Ukraine conflict, foreign fighters and European security
Author: Giuliano Bifolchi
The Ukraine conflict has attracted the attention of foreign fighters eager to fight against the Russian troops and the Chechen kadyrovtsy. If the war lasts longer than Moscow planned, there is a severe threat that Ukraine might evolve into a battleground where foreign fighters will promote terrorism and jihadist propaganda.
After a long night of fighting, on February 28th, 2022, Talks between the delegations of Kyiv and Moscow began in a secret location on the border between Ukraine and Belarus, in the area of the Pripyat River. Ukraine calls for an “immediate ceasefire” and the withdrawal of Russian troops. After four days of the war, it seems that instead of an easy and quick military success as probably the Kremlin planned, the Russian military operations in Ukraine resulted in a conflict that might last longer, causing human and economic losses.
Ukraine and conflict data
According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the grouping of troops of the Luhansk People’s Republic, with the fire support of the Russian armed forces, carried out successful offensive operations and established control over the settlements of Khvorostyanka, Sukhanovka, Artem. The units of the armed forces of the Donetsk People’s Republic, continuing the offensive, advanced another 19 kilometres. The Russian armed forces have taken control of Berdyansk and Energodar. Furthermore, Russian service members fully guard and control the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant area. In total, since the beginning of the war, the Russian military forces have hit 1,114 objects of the military infrastructure of Ukraine.
By contrast, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry reported that Russia lost approximately 5300 troops, 29 planes, 29 helicopters, 191 tanks, 74 artillery pieces, 816 armoured personnel carriers, 1 BUK system, 21 GRAD system, 291 cars, 60 fuel tanks, three drones, five anti-aircraft warfare. In addition, the Ukrainian military forces still control the city of Kyiv after a long night of fighting.
Kadyrovtsy, Imarat Kavkaz, foreign fighters and Islam
A few days ago, we reported that the Chechen kadyrovtsy were fighting in Ukraine, supporting the Russian military operations. This information was corroborated by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s statements, media reports and web videos (Ukraine conflict, kadyrovtsy and Chechnya). Abu Hamza, Amir of the Mujahideen-Muhajirs of the Vilayat Nokhchichoy of Imarat Kavkaz (the Caucasus Emirate), commented on kadyrovtsy presence in Ukraine via Kavkazcenter.com, the well-known news portal linked to the North Caucasian militancy.
Recently, on February 26th, 2022, Abu Hamza released a video in the Chechen language titled “Obrashhenie k putinskim rabam, kadyrovcam, kotoryx posylayut na vojnu protiv Ukrainy“ (Appeal to Putin’s slaves, Kadyrovites, who are sent to war against Ukraine). The Amir of Vilayat Nokhchichoy labelled the kadyrovtsy as “Putin’s slaves” and “infidels” who “sold everything to Russian infidels – their honour, their people, their religion, their homeland” and explained that sending Chechen troops in Ukraine is a Kremlin’s strategy to reduce the Chechen fighters who can engage a war against the Russian central authority in the future. Furthermore, Abu Hamza accused kadyrovtsy and Ramzan Kadyrov to have transformed Chechnya into a Russian concentration camp making the entire world hostile to the Chechens.
According to local sources and videos from Ukraine, there are subversive groups of Caucasian volunteers fighting among the Ukrainian ranks against the Russian military forces. On February 28th, 2022, in another video published on YouTube, the Crimean Tatar fighter Isa Akayev labelled as the commander of the volunteer battalion “Crimea”, appealed to the Russian Muslims and “fellow believers” who are fighting in Ukraine to throw down their weapons or join the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the fight against Russia.
Why does it matter?
The Ukraine conflict might become international and attract foreign fighters, Salafi jihadist groups, private military companies that see the war as an entry opportunity in Europe. Considering that the European countries have sent a considerable amount of weapons, military hardware and ammunition, these irregular groups might have access to an incredible military arsenal to use in the future against central governments or to organise terrorist attacks. The security situation might deteriorate further in Europe if these foreign fighters were granted Ukrainian citizenship after the war, allowing them to travel in European countries freely. Furthermore, there are possibilities of destabilisation in the North Caucasus since local militants and terrorist groups and jihadist propaganda accuse kadyrovtsy of fighting ‘in the name of Putin’ instead of behaving as good Chechens and Muslims fighting for their homeland. These groups might exploit the current situation and begin new waves of attacks or recruit young generations by manipulating videos and events from Ukraine.