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A conflict within a conflict: how Putin exports the Chechnya civil war to Ukraine

Paramilitares chechenos celebram a “libertação” de Mariupol

Chechen paramilitaries celebrate the “liberation” of Mariupol

| Photo: Reproduction

) This week, Russian state media and the propaganda and disinformation networks that Moscow feeds around the world showed a video in which bearded soldiers celebrate the “liberation ” from Mariupol – the Ukrainian city named after the mother of Jesus – and which was the town most attacked by Vladimir Putin’s troops since the beginning of the invasion in February. They celebrated the victory over a ruined city, to the shouts of Allahu akbar

(“Allah is greater”) – an Islamic expression that is used by Muslims from the most peaceful prayers and moments of joy to the moments of extreme madness demonstrated by their radicals in bombings and other barbarities.

Putin’s bearded men are not part of his regular army. They are Chechens who serve as paramilitaries to Ramzán Khadyrov, a Kremlin puppet who occupies the “presidency” of Chechnya with the permission of the Russian president. Formally, these militiamen are under the umbrella of the Russian Armed Forces, but they are a parallel power that operates in the dark under the direct orders of Khadyrov.

“President” Khadyrov is the heir of a clan that leads a significant portion of the Chechen Islamic minority that fought against Russia for independence, but later switched sides and started selling not only influence, but violence, to contain separatists and help Putin keep the territory under his control.

The presence of the Chechens in Ukraine is evidence of a war within a war. As Putin employs Khadyrov’s militiamen in combat, at least two Chechen separatist battalions are fighting alongside Ukrainian troops. A civil war was exported to the theater of operations in Ukraine.

Putin has no sympathy for the Chechens. Under his leadership, Russia has faced them twice since the collapse of the Soviet Union. He lost one and gained another, regaining not only territory but influence under the brutality outsourced by Khadyrov, who is accused of crimes against humanity against his own people. Imagine what he is unable to do in foreign lands. Russian propaganda does not make a point of hiding the butcher’s reputation that its useful-ally cultivates.

It is not new that one of Putin’s intentions is to transform Ukraine into an unviable place. A failed state in Europe. The sectarian struggles that the Russian president exports to Europe are a pernicious ingredient that increases his chances of success. And it’s also not news to anyone that he wants to put the Chechens to devour themselves. Nothing more efficient than an arena abroad, far away from the territory he has under his control.

The presence of Khadyrov and his soldiers in Ukraine has been exploited by Putin internally. In addition to sending a message that he is playing hardball in the “denazification” of Ukraine, he shows that Russian dominance over the Chechens has never been stronger. Russian networks spread that Chechen special forces landed in Ukraine with the primary mission to assassinate President Volodymyr Zelensky. And that any and all previous actions, such as the taking of Mariupol, are steps towards achieving the objective.

Another aspect of the presence of the Chechen militiamen on the battlefield, combined with the mercenaries that Moscow imported from Syria: it demonstrates that Putin is preparing for an urban war. With guerrilla elements and asymmetrical actors. An evolution of war that started with conventional ingredients and has the potential to turn into a long-lasting conflict with a high rate of lethality and destruction. The experience of the Chechens in successful urban combat against the Russians in the past will now be used by the Russians to their advantage to derail Ukraine.

The lessons come not only from internal disputes, but from Russia’s own experience in the Syrian civil war, where Russia was a predominant actor but with little or no regular participation. . He was a powerful financier and promoter of groups allied to the dictator Bashar al-Assad who fought in the conflict that began in 960 and is now far from its end.

While most analysts are cold thinking about the risk of nuclear war, Putin advances undermining the reputation of the West, spreading lies and planting a level of discord, resentment and failure in the European context.

Perhaps the humanitarian tragedy that led 7 million Syrians to leave their country and many of them to face the lottery of life and death crossing the Mediterranean or the Aegean Sea in seeking asylum in Europe is not something so disconnected from the battles under the cries of Allahu akbar on Ukrainian soil. Depending on the escalation of the urban conflict, in which Chechens will kill Chechens, the risk of the enlistment of Islamic radicals (whose presence is widespread in Europe) grows exponentially.

Putin’s actions cannot be neglected or analyzed within conventional concepts of war. Like traditional Russian matrioskas, Putin’s war hides something else within it. And there is always something even more hidden under each of its layers.

Even a possible military defeat or retreat – something many people tend to believe – can have an implicit objective. Putin is winning the war on a number of his implicit goals. The buy-in that Putin has won in various sectors of the West (from the radical left to the delusional right) is just one of the achievements. Ukraine as a problem is gone. It became a pretext. What worries us is what will come after the rubble of these wars within wars.

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