Chechens in Russia’s war against Ukraine are most often known through the infamous soldiers of strongman and Putin ally Kadyrov, who Ukraine observers dubbed “Tiktok warriors” due to their staged videos such as shootouts with pine trees. But more authentic representatives of Chechnya are the scores of Chechens fighting on Ukraine’s side since 2014 who have personal scores to settle with Russia and see Ukraine’s victory as a crucial step to dismantling the empire. Russia quashed Chechnya’s independence in two devastating wars and now controls the province through strongman Ramzan Kadyrov. We talked to Musa Taipov, a nephew of Chechen leader Dzokhar Dudaev, the first president of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria who was killed in 1996 in the first Russo-Chechen war, and representative of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria in France, to understand the similarities of the wars for independence of Chechenia – Chechenia, not Chechnya, insists Taipov, and why the West turned the other way during Russia’s destruction of Chechnya.
Recently, you shared with us information that two Chechens were killed because they refused to be drafted into Kadyrov’s forces that were to be sent to Ukraine. Who was killed and under which circumstances?
We have information that two men were killed. The batch that was being prepared for rotation into Ukraine rebelled, and two of the most active ones were executed on 26 April. Their bodies were not given to their relatives. It’s hard to receive info from Chechenia – not Chechnya – because it’s totally under control. This was an act of intimidation of the others.
According to our data, 500 Chechens are fighting in Ukraine [Ukraine’s Intelligence recently shared a list of 2,500 Kadyrovites taking part in Russia’s invasion]. Their task is to act as TikTok warriors. They try to show that it is not Russia attacking Ukraine, but some ethnic tribes, thus trying to absolve Russia’s military-political leadership of its guilt. So, unfortunately, when journalists stress that these are Chechens or Buryats in Ukraine, they overlook the bottom line — these are Russian citizens. Ethnic Ukrainians take part in the hostilities too, yet nobody stresses that.
Can this be seen as a rebellion against Kadyrov’s power?
There is no Kadyrov’s power; there is a Russian occupation power in Chechenia, and Kadyrov is its head. So it’s not opposition to Kadyrov but opposition to Russian occupiers, opposition to an unjust war. That Kadyrov is ethnically Chechen is a trick to make it appear as if the situation in Chechenia is an internal, Chechen conflict.
Chechens went through two Russian-Chechen wars, they suffered enormous losses. More than 42,000 children died. Ukrainian official data say that 288 died, and this is a huge number; now imagine 42,000. And how many were orphaned, or left with one parent.
Kadyrov is simply a marionette, a function, he is the head of the Russian occupation regime. If he is killed, should we find another name? If we even call them Kadyrovites, we are following Russian propaganda. And Russia makes this accent too. And when you hear “Kadyrovites,” which ethnicity do you imagine? Of course, Chechens. And this influences the subconscious: they again become the world evil. First, we were called Dudaevites, then terrorists, then Islamists… now those who are at home under immense pressure, are called Kadyrovites. And tomorrow, they will need to explain to every second person on the street that they are not Kadyrovites.
Tell me about how Chechens view the war. Why do many of them support Ukraine?
First, we know Ukraine from Soviet times. Ukraine supported us — even if the state power did not, Ukrainians as a nation provided us great support. Moscow launched missiles at us from the Black Sea too, so those who sunk that ship took revenge for us, too.
So, how did Ukrainians support us? Some of your guys came to fight for us — not many, admittedly, but many wanted to; under the conditions of a full blockade, many were stuck in Georgia. Apart from that, I know of two humanitarian convoys that Ukraine sent us. Our injured warriors were treated in Ukraine, our kids underwent rehabilitation in the sanatoriums of Crimea. Through your media, you spread true information, because we had a terrible information blockade.
But speaking in terms of tradition, your free Cossack spirit is the closest to us, because only a free person will understand why another loves freedom. Plus we saw what Russia did with us. As Dzhokhar Dudaev said, this war is a war of believers of the whole world against godless Russia. There is no God there. Even calling Kirill the head of the church is blasphemy. It’s not a church, but a true special services department.
