Putin's Hit Team of 'Chechen Killers' Head for Syria
Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Having recently won the crucial battle for Aleppo, which has changed the layout of the ongoing Syrian proxy war between the Assad regime (with the Kremlin's backing), and "rebel" forces including various Al-Qaeda elements and ISIS (supported by the US-led alliance), hardly content with this crucial victory Russian president Vladimir Putin is only just getting started, and as the Daily Beast confirms reports that had previously circulated in the Russian press, dozens of highly trained "Chechen killer" Russian special military units in red berets are being transported to Syria. Their mission there is largely a mystery.

Chechnya, a North Caucasus republic that fought and lost two separatist wars against Russia in 1994-1996 and 1999-2006, is sending hundreds of its highly trained soldiers to the Middle East to fight against Islamist groups, including the Islamic State, where many soldiers and some leaders are Chechen, too. Various Russian reports mention from 3,500 to 5,000 Chechens enlisted with extremist groups in Syria and Iraq.

Why the dispatch? Because, as the Beast writes, "it is one thing to tell the world that Russian President Vladimir Putin brought peace to Aleppo in Syria, and a completely different story to maintain control over pro-Moscow regions on the ground. The Kremlin is strengthening its aviation and land troop bases in Latakia. The Russian military, meanwhile, sees an advantage in Syria, a chance for officers to “get under fire,” to grow more experienced."

The effort is relatively new: Chechen commanders have been recruiting soldiers for the “Syrian” special units for several months, Novaya Gazeta, the Russian independent newspaper, reported on Tuesday.

"This year ends in the best way for Moscow, beyond its wildest dreams,” Sergei Markov, a Russian official and adviser to the government, told The Daily Beast. “President Putin has won his battles on many fields, including Syria’s Aleppo, America and the EU. More and more people agree that he is right, that Russia’s power and rightness is growing,” said Markov. “The agenda for Chechens is secret but most probably they will be participating in combat against ISIS in Raqqa [the ISIS capital] in the north of Syria.”

The Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov spent a lot of effort building special units, widely known as “death squads,” of men fearless, merciless, experienced in warfare in the streets and in the mountains.

As the Beast adds, in a video report by a local Chechen TV channel Kadyrov personally reviewed his soldiers. Kadyrov told me back in 2014 it was “a matter of honor” to bring Chechens back home from ISIS. He said that he personally traveled to Syria to consult with Bashar Assad’s military and help Chechen relatives find their daughters and sons in Syria.

That means that alongside various Iranian special forces fighting quietly alongside the Russian, and of course, Syrian government troops, the next line of special forces escalation will be arrival of hundreds of Chechens to keep any ISIS guerilla operations at bay.

Carnegie Moscow Center has argued that the issue of Chechens in ISIS is a crucial test for Kadyrov’s power: Islamists have already promised to support a revolution in Chechnya and even offered a $25 million reward for the heads of Kadyrov and his associates.

Ultimately, It seems that at the end of 2016, Putin’s Russia is in a hurry to fight and keep its ground on many fronts. Inspired by success in Syria, Putin reportedly plans support a strong Libyan military leader, Khalifa Haftar (who once was reputedly in bed with the American CIA).


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