Putin’s fight in Syria, also a struggle with bitter enemies at home

McClatchy reports: Russian President Vladimir Putin’s entry this week into the long-running Syrian civil war is driven as much by concerns over the number of Russian speakers among jihadist rebel groups as it is over worries about his country’s place in the Middle East, analysts say.

Russian speakers – from Chechnya as well as other former Soviet Union republics – compose the single largest group of non-Arab foreign fighters in Syria, not just in the Islamic State but also in al Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front.

On Thursday, according to a statement by a Syrian security official reported by the AFP news agency, Russian warplanes based in Syria targeted Nusra’s facilities in Idlib province where Chechen fighters maintain a significant presence. Among the groups struck, according to the AFP report, was the Army of the Emigrants, a group composed largely of Russian speakers that was once headed by Georgian-Chechen jihadist Abu Omar al Shishani. [Continue reading…]

Mairbek Vatchagaev writes: Despite the lack of clarity about the figures, it can be said that several thousand militants from the post-Soviet space may be fighting in Syria in a variety of groups. The vast majority, probably over 3,000, are estimated to be Chechens.

It is unclear why Russia sat back for so long and allowed the militants in Syria to consolidate. Now, they pose a danger not only to the Russian North Caucasus, but also to areas in Central Asia adjacent to Russia. Citizens of Central Asian states have also started to resettle in Syria in large numbers. Thus, Russia will try not only to help President al-Assad, but also to kill as many of its own citizens—and citizens from states neighboring Russia—who are fighting in the Middle East as possible, before they return to their homelands. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: The Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has asked Vladimir Putin to send him to Syria, claiming that a land operation using Chechen ground troops would wipe out Islamic State terrorists.

“The terrorists don’t know what a real war is, because they have only been subjected to airstrikes. They don’t have experience of real military action,” said Kadyrov in an interview with a Russian news agency.

“If our request is granted, it will be a celebration for us,” he said. “But it’s the decision of the commander-in-chief to take.”

Putin is unlikely to grant Kadyrov’s wish, having made it clear several times that current Russian military action in Syria will involve airstrikes only.

When the decision to launch strikes was taken on Wednesday, Kadyrov said it was unfortunate there would be no land operation, and on Friday he again emphasised his readiness to send some of his fearsome battalions into Syria.

“As a Muslim, as a Chechen, as a patriot of Russia, I am stating that in 1999, when our republic was seized by these devils, we gave our oath on the Qur’an that all our lives we would fight against them, wherever they are. I am not just saying this, I’m asking that we are allowed to go there and take part in these special operations,” said Kadyrov.

Kadyrov’s father was a mufti in Chechnya who fought against the Russians during the first Chechen war in the 1990s. However, he switched sides and pledged allegiance to Moscow. He was killed in a bomb attack in 2004, since when Ramzan has been the leader of Chechnya, first de facto and then officially.

Kadyrov has been implicated in a number of high-profile political murders, and his forces have been accused of a wide range of rights abuses, but he is tolerated by the Kremlin for the relative peace his rule has brought to Chechnya after a decade of bloodshed. His policies to quell the Islamic insurgency have included burning down the houses of relatives of suspected militants. [Continue reading…]

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