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Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov said that Chechen Special Forces loyal to Vladimir Putin are on the ground in Syria, operating in ISIS-controlled territory. He claimed that the operation is part of a Russian-led intelligence-gathering mission.
International Business Times reports that in a preview of a documentary which is scheduled to be aired on Russia’s state-controlled TV channel, Russia One, later this week, Kadyrov is filmed at a training camp for special units in Chechnya. Kadyrov tells the camera that his “best fighters” were sent undercover to Syria to train alongside – and among — ISIS fighters, while Chechen intelligence agents had infiltrated ISIS cells “to gather information about the terrorist group.”
A Russia One’s reporter says in the preview that the time had come to talk about those “who have safeguarded the success of Russian air strikes on the ground at the cost of their own lives.”
According to a report by Homeland Security News Wire, Kadyrov’s claims appeared to have irritated the Kremlin. In a rare public dispute between the Kremlin’s official line about Syria and the information broadcast on state TV, Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, refused to confirm Kadyrov’s claims. Peskov told reporters that Russia’s defense ministry has already provided “exhaustive information [about] who has been deployed to Syria and for how long and what they’re doing there … and one should not speak about the Chechen special task force but about relevant federal units.”
The Russia One’s report, and the refusal of the Kremlin to confirm it, offers an indication of disagreements in the Russian leadership about what strategy Russia should be pursuing in Syria. The Kremlin has insisted that there are no Russian troops on the ground, and has been tight-lipped about whether Russian special forces are operating in the country. The Russia One report also offers evidence that Kadyrov, considered among Putin’s closest allies, may be distancing himself from Moscow in effort to play a bigger role in the region.
Kadyrov, who describes himself as a “foot soldier for Putin,” has taken power in Chechnya in 2007, when he was still in his early 30s, and has ruled the province with an iron fist since then. International organizations have harshly criticized his rule for systemic human rights violations.
He also has at his disposal thousands of paramilitary fighters known in the region as “Kadyrovtsky” (Kadyrov’s men). The force was originally put together to serve the Kremlin, but over time they have become much more loyal to the Chechen leader.