comments by the Honorary Consul of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in Ukraine Yurii Shulipa and the commander of the Adam group of the Ichkeria battalion with the call sign "Maga".

Russian absorption of Chechnya. Brief excursion into history

The beginning of Russian expansion into Chechen lands dates back to the first half of the seventeenth century. It is believed that after the early battles, some local communities swore allegiance to Moscow, and power over the region was imposed with the help of Kabardian and Dagestani feudal lords.

Russia's vector to the North Caucasus intensified during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Political ties began to expand after the Persian campaign of Peter the Great in 1722. It was around that time that the word Chechens was used in Russian sources. The name of the people was Noxçiy.

Expansion continued, and campaigns for so-called pacification were systematic. The main reason was the constant raids on southern Cossack settlements. The resettlement of Volga accompanied military colonization and Don Cossacks to lands along the Kuban and Terek rivers. In the 1780s, a Shariah movement emerged in the Chechen lands. This period includes the uprising of Sheikh Mansur. Turkey, which entered the war in 1787, supported him and coordinated efforts with the rebel Highlanders. However, the defeat in the battle on the Kuban coast in September 1790 broke Sheikh Mansur's forces. Almost a year later, he was captured by the Russians during the storming of Anapa.

The situation in the Caucasus was radically changed by the accession of Georgia in 1801. Moscow took a course for direct control, and Chechnya, Kabarda, and Dagestan found themselves between the Caucasus line and Georgia. By 1840, the Imamate of Shamil emerged on the territory of Chechnya and Dagestan. At first, he fought successfully against Russia but was defeated in 1869. Chechen lands were then conquered and annexed. However, this did not end the uprisings, which continued until the empire's collapse and even into the Soviet period.

During the Second World War, Chechens suffered the most massive deportation, allegedly for collaborating with the German occupiers. According to various estimates, between 500 and 650 thousand Chechens and Ingush were resettled to the northern regions of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. They were allowed to return to their homeland in 1957, four years after the death of Joseph Stalin. A new round of the struggle for independence is associated with the history of recent decades.

Two wars. What happened in the 1990s and 2000s

On the eve of the collapse of the USSR, national movements intensified, which became the preconditions for the First Russian-Chechen War. In 1991, the newly elected president of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (CHRI), Dzhokhar Dudayev, announced his secession from the Russian Federation. It is worth noting that from the Chechen point of view, the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria was never part of the Russian Federation, and the status of an autonomous republic was interpreted as equal to that of the Union republics.

'When Ukrainian sun rises': How Russia absorbed Chechnya and prospects for independence

The first president of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Dzhokhar Dudayev (photo by Russian media)

Yurii Shulipa, political expert, lawyer, honorary consul of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in Ukraine, and director of the international association Institute of National Policy, explains that the republic began to build its state, held elections, and the international community recognized the newly formed authorities.

"And then, when the draft of the Russian constitution was being planned in 1992, deliberately false information was added to Article 65, stating that the Chechen Republic was allegedly a subject of the Russian Federation. It was a quasi-decision, as it is now in the case of the temporarily occupied parts of Zaporizhzhia, Kherson, Donetsk, and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. This falsification became, as lawyers say, a "cover story" to prepare for the First Russian-Chechen War," he says in a commentary to RBC-Ukraine.

In the spring of 1993, with the support of the Kremlin, an armed anti-Dudayev opposition appeared in the northern regions. In the summer of 1994, it provoked hostilities, and in November it tried to capture the capital city of Grozny. Those who were taken prisoner spoke of the Russian special services' plans to present the events in Chechnya as an internal confrontation.

The failure forced Russia to launch a large-scale operation. On December 11, by order of President Boris Yeltsin, Defense Ministry units entered Chechen territory. It was assumed that the militia of 15,000 Chechens would not be able to resist federal troops, which numbered up to 40,000 (gradually the grouping increased to 100-120,000).

'When Ukrainian sun rises': How Russia absorbed Chechnya and prospects for independence

A burned combat personnel carriers on the streets of Grozny, 1995 (photo by Mikhail Evstafiev

Russian forces were supposed to capture the entire republic in the second decade of December but met with fierce resistance. The New Year's Eve assault on Grozny was halted and by January 3, 1995, the invading forces were defeated. The next assault lasted until March. Russia succeeded in capturing the plains, but not the mountainous areas. Shamil Basayev's attack on Budyonovsk forced negotiations. In April 1996, Dudayev was killed by a rocket attack, and in August the parties signed the Khasavyurt peace agreements.

According to them, federal troops were withdrawn from the republic and independence was effectively recognized. Losses amounted to up to 80,000 Russian troops, and civilian casualties amounted to 120,000 killed and 240,000 wounded. A detachment of Ukrainian volunteers called the Viking took part in the battles on the Chechen side.

