If there was ever any doubt, it was quashed this week when separatist leaders and fighters here opened up to journalists about their Russian roots. In interviews with the Kyiv Post, Vice News, and the Financial Times, fighters in the so-called Vostok Battalion identified themselves as Russian citizens, with several saying they were from the Autonomous Republic of Chechnya.
Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, top Russian officials have repeatedly denied the presence of Russian troops in eastern Ukraine. Most recently, Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic denied claims in a post on his Instagram account that he was responsible for sending Chechen mercenaries to fight alongside separatists in eastern Ukraine, saying that such accusations were wholly “untrue.”
Still, Kadyrov did not deny that Chechens are fighting in Ukraine, adding, “If somewhere in the conflict zone somebody saw a Chechen, that’s their personal business.”