Exclusive: An interview with a Chechen commander fighting for Ukraine

Cmdr. Munajev at target practice.

Chechen Cmdr. Munajev at target practice. 

Featured, War in the Donbas

Article by: Brad Bird

DNIPROPETROVSK, Ukraine – The leader of the Chechen volunteer battalion here says Canada, the United States and other western nations can help to stop Russian aggression now in the “open war” against Ukraine, or face it later elsewhere.

“If we don’t stop Russia, it will go further,” said Cmdr. Isa Munajev, a veteran of the Chechen wars of the 1990s who now serves in the Ukrainian army. He suggested Estonia and Latvia will be the next countries Russia will attack. About 3,000 to 4,000 Russian soldiers are among those fighting with separatist rebels in the east of Ukraine, the United Nations has reported.

Munajev was interviewed recently 50 kilometres behind the lines at the headquarters of his group, called the International Peacekeepers Battalion. About 10 tents house the group’s soldiers here, and it has people in two other locations as well.

Cmdr. Isa Munajev with reporter Bird.

Cmdr. Isa Munajev with reporter Bird.

The commander said he is motivated partly by revenge, after the Russians killed some family members in earlier wars, but he also wants to help the Ukrainian people stop Russian-backed separatist aggression.

He said he would like Canada and the United States to enter the fray in eastern Ukraine. “It would be wonderful. It would be unity of the civilized world against the barbarian (Russian President Vladimir) Putin.”

But another officer at a checkpoint in Ukrainian-held territory said this is a local fight that should be fought by local soldiers, though he would welcome material aid from the West. So there is a variety of viewpoints about what should be done going forward.

Despite the Sept. 5 ceasefire agreement, which promises autonomy for the two self-proclaimed republics in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, shelling and skirmishes continue.

Since Ukraine does not belong to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, western countries are not obliged to help it repel aggression. But NATO is concerned about the violence in eastern Ukraine and is seeing an increasing number of flights of Russian military aircraft over the Baltic states, which are NATO members.

An Oct. 8 report from the UN’s Human Rights Office outlines rape, beatings, mock-murders and murders of Ukrainian civilians by “armed groups” in the war-torn areas.

“It is true,” said Munajev, who blamed the rebels and Russians for the atrocities, though the report says elements on both sides are culpable. “I have been here for two months and the same things happened in Chechnya (when Russian troops invaded in the 1990s). I hope the world community will stand up to this devil, Putin. We can defeat him only together.”

Tents used by the Chechen battalion.

Tents used by the Chechen battalion.

Munajev said seven of his men have been injured in recent fighting; he would not reveal the number of dead.

Timur, 21, is an ethnic Chechen who recently graduated with a degree in economics and was living in Germany. “I have seen what the Russians have done to the Chechen people,” Timur said, explaining why he volunteered. “Many of my family have died.”

All of those interviewed spoke through an interpreter.

Another soldier, Valentine, 35, is from Russia. “No other battalion would accept me, and my father was Ukrainian,” he explains. He was trained by the Russian army.

The commander said Russian forces are three kilometers closer to this base than they were last week. “The Russians are coming here, step by step,” he said. The HQ is in a field near a line of trees used for firewood to cook and heat the tents.

“I hope the world will find out the truth. It’s a war, an open war against the Ukrainian nation and state,” said Munajev.

The Russian president’s image is used for target practice.

The Russian president’s image is used for target practice.

Mr. Bird is a Canadian freelance reporter.

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  1. Avatar Milton Devonair says:

    “stop Russian aggression now in the “open war” against Ukraine, or face it later elsewhere”.

    100% correct. Europe is going to suffer far more and a lot quicker than the USA ever will, so they have the most to lose in trying to ignore/appease stalin, I mean putin.

  2. Avatar JJ says:

    Isa Munajev is quite right. The man has years of experience in fighting Russian terror. Perhaps it be a good idea for west to pay attention to him.

    1. Avatar Milton Devonair says:

      Excellent, common sense post.

  3. Avatar Mazepa says:

    Slava Chechniyi! Heroyam Slava!!!
    NASHI braty!!!
    Smert mockalyam.

