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New Geopolitical Dynamic in the Caucasus, Explained
28 March, 2017
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What You Need To Know:

✅ Russia has been militarily involved in Syria since 2015, in support of the Assad regime.

✅ Among the Russian soldiers serving in Syria, there are battalions from Chechnya and Ingushetia. According to Gregory Shvedov, Editor-in-Chief of the Caucasian Knot: ‘The Ingush battalion was sent to support Chechens there. We do not know exactly what they are doing there, but at least the purpose of military police is quite clear there. They are supposed to guard the main military stations that they have in Syria’.

✅ Chechnya remains dependent on Russia, particularly in terms of security: ‘If Putin did not symbolically support Kadyrov anymore, that would be be a very tough moment for Kadyrov, because his security is very much based on symbolic support from Moscow’.

There are significant geopolitical developments arising in other regions in the Caucasus, most notably the elections in Abkhazia and the referendum on joining Russia in South Ossetia. Regarding the referendum, Shvedov noted: ‘It is very interesting and important to look into this situation, because we have already seen, how many years ago in another breakaway region of Abkhazia, people of this territory had been able to elect not one candidate of Moscow, but some alternative person. Since it is a very small community, since relative relationships are important many things might happen there’.

Chechnya relies on Russia in terms of security and economy, however, Gregory Shvedov, Editor-in-Chief of the Caucasian Knot, also explains how the Chechen battalions are important to Russian security also:
‘I think these special forces are mainly loyal to Kadyrov, but it is clear that on-demand they might be requested for any special operations in any part of Russia. We are already in the election year, and if something is expected in any of the Russian regions, some kind of protest, these would definitely be the best people to attack protesters, and I think that these people would be ready to do whatever is requested by Moscow as well.’

There are also signs that the Chenchen soldiers serving with troops in Syria and Iraq may be set to return to Russia soon. As Shvedov said, ‘We know even from the official watch-list, there are dozens of cases which are currently being investigated, which means that many more than dozens of people with military experience have already returned back to Russia, and clearly immediately returned back to their illegal status’.
Shvedov was also asked about the Chechen linked to the murder of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov in 2015. He commented: ‘The prosecutors are asking tough questions, they are providing quite clear evidence that that was a group which was together implementing a special task, but in the same way they are doing close to nothing to find out about those who formed this task group and who ordered that assassination’.

Hromadske’s Nataliya Gumenyuk spoke to Gregory Shvedov, Editor-in-Chief at the Caucasian Knot.

At this stage, what do we know about the Chechen battalions, the soldiers who are from the Russian Army in Syria? In Aleppo in particular, but not just there.

We do know that there are so-called military police there. We do know from the region itself that they expected to be sent back home in January, but that never happened. We do know that another relative nation, they are both part of Vainakh, both the Ingush and Chechen. The Ingush battalion was sent to support Chechens there. We do not know exactly what they are doing there, but at least the purpose of military police is quite clear there. They are supposed to guard the main military stations that they have in Syria. So it’s mostly in Lattakia I guess.

We’ve heard about the creation of the centre for the training of the special forces in Chechnya, and there is this notion that these people are fighting for Kadyrov, in reality who are these people? Are they loyal? They are part of the Russian Guard, what is this force?

I think these special forces are mainly loyal to Kadyrov, but it is clear that on-demand they might be requested for any special operations in any part of Russia. We are already in the election year, and if something is expected in any of the Russian regions, some kind of protest, these would definitely be the best people to attack protesters, and I think that these people would be ready to do whatever is requested by Moscow as well.

How many of them are there? Do you know the figures?

We do not know because it is a process which is going on right now. More and more people from Chechnya are now part of the Russian Guard. We do know that a key part of them has stayed in Chechnya, the question is, would they be sent by request to Syria - maybe right now that is the main target - or to other regions as well?

How would you describe relations between Putin and Kadyrov at this stage? Who depends on whom?

Well if we think about whether the Kremlin depends on Kadyrov and Chechnya, we could say yes, maybe. In terms of percent, 99%, or 90%, or 100% of voters would elect Putin in 2018 if the elections are to happen. If we think about money, Kadyrov certainly depends on Putin in terms of money. If we think about security, definitely. If Putin did not symbolically support Kadyrov anymore, that would be be a very tough moment for Kadyrov, because his security is very much based on symbolic support from Moscow.

After the campaign in Syria and what happened with ISIS in general, do we know about when the people from the Caucasus will come back from Syria and Iraq, back to Caucasus, back to Russia?

Yes we do know, we know even from the official watch-list, there are dozens of cases which are currently being investigated, which means that many more than dozens of people with military experience have already returned back to Russia, and clearly immediately returned back to their illegal status. So I do expect that this is a space from which something might appear.

The investigation into Boris Nemtsov’s killing, there are talks about Chechens participating, we know that the investigation is more about the perpetrators, not those who ordered that, but can we really say about this case at this stage?   

At this stage, we are quite clear that those who are probable, those who have executed, those who are assassins, those who have been involved in that, their case is, well it is not just very easily taken by the prosecutor. The prosecutors are asking tough questions, they are providing quite clear evidence that that was a group which was together implementing a special task, but in the same way they are doing close to nothing to find out about those who formed this task group and who ordered that assassination, which is clearly showing that there isn't a demand to investigate who was really involved in the order of assassination. In the same way as the investigation of killing a political officer for example.

We recently had the elections the south of the city in the breakaway region of Georgia, where there might also be a referendum for joining and becoming part of Russia.

True that is what's going on. The most interesting process is that one of the candidates that is not currently registered to be a candidate of the the opposition of the former President of so called ‘Ossetia,’ is criticizing the Kremlin openly, criticizing military bases on the territory of ‘South Ossetia’ and having quite substantial public support. So there are peaceful demonstrations which are happening in the region. It is clearly ironic that they are led by one those who had been destroying the roots of democracy in this region. But it is very interesting and important to look into this situation, because we have already seen, how many years ago in another breakaway region of Abkhazia, people of this territory had been able to elect not one candidate of Moscow, but some alternative person. Since it is a very small community, since relative relationships are important many things might happen there.