Chechen troops in Ukraine loyal to Ramzan Kadyrov have claimed a reputation for being the most brutal in Putin’s war, but a new report says they’re actually suffering major losses and going to great lengths to cover them up.
According to an investigation by Russia’s independent news outlet IStories, the official figure of 13 Chechen soldiers killed in Ukraine is a major undercount; a source in the Chechen Health Ministry tells the outlet the true death toll of the so-called Kadyrovtsy at least matches that of the Dagestani troops killed in Ukraine, which totals 123.
A source involved in sending the bodies of Chechen fighters back home told IStories the Chechen battalions are incurring injuries and deaths every single day.
One would never know that from looking at the social media chronicles of Kadyrov, who has sought to cultivate an image of Chechen troops as both fearsome fighters and compassionate rescuers, with images and videos shared to Telegram and the social networking site VK that often seem blatantly staged, showing troops being greeted with open arms by elderly villagers and firing weapons at invisible targets.
Kadyrov’s troops have also been accused of some of the most heinous war crimes in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with many survivors of the Bucha massacre identifying the soldiers who indiscriminately murdered and tortured civilians as members of Chechen battalions.
But the PR campaign by Kadyrov has at times backfired in spectacular fashion, such as when the strongman leader appeared in a video in mid-March purportedly being briefed by his men in a basement in the Kyiv region, only for Ukrainian journalists to use phone data to prove that he was actually in Belarus, followed by even the Kremlin and a source in the Chechen government confirming he was not, in fact, in Kyiv. Or the now notorious photo of Kadyrov supposedly on his knees praying in Ukraine—in front of a gas station owned by a company with no presence in the country.
Ukraine’s Security Service said at the time that the “clown and coward” Kadyrov was just trying to scare Ukrainian troops by suggesting he had come to join the war.
Behind the scenes, Kadyrov’s image campaign is said to have masked his own dysfunction, such as when he reportedly threw a hissyfit over Russia’s decision to retreat from Kyiv. When Russia’s Defense Ministry decided mid-March to pull troops back from the region after an unsuccessful bid to seize the capital, Kadyrov lashed out, fuming that his men were too prestigious to be moved to Mariupol, according to IStories. He is said to have butted heads with both the leadership of Russia’s Defense Ministry and the National Guard, getting back at them by ordering his men return to Chechnya to get some “rest,” sources told the news outlet.
And in his latest attempt to flaunt Chechen military prowess on social media, Kadyrov proudly declared Thursday that his men had “liberated” the village of Svetlichnoye in the Luhansk region—a village that had already been under the control of Russian proxies in the Luhansk People’s Republic since 2014.