The formal pretext for the Second Russian-Chechen War was the 1999 terrorist attacks in Buinaksk, Moscow, and Volgodonsk. Although independent researchers proved that the Russian Federal Security Service was behind the bombings. Another reason was the breakthrough of Basayev and Khattab's groups into Dagestan in August of that year. Vladimir Putin, who had just become prime minister, declared Chechnya the main threat.

In September, the Russian army entered the republic, seized a third of it in two weeks, and by December the entire plain part. In the spring of 2000, the center of resistance moved to the mountains. The Kremlin relied on luring prominent Chechens. After Ichkeria's president, Aslan Maskhadov, was ousted from power, the pro-Moscow administration was headed by Chief Mufti Akhmat Kadyrov.

'When Ukrainian sun rises': How Russia absorbed Chechnya and prospects for independence

Vladimir Putin and Moscow's protege in Chechnya, Akhmat Kadyrov (photo by

After Maskhadov's assassination and the deaths of most of the field commanders, guerrilla resistance declined. Kadyrov was killed in a terrorist attack in 2004, and after a short break, his son Ramzan took over as president and devoted his efforts to suppressing the guerrilla movement. The war is believed to have ended on April 16, 2009. During the most active phase, about 6,000 Russian and 16,000 Chechen soldiers were killed. Civilian casualties amounted to 125 thousand people.

Russian occupation of Chechnya and parallels with Ukraine

Russia's occupation of Chechnya is based on two factors: the presence of about 100,000 troops and the collaboration of the so-called Kadyrovites. Unlike other zones of Russian occupation in Transnistria, Abkhazia, or Ukraine, the republic is governed directly by Ramzan Kadyrov's clan.

"In Ichkeria, Kadyrov has complete autonomy from Moscow and does whatever he wants. His power is equivalent to Putin's power," Yurii Shulipa says in an interview with the agency.

According to him, despite his autonomy, Kadyrov is very dependent on Putin and support from the center.

"As soon as Moscow stops supporting the occupation of Ichkeria, Kadyrov will flee to the UAE. He has a residence there, and I think there may be an agreement with the authorities on asylum if the republic is liberated and de-occupation processes begin there," he adds.

'When Ukrainian sun rises': How Russia absorbed Chechnya and prospects for independenceRamzan Kadyrov is likely to seek asylum in the UAE if he has to flee Chechnya (photo by Getty Images)

The nature of the occupation of Chechnya does not have the clear signs of ethnocide as in the occupied parts of Ukraine. While Ukrainian identity is being destroyed in Crimea, the south, and Donbas, at least at the official level, the Chechen language is being used in Chechnya. The population is intimidated and depressed, due to high unemployment, arbitrary arrests, and extrajudicial killings.

Another component is the changing ethnic composition. According to international organizations, more than half of Chechens live outside the republic. It is currently impossible to estimate exactly how many of them are left in Ichkeria, Shulipa notes.

"I think that since Russia is historically doomed to defeat, an international tribunal will answer this in the future. Only there can all the facts be established after the liberation of Ichkeria," he emphasizes.

The authoritative American magazine The Atlantic wrote about the parallels with Ukraine. In particular, Putin has prepared the same fate for Ukraine as he imposed on Chechnya, implementing the plan through a series of successive stages.

The first is rapid "pacification" wherever possible. In the case of Ukraine, these were the southern regions captured in the first weeks of the full-scale invasion. Other regions survived, so Russia turned to the tactics of ruins. Mariupol, and later other cities, repeated the fate of Grozny.

Then Moscow selects someone to play the role of puppets capable of influencing the local population, and the last stage is the establishment of a new order. This includes imposing a new version of its history, according to which the takeover was allegedly "completely voluntary" or "rescue from radicals." Thus, the next generation grows up with a sense of duty to serve Moscow and inevitably participates in another round of imperial conquests.

The commander of the Adam group of the Ichkeria battalion, with the call sign "Maga," who is fighting on the side of Ukraine, says that Russia has not changed its approach.

"I'm 30 years old, I remember very well how Chechnya was bombed. It all started the same way as in Ukraine. They didn't even change their propaganda. They also claimed that the Russian-speaking population was allegedly being killed in our country and that Russian-speaking children were being eaten. Only they call Ukrainians fascists, not bandits. They started the war relying on the fear that everyone would surrender and leave in columns. And just like in Chechnya, they were defeated, after which they dug in and started fighting in position. But unlike Chechnya, Ukraine is a huge country, and the initial plan did not work," he tells RBC-Ukraine.