  4. Avatar Paul P. Valtos says:

    Well I’m sure that 10,000 M-16’s would help plus really effective drones. We got em lets use them

    1. Avatar Brent says:

      Don’t forget, the U.S. has 2000 M1A1 tanks sitting in the desert outside of Reno Nevada that will likely never see use and will become obsolete in 2017 with the introduction of their replacement. The U.S. can sell or ‘lend-lease’ them to Ukraine and they’ll be more effective than the ‘blankets’ Obama has given so far.

      1. Avatar Murf says:

        I have to differ with you on this Brent. Having been an M-1 Tanker back in the day, I can assure you they are cranky,demanding bitch-goddesses who are uncompromising in their need for servicing. Ukraine doesn’t have anything like the needed support facilities to keep them rolling.
        It would take I guesstimate 6 months before they even were in country.(I can be more specific if you need me to.) Mostly though UA can crank out their own “Oplat” T-80s. The M-1 is not a huge improvement but would cost like hell.
        With the immediate pressure off the best think the US can do is grant UA Major Non NATO Ally status and Most Favored Nation status.
        Helping get the UA economy moving is THE most important thing the West can do. Nothing creates stability and military strength like prosperity. I want to see Ukrainian Vodka on the liquor store shelves and hear how GM is closing down plants in China and moving them to UA.
        I read somewhere in the congress there is a bill granting UA 350 million in military aid. With that as a basis I think the US should set up a deal were we give UA “credit” and they buy our equipment. The same arrangement we have with Israel.
        In the short term we should sell them drones several US companies make smaller, short range models that would fit their needs.
        Secondly we are phasing out the SINGARES encryption radio system. Operational Security is of paramount importance.
        Also Counter Battery Radars to back track were incoming rounds coming from.
        Fire direction computers. Absent air power Artillery is the king of battle period. Anything that improves accuracy and response time is a must.
        Lastly MILES sets. MlLES is the Army’s answer to “laser tag”. More than war toys the UA army needs training. Tough realistic training. The saying is “you train the way you fight and fight the way you train.” Back in the 80s the US Army set up the National Training Center(NTC) at Ft Erwin Ca. (It is the next hellhole over from Death Valley). The one month exercises are set up to be as close to war without the bloodshed as you can get. This was a major reason for the army’s success in Desert Storm. Many DS vets have told me the NTC was worse than Iraq. As it should be.
        Russia is trying to do the same thing, until sanctions ended it. Heh Heh. To bad Vlad.
        In the intermediate the US should sell UA the technology to improve their own weapon designs. Better computer guidance, thermal sights just to name a few, Many of these can be done with licensing agreements.
        They also need the tech to build Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) pods for their jets and High Speed Anti Radar Missiles (HARM) These two pieces of equipment will put the Ukraine Air Force back in the game. That would be the biggest bang for the buck.
        Just a few ideas

        Best regards from the US

        1. Avatar JJ says:

          That pretty much sums it up. The Oplot is a lot cheaper to operate and there’s the know how in place. Introducing a new tank would require a trainng program for all support personnel to be introduced and training for the crew as well. It’s a huge process really. 6 months to have these in country and another year before these could be used efficiently and then what is the reliability of the aging tank and availability of spares.

  5. Avatar Murf says:

    When Yeltsin raped chechnya the world didn’t even say Boo about it.
    For some reason it seemed like a good idea at the time.
    Now Europe and the US are paying the price for silence.
    russia was never a “partner” with the west they were just licking their wounds until they could start the Cold War again.
    It’s time the West return the sentiment.

    1. Avatar Milton Devonair says:

      You forgot russia and their mafia are still raping Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Georgia, and Crimea.
      Ukraine is bigger and has more modern communications technology, so they cannot be raped so rabidly and gleefully as russia has raped other countries.

  6. Avatar Michel Cloarec says:

    The cold war has a good thing, it is that russia did armed itself to such a level of economical crash and then 1989 and 1991. West´s mistakes was to believe that russia maybe could be a democraty. Unfortunately one man thinks that to have so much weapons inclusive nuclear and not to use it is a waste of money. It must burn his fingers not to use it. I can think how much he hated Reagan !