Remember the missile launched at Kramatorsk – it had “for the children” written on it. And for us, the so-called Christian priests blessed missiles, bombs, tanks, mortars with holy water. They called those who went to kill and rape “Christ’s army.” This is pure mockery. I believe Christians from the entire world should have condemned this.
We are seeing Russia destroying cities to the ground in Ukraine as it did in Chechnya. Why does Russia use weapons of mass destruction in Ukraine and Chechnya? What makes them do this?
Anger and feeling of helplessness. Cowardice, jealousness, and fear. Russia never held wars any other way. It did the same with the Zaporizhzhia Sich and with the Circassians. The Kuban peninsula that Ukrainians call their own, it actually belonged to the Circassians [before the genocide], Adygians lived there.
They ravaged our Caucasus. They were chopping through forests to move; once, our Chechenia was covered in forests, they are all gone. We have no settlement that was not destroyed 3-5 times or more. What happened in Mariupol is a repetition of what they did in Grozny. The destruction of entire apartment blocks. Tomorrow in Mariupol bulldozers will come, tear up all that remains and build some skyscrapers if, forbid God, they win.
And the filtration camps. Ukraine got lucky. During Russia/s war against us, there were no smartphones and no internet, and Russia got away with its crimes. Only human rights defenders were talking about them, but who are they in the modern world? A nagging fly.
But in Ukraine, there are video, photo facts of Russia’s crimes, and satellite images. We did not have this, so nobody even talked about our 300,000 killed. Human rights defenders told about 80,000 dead Chechens, but this is only what they could register.
The UN Secretary-General mentioned 2,000-3,000 civilians killed in Ukraine, but I would talk about no less than 50,000. I know what I am talking about — I saw the rubble of Mariupol, and I know what will be found under it, even in this city alone, not to mention Bucha and the others. Thank God that the cities in northern Ukraine were liberated. But in Mariupol itself, I estimate no less than 50,000 are killed.
A French journalist from France TV Moscou managed to film a cemetery in Mariupol where are more than 3000 new graves. This is still only one of those journalists who were allowed to Mariupol by Russian occupiers.pic.twitter.com/t9Bj32CDn3
— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) June 10, 2022
And the Russians said that 800,000 are taken to Russia. Do you know why they said that? To conceal the killed, they say that Ukrainians were relocated to Russia’s North. Ukraine has to demand Russia provide the coordinates of each Ukrainian citizen so we could check whether they are really relocated there. Because many of these people are probably no longer alive! Russians will say “they don’t want to communicate.” You need to insist: no, these are our citizens, if they want to refuse citizenship, they can do so officially, but we need to know if they are alive.” This is all done to conceal the killings. It’s genocide as it is; if this isn’t genocide, what is?
What did Putin say? There is no such country and no such nation. He expressed his goal: the extermination of a country — well, this isn’t that scary, a country can always be captured; the scariest thing here is the destruction of the people, as an ethnos, as a political nation.
Third mass burial site found near Mariupol using satellite imagery
New trenches up to 200m long emerged in the cemetery of the 🇷🇺-occupied village Staryi Krym 5km from Mariupol. Other mass graves were found in the villages of Manhush and Vynihradne.https://t.co/5RkceLOkZj pic.twitter.com/JcgJniVuOi
— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) April 26, 2022
It’s evident that Putin wants to destroy both our nations. Why did Chechenia become a thorn in the side of Moscow? Chechens are not that big of a nation, and the territory isn’t large. Why was Chechenia so important for Russia?
I know unfortunately only 14 ancestors from my father’s line. Not one of them saw his grandchildren. I am the first to have seen the children of my son. All the time, we had wars, wars, wars, wars. We got used to it. Why? Because we are the most active in the Caucasus. There is a saying: if you want to know the situation in the Caucasus, look at Chechnya. If it is calm there, then the Caucasus is calm.”
