The Great Game meets Clash of Cultures.
Even for Ukrainians hardened by more than a year of war here against Russian-backed separatists, the appearance of Islamic combatants, mostly Chechens, in towns near the front lines comes as something of a surprise — and for many of the Ukrainians, a welcome one.The politicians come and go as do peace initiatives, agreements, truces, etc. But in the background, like the implacable tide in Dover Beach, there are slow forces that we ignore at our peril.
“We like to fight the Russians,” said the Chechen, who refused to give his real name. “We always fight the Russians.”
As the Ukrainians see it, they are at a lopsided disadvantage against the separatists because Western governments have refused to provide the government forces with anything like the military support that the rebels have received from Russia. The army, corrupt and underfunded, has been largely ineffective. So the Ukrainians welcome backing from even Islamic militants from Chechnya.
“I am on this path for 24 years now,” since the demise of the Soviet Union, the Chechen said in an interview. “The war for us never ended. We never ran from our war with Russia, and we never will.”
In Ukraine, the Dzhokhar Dudayev and Sheikh Mansur units are mostly Chechen, but they include Muslims from other former Soviet areas, such as Uzbeks and Balkars. The third unit, Crimea, is predominantly Crimean Tatar. There is no indication of any United States involvement with the groups.
Along the front about seven miles to the east, the battalions career about in civilian cars, AK-47 rifles poking from the windows, while the regular army holds back in a secondary line of defensive trenches.
The Chechens, by all accounts, are valuable soldiers. Ukrainian commanders lionize their skills as scouts and snipers, saying they slip into no-man’s land to patrol and skirmish.
The Chechens are also renowned for their deft ambushes and raids. In the Chechen wars, insurgents had a policy of killing officers and contract soldiers who were taken prisoner, but conscripted soldiers were spared.
In Ukraine, the Chechens’ calls of “Allahu akbar,” or God is great, are said to strike fear in the hearts of the Russians.
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.