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A Chechen War by Proxy

Two Old Rivals Fight on—In Ukraine

Members of the Dudayev Battalion in the Luhansk region, February 2015. Olya Engalycheva

Twenty years after Russia invaded Chechnya to crush a fledgling independence movement, the two sides are once again facing off. This time around, their battlefield is not the mountains of North Caucasus but the towns and villages of eastern Ukraine.

On one side are several hundred fighters dispatched by Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s leader and a staunch Moscow ally, to fight alongside pro-Russian separatists. Although Kadyrov has denied sending Chechen troops to Ukraine, there have been numerous sightings of heavily armed Chechen battalions motoring through the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Some fighters claimed that Kadyrov had personally ordered them to enter the fray.

On the other side is a loose battalion of Chechen volunteers, made up of combatants who continue to demand independence for Chechnya and who’ve now come to help Ukraine defend its own. Their presence, too, lacks formal approval—they are still waiting for Kiev’s full

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