We’re restless, like Ukrainians. We have a lot in common with Ukrainians. From the viewpoint of geopolitics, the Caucasus is a very important region. Ukraine is important not only as a territory but as a mythological part of history conjured by Russian propaganda — Kyivan Rus. Without Kyiv, there is no Rus, and Muscovy will remain only Muscovy, it can’t lay claim to the inheritance of the ancient Kyivan Rus which was known in all the world, which was famous for its military campaigns while the Muscovites were still sitting on the trees.
This connection is clear. But why did Russia not let Chechnya go?
We don’t need to be “let go” like a sparrow. We earned our independence just like Ukraine. In 1990, we were a republic that was part of the USSR. Our National Council proclaimed independence, then the Supreme Council of the Checheno-Ingush Republic adopted a declaration, and the Supreme Council of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic approved it, and from this moment we became an allied republic [with it]. This is the legal aspect.
But why is Chechenia important? We sit like a nail in the center of the Caucasus. If you look at the map, there is a road only along the Caspian Sea. The other road goes through Abkhazia in Georgia, but it’s a mountainous road, lots of zigzags, hard to travel. The flat road goes next to us near the Caspian. And what is beyond the Caucasus? Iran, Türkiye, the Middle East, Afghanistan. This is the Silk Road that China and the others are cultivating now. The Caucasus is important from the viewpoint of geopolitics. There is a whole bunch of known rare earth mineral reserves, and precious metals. Before the first war, I worked in the state agency overseeing precious metals mining, we sent one expedition, and they found Uranium, gold, platinum, and diamonds, but the most important is the geographical position. You can’t bypass us. And because we are so restless, we “needed” to be “sedated” somehow.
Chechenia was the only land that used its chance to legally secede from the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic. What about the others? Am I correct in understanding that they view the war in Ukraine with hope?
With hope and fear, because of the unknown. Imagine that there is a prison, with barracks, towers, and prisoners. You probably know that many ex-convicts immediately after being freed go and break some showcase to return to prison, where they are provided with the bare minimum, a cot, a food ration. Some people are afraid of freedom. Freedom is first of all responsibility. And when you have a master, he carries responsibility for your actions. He gives orders, you carry them out. And when you are a free person, you have to carry the responsibility yourself. And people with a slave mentality are afraid of this freedom. During colonization, many became corrupted by the colonial mentality. They don’t want to be responsible, to be on their own. Like many serfs who returned to their masters after they were freed.
They say Russia is a prison of nations. Is the national liberation movement growing in Russia?
During the Soviet era, Russia created a pseudo-elite. Like in Ukraine, you became independent in 1990, but you just went with the flow, you were not really independent. Only now are you gaining your true independence. But these people are still the same. Russia did what all colonial powers do: it raised an elite based on its own values. And such elites will always lean toward the center. But the growing generation, thanks to the internet, has objective information and can find out about the repressions and genocides conducted by the Russian empire. But these people, first of all, the Islamic people of Russia, are being fed a surrogate of freedom — Islamism. They are being put on a path on which they can be eventually used against their own people tomorrow, making Russia an ally in the fight against the so-called Islamic terrorism. It’s a delicate job that the Russian special services know how to do.
What is happening with the Chechen dream of independence today?
It’s not a dream because we were independent. Right now we are under occupation, but this is temporary. The dream was realized. But because there were many people killed — when we were fighting our wars, nobody helped us… The West helped Russia. You’re being helped, a coalition of countries is forming to provide aid. Where were you all before? I am watching how the Poles greet Ukrainians, how volunteers in Moldova are transporting them for free, and how in Romania and other countries free tickets for trains are given to Ukrainians. Do you know how the Chechens reached Europe? We were basically robbed at every checkpoint, including in Ukraine. We went on foot through the swamps, and rivers, I was walking with my wife and kids… Thank God that Europe has woken up at least now.
