Some say they were forced out.

Journalists working in Donetsk said they had
in past weeks noticed a major exodus of previously pro-Kremlin Chechen
fighters, with no reason provided from separatist leadership as to why they
departed. The exit of the Chechen fighters, who played a prominent role when
Russia instigated the war a year ago, has triggered speculation.

A Caucasus-born separatist commander who has
taken part in fighting told the Kyiv Post that disputes between Chechen
fighters and Russian-backed separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko in Donetsk
had been intensifying recently.

The commander said that some Chechens were
deported and others murdered, charges that Zakharchenko’s defense minister

“Zakharchenko’s men executed a bunch of them,
then a bunch of them were beaten. The Chechens who remain are still sitting in
the basement of the Donetsk SBU building. Some others have been disarmed and
deported,” the commander said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of
reprisals in Donetsk.


When asked for more information, he cut off
the conversation.

The picture painted by the separatist
commander was also backed up by a foreign journalist who witnessed Chechen
fighters in detention. He requested anonymity for fear of repercussions from
separatist leaders.

As separatist leaders and officials in Russia’s
Chechnya region remain tight-lipped on the issue, allegations abound that the
conflict erupted after some Chechen fighters refused to obey orders. In January, several Chechen fighters from a
battalion calling itself Diky’s Group vowed “blood revenge” against Donetsk
separatist authorities after one of their men had allegedly been killed by a
fighter. They defiantly declared that Donetsk was “their land.” Diky’s Group
comprises fighters from Tatarstan, Chechnya and Ingushetia.

The exact number of Chechen fighters in Donbas
is unknown, but members of the Death Battalion – the most prominent Chechen
group – have said their group numbers at least 300.


Eduard Basurin, the deputy defense minister of
separatist forces in Donetsk, played down the idea of a conflict between the
two sides.

Basurin told the Kyiv Post that “all the
Chechens left long ago of their own accord.” Asked specifically about the
alleged murders of Chechens, he said: “I know nothing about it.”

His comments contradicted remarks by Akhmed
Zakayev, the former prime minister of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, who
said in an interview with Radio Liberty over the weekend that a dramatic
standoff between the separatists and their former Chechen allies had been
playing out behind the scenes.

According to Zakayev, Chechen leader Kadyrov
personally recalled his men from Donetsk after a particularly gruesome incident
in which several Chechen fighters were killed in battle – all supposedly
because Zakharchenko refused to compromise with Ukrainian forces.

“There was a conflict between Zakharchenko’s
people and Kadyrov’s people,” Zakayev said, describing a dramatic skirmish
between Ukrainian forces and rebels.
Zakayev said Ukrainian forces had surrounded the rebels and demanded the
release of prisoners, but Zakharchenko refused, resulting in the death of 40
Chechen fighters.


He did not specify when the incident

Friction between Chechen fighters and other
rebels has surfaced repeatedly in recent months, with news of one Chechen
fighter being killed by rebels in a nightclub late March.

That incident reportedly resulted in a
shoot-out in the streets of Donetsk.

“After all that, Kadyrov pulled his men out of
there,” Zakayev said.

Georgi Engelhardt, an independent expert on
Islam who monitors many Chechen affairs, expressed doubt over Zakayev’s
comments, saying it sounded more like rumors.

“There is no way to verify Zakayev’s story,”
he said, adding that the plot was realistic but the number of Chechens killed
“needs to be reviewed.”

The departure of fighters from a region of
Russia that has twice clashed in devastating wars with Moscow since the
collapse of the USSR also coincides with tensions between Kadyrov, who rules
Chechnya as his personal fiefdom while routinely pledging loyalty to Russian
President Vladimir Putin, and Russian law enforcement officials.

In late April, Kadyrov famously encouraged his
own men to “shoot to kill” any law enforcement officers from other parts of
Russia if they were caught carrying out operations in Chechnya without
permission. The comment, for which Kadyrov later apologized, came amid public
demands to question Kadyrov’s men in connection with the murder of opposition
politician Boris Nemtsov in February.


Zaur Dadayev, a former Chechen deputy
commander praised by Kadyrov as a “true patriot,” is one of the main suspects
in the case.

Last May, the Caucasian Knot news agency
reported that the bodies of dozens of Chechen men had been returned home from
Ukraine for burial, citing family members.

An information request sent to Kadyrov’s press
service went unanswered as of print time.

Kyiv Post staff writer Allison Quinn can be reached at
[email protected]

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