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From Budyonnovsk to Bakhmut More than a dozen of Kadyrov’s fighters in Ukraine were — or still are — on Russia’s federal terrorist list
In May 2022, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate published a list of 2,425 Chechen volunteer soldiers who have fought in the war against Ukraine. Using social media and Russian court records, journalists from the independent Russian outlet Verstka have verified the identities of many of the fighters listed — and found that 14 of them have been included on the Russian Federal Financial Monitoring Service’s list of terrorists. Five of the soldiers were still on the list when they were sent to Ukraine. One of the men had close ties to terrorist insurgent Shamil Basayev — and even received an award for his role in the 1995 hospital hostage crisis in Budyonnovsk, Russia, in which more than 100 civilians were killed. In English, Meduza summarizes Verstka's findings.
The Chechen forces in Ukraine
Since the start of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has repeatedly referred in Telegram posts to the tens of thousands of “volunteers from the Chechen Republic who are prepared to carry out orders from the Supreme Commander-in-Chief in Ukraine.”
In the spring, the Telegram channel Mozhem Obyasnit reported that the ranks of the volunteers sent from Chechnya to Ukraine included multiple people with criminal histories. According to the channel, some of the fighters still had outstanding prison sentences, while others were on probation and legally unable to leave Chechnya.
According to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR), the first groups of Chechen volunteer fighters left the republic on March 12, 13, and 16. Several days later, Kadyrov wrote that “an entire battalion of volunteers has arrived in Ukraine,” and that they were “raring for a fight.”
On March 12, the anti-Kadyrov Telegram channel 1ADAT posted a photo of volunteers alongside Chechen parliamentary speaker Magomed Daudov. A Chechen user recognized one of the soldiers as Usman Sukuev and claimed he had been “sent to prison for a long time.” According to Mozhem Obyasnit, Sukuev was convicted on weapons manufacturing and drug possession charges.
In the months that followed, Kadyrov continued to report arrivals of Chechen volunteer soldiers in Ukraine. On March 26, soldiers from other parts of Russia began showing up in the Chechen volunteer units.
The list of Chechen volunteer fighters published by the Ukrainian GUR includes people who have appeared on the Russian Federal Financial Monitoring Service’s list of terrorists and extremists. Some of the soldiers are still on the list to this day.
Shamil Basayev’s 'personal executioner'
Volunteer No. 1017 on the Ukrainian GUR’s list is 54-year-old Isa Dukayev, a past ally of terrorist leader Shamil Basayev. On Russia’s federal list of terrorists, Dukayev is No. 4256.
According to Kommersant, in 1995, Isa Dukayev guarded the presidential palace of then-Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev as part of a unit led by Shamil Basayev. Later that year, Dukayev took part in the five-day hospital siege in Budyonnovsk, Russia, in which more than 100 civilians were killed. He was subsequently given Ichkeria’s highest award, the Order of the People’s Honor, for his role in the crisis. In addition, Dukayev served as the head of the Ichkerian Sharia Security Ministry’s department in Chechnya’s Gudermessky and Nozhay-Yurtovsky districts.
In 2001, FSB officers arrested Dukayev in Chechnya. At the time, Kommersant referred to him as Basayev’s “friend” and “personal executioner,” while Channel One called him “one of Shamil Basayev’s closest associates.”
In 2002, a court in Stavropol Krai sentenced Dukayev to 12 years in prison on charges of banditry, illegal possession of weapons, terrorism, and hostage-taking. In 2005, he was convicted once more, this time for abducting a minor in the mid-1990s, but was spared a prison sentence due to an expired statute of limitations.
A soldier from Ruslan Gelayev’s unit
No. 2120 on the Ukrainian GUR’s list is Akhmed Dulayev, a soldier who served in Chechen rebel field commander Ruslan Gelayev's unit in the early 2000s. (On the Russian Federal Financial Monitoring Service’s terrorists list, Dulayev is No. 4258.) In 2003, the Supreme Court of North Ossetia sentenced him to 13 years in a high-security prison for banditry, illegal possession of weapons, and illegal border crossing.
According to Kommersant, in early 2002, Akhmed Dulayev joined Gelayev's Georgia-based military unit. In September of that year, 300 soldiers from that unit crossed into Ingushetia, where they briefly took multiple civilians hostage in the village of Tarskoye before launching an attack on the village of Galashki.
RFE/RL’s North Caucasus service reported in September that Akhmed Dulayev died while fighting in Ukraine. The outlet cited a Chechen Telegram channel, which claimed that Dulayev joined the war under threat of new criminal charges.
Terrorists no more
48-year-old Lema Okhayev was added to the Russian authorities’ list of terrorists no later than 2011. In March 2022, he joined the war in Ukraine. By October 2022, he had been removed from the terrorists list.
Okhayev was sentenced to 13 years in prison for terrorism and attempting to kill a law enforcement officer. It’s unclear when the sentence was handed down, but Okhayev was prosecuted under the old version of a law that was amended in late 2008.
The leadership of the prison where Okhayev served his sentence has described him as someone “prone to attacking [prison] administration officials” and “asserting negative influence on other convicts and promoting extremist ideologies.”
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Nine other people from Ukraine's list of Chechen volunteer fighters have been included on Russia’s list of terrorists and subsequently removed.
According to Abubakar Yangulbayev, a former lawyer for the organization Committee Against Torture, Chechnya recruits soldiers with criminal records because they have a shortage of willing volunteers. In Yangulbayev’s view, Kadyrov has been largely unable to tempt Chechens with medals and cash payments because Russia’s war against Ukraine reminds them of the Chechen Wars.
“Kadyrov decided it would be better to send people who have served time in jail for terrorism. And [many of them were given] huge sentences — from 15 years to life. And even if they serve out their sentences, they’re imprisoned again. Participating in the special [military] operation gives them a chance to redeem themselves, rehabilitate themselves before their country, and thus gain freedom,” said Yangulbayev. “Plus, if these people are allegedly terrorists, it means they’re prone to violence, war, and all that. And that’s exactly what [Kadyrov needs] for war.”
Abridged translation by Sam Breazeale
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