Why didn’t Europe support you then?
The West’s collaboration with Russia was quite advanced already then. Human sacrifices have existed in civilization for a long time. And we were exactly such a sacrifice, placed on the altar of cooperation with Russia.
And what did the Kremlin do afterward? It put all of Europe on its oil and gas needle, corrupted officials and politicians, and bought media and journalists. In 2006, at the height of Russia’s extermination of Chechens, [then French President] Jacques Shiraq awarded Putin with the Legion of Honour [the highest French state award]. He is still not stripped of that award. In 2007 or 2008 France gathered 10 bn EUR to organize a so-called tourist cluster. I don’t even mention that other financial institutions were giving Russia money: the International Monetary Fund and others. Why? Because we are insignificant in terms of geography, geopolitics, politics… and also because of the image of Chechens that Russia was able to create in the West. I don’t understand why people are scared of me. I’m just walking there, a normal person, don’t scare anybody, don’t attack anybody, but as soon as people find out I’m from Chechnya, they immediately get tense. I was riding in a taxi with my cousin in Moscow, and the driver asks “where are you from,” and we answer “we’re Chechens.” He immediately jerks back in shock, and then laughs: “Sorry, so many horrors are being told about you.”
So it was a successful disinformation campaign from Russia’s side?
It was gargantuan, including from Ukrainian media. And not only during the Chechen war, but now too. “Chechens attacked, Kadyrovites, Chechens, Kadyrovites.” Excuse me, do you know that Ukrainians are the second most numerous ethnicity in Russia? During the Chechen war, your pilots took vacations, concluded contracts with the Russian Ministry of Defense, and flew to bomb us in Russian airplanes. Nine ethnic Ukrainians are Heroes of Russia [in this war].
But we never called them Ukrainians; for us, they are Russians. You belong to who you are fighting for. Even today, why do Ukrainians name Kadyrov all the time? Does he have an army? Does he have a Ministry for Interior? On the occupation Chechen Ministry of Interior, it is written: “Russian Ministry of Interior in the Chechen Republic.” It doesn’t have an FSB, or Ministry of Defense.
We have Russian military units on our territory. Conscripts from all of Russia are brought there, as they always have. There they grow out beards, create the appropriate appearance, and send them out as “Kadyrovites.” The number of Chechens there is under 5%! In 2014, a GRU operative wrote: we had grown out special beards, were given special Chechen caps, and taken to Donetsk. A journalist approached us and asked: “Are you Chechens?”. It was obvious for any Chechen that they were not, as we have a special accent.
The myth was created for the sake of psychological pressure. This is why they are today more of a “TikTok army.” It exploits the image of “fearless warriors.” But they were fearless when they were protecting their land. The Russians were terrified then. But these marauders are simply counterfeits.
"An order to destroy and purge Mariupol is fulfilled," the Chechen unit reported straight as it is, staying on the background of the burning city.
Chechens became "famous" for their Tik-Tok videos although little was known about their real achievements in the battle. https://t.co/P0pTTBOgRU
— Euromaidan Press (@EuromaidanPress) April 21, 2022
Could it be that the world didn’t support Chechnya because there was no internet and Russian war crimes were not apparent to the world?
There were many factors. But one of them was that we are Muslims. Russians had exploited this topic very intensely. You have Kyiv, Russian Orthodox, you have Greek Catholics. You have Muslims as well, with the main mufti conducting very wise policies. So, the religious factor played a role. Plus, you are in the center of Europe. The West understood that there is no place to retreat. The European countries did a terrible thing – they got onto the “gas needle.” And now the western economies are suffering from withdrawal, with repercussions for the social, economic, financial spheres, inflation.
When will Chechnya be independent again? We are doing everything for that. Not everything can be voiced aloud. But it will come about with the help of Ukraine. We are also establishing contacts with countries of the Caucasus. But I won’t tell you more so as not to invite any counteraction to our plans. I hope that including with the help of Ukraine.
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