Different Chechens. Some fight for Ukraine and some against it

At the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to various estimates, no more than 2,000 Chechens fought on the Russian side, comprising the 141st Special Motorized Regiment and the Akhmat Kadyrov Special Forces Police Regiment. However, in June 2022, four new Akhmat battalions (North, South, West, and East) appeared. In October 2023, the Sheikh Mansur battalion was formed, which was a kind of paradox, since this national hero fought against the imperialists.

'When Ukrainian sun rises': How Russia absorbed Chechnya and prospects for independenceKadyrovites sent to war with Ukraine (photo by

Several hundred Chechen volunteers are fighting on the side of Ukraine. Some of them are part of the Dzhokhar Dudayev and Sheikh Mansur battalions, which have been operating since 2014. In addition, there is an operational detachment named after Khamzat Gelayev, as well as a battalion of the Foreign Legion. All of them position themselves as the Armed Forces of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. In September 2022, the head of the government-in-exile, Akhmed Zakayev, said that in addition to the Dudayev battalion, four other Chechen battalions are fighting for Ukraine.

"Our goal is to stop the expansion of the 'Russian world', which has become cancer. We also want to liberate the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and restore its statehood," says Maga, explaining the Chechens' motivation.

His unit is coordinated with various brigades of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and now mostly works with attack and reconnaissance drones. As for the Kadyrovites, "Maga" and his men consider them national traitors.

"Kadyrovites never go to the front line. During the Kyiv campaign, they proved themselves incapable of defending their positions and seizing new ones. To a greater extent, they act as punitive units, they can torture and abuse civilians. But as a combat unit, they are useless," he adds.

Yurii Shulipa calls the Kadyrovites mercenaries and thugs. But he draws attention to the following point: not only Chechens but also representatives of other nations are fighting in their ranks. The motivation is simple: people go to war either for money or to avoid punishment for their crimes.

'When Ukrainian sun rises': How Russia absorbed Chechnya and prospects for independenceChechen fighters fight for Ukraine against a common enemy (photo by Getty Images)

"Those fighting for Ukraine are well aware that they are fighting for the liberation of Chechnya. Like the Belarusians, Chuvash, and Kazan Tatars, they understand that there is only one enemy, and until Moscow is defeated, there can be no talk of independence for their states. So the first reason is the war for the sake of the future. The second is, of course, revenge, because the Russian occupation has caused Chechens incredible suffering," he adds.

When will Chechnya get chance for freedom and what does Ukraine have to do with it?

That is why the hopes of the enslaved peoples are linked to the military defeat of the Russian Federation and its subsequent collapse. As far back as 1995, Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev predicted war by saying that "there will be a massacre in Crimea, and Ukraine will be at war with Russia." Another quote from him is also often cited: "When the Ukrainian sun rises, Russia will disappear."

Yurii Shulipa, Honorary Consul of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in Ukraine, calls Dudayev's words prophetic.

"Russia is a terrorist empire, the essence of which is constant warfare. Historically, it has only two states. The first is war against neighboring countries. The second is collapse and disintegration after a geopolitical defeat. Therefore, of course, Ukraine's victory will lead to the elimination of the Russian Federation," he says.

And this is true not only for Ichkeria but also for other republics. Suffice it to recall that only six months after the collapse of the USSR, a referendum was held in Tatarstan, where the population voted in favor of independence from Moscow. As for when the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria will be liberated, much depends on the operational capabilities of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Shulipa emphasizes. However, in his opinion, certain processes may have begun even before the Ukrainian victory.

"If the Ukrainian Armed Forces inflict such damage that Moscow is forced to withdraw most of the occupation troops from Chechnya, reduce subsidies, and financially bleed the Kadyrov regime dry, then sporadic events may begin even before Russia's final defeat. That will lead to Kadyrov's escape, or the Chechens themselves will destroy him because he has many krovniks (blood enemies - ed.). Moscow will no longer be able to hold Ichkeria militarily, Zakayev's legitimate government will return and there will be post-war state-building," he tells the agency.

Currently, the future of Chechnya depends on the outcome of the Russian-Ukrainian war. The fighter with the call sign "Maga" believes that the independence of his homeland is possible only after a military defeat and the collapse of the Russian Federation. Changing the Moscow regime to a democratic one will not solve the problem.

"The so-called good Russians have the same imperial policy. They don't want to let go of their territories. Imperial ambitions existed both in tsarist times and in the USSR, and absolutely nothing has changed. We don't believe that there are good Russians who are ready to live in peace with other nations. They need another breather to regain their strength and move forward again, having worked on their mistakes," he adds.

RBC-Ukraine's interlocutors also agree that the Chechens' struggle for independence will be armed. But how bloody it will be depends on Ukraine. A military victory over the aggressor will help Ichkeria become free with fewer losses. Any intermediate scenario is likely to be associated with a large number of casualties.