A jihadi commander, with half a million dollars in Russian bounty, prays in a bunker beneath Bakhmut.
The most dangerous and shadowy of the allies Ukraine has assembled in its war against Russia are the Chechens.
These are Vladimir Putin’s oldest enemies, and they are also among the most difficult to film.
All of them are marked men and wanted by Russia. Their movements are kept secret. Sky News was able to access their secret base at the frontline of one of Ukraine’s most brutal battles.
We were able to film them sharing insights about their foes which are well worth the effort.
To avoid Russian spotters calling for artillery strikes, we drove fast on back roads. We passed destroyed buildings and gaping craters as we entered Bakhmut. The sound of shelling was constant and close to us.
We met some of the most distinguished veterans of the war inside the bunker. Since 2014, the Chechen Sheikh Mansour Battalion is fighting Russia in Ukraine. They claim that their enemy’s tactics haven’t changed since the start of this war.
We were told by a Chechen fighter Idris that they are sending forward troops “like cattle for slaughter.” “Leaving the ground covered in corpses. They do this every day and have no compassion for their people.
This is the same type of fighting Russia used in the 1990s in their home. Commanders deploy conscripts from safe cover in an effort to crush their enemy without much care for their men.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the Chechens have been fighting to create their own country.
They were defeated in the first Chechen War. Vladimir Putin appointed Ramzan Kadyrov as their puppet leader. He was supported by billions of dollars.
He mixes brutal repression and self-promotion via social media, which veers from sinister to the absurd.
His Chechen troops fight for Russia in this conflict. His Chechen enemies are on the one side. This conflict has provided Chechen separatists with a new arena to fight their enemy.
Commander Muslim Cheberloyevskii is the commander of the Sheikh Mansour battalion. This is one their most active fighting units. Sky News was able to interview him, but he is not very forthcoming with interviews. We spoke with him via video link to his secret location in Ukraine before joining his men in Bakhmut.
He said, “There are no other options.” “Russia must lose and it must end here. We must defend Ukraine now or we will all lose.”
Putin’s forces for longer than any other commander. The interview was used by the man who fought them the longest, to warn West policymakers that they are not doing enough.
“I believe more support is needed. Although the West offers support in small amounts, they are very limited. Although munitions can be quickly used on the battlefield, they are insufficient. We could win faster if we had more.
The same message was heard in the bunker of Bakhmut. Mansour, the base commander, has been fighting the Russians for two decades. Eight of those years were spent in prison where he was tortured.
He said nothing about his enemy, “I have no sympathy for them at all.” “Because God gave each one a brain to think. He shouldn’t be walking on the earth if he isn’t thinking.
The story behind Chechnya’s war with Russia
Since the time of Peter the Great, the Chechens have been fighting Russians in their mountainous Caucasian homeland. They are proud of their fighting spirit, warlike ability, and fighting spirit. Many Muslims consider their battle with Moscow a jihad or holy war.
They fought for independence in the mid-1990s after the Soviet Union fell. They defeated the Russian forces despite superior numbers and better weapons.
In the second Chechen War, Russian forces took control of Chechnya under Vladimir Putin. Russian forces used a pulverise-and-conquer strategy to reduce most of Grozny’s capital to rubble. The same strategy was used in Ukraine, in places like Mariupol.
Chechnya now has Ramzan Kadyrov (a Chechen separatist who was made a Russian puppet) and his clan. Russian aid has cost him billions to finance a state of security that is notorious for its brutal repression and excessive social media propaganda.
Chechen freedom fighters have been spreading throughout the world for years. Now, they are regrouping in Ukraine, attracting support from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. They hope to return to their homeland and fight Russia once the war is over.
He warned the West not to be seduced by Putin’s offers to end the war.
“Even if they agree to sign documents and negotiate, they don’t follow them. They act treacherously.”
They are a sabotage group that uses improvised weapons to attack the enemy trenches. Commander Mansour demonstrated a homemade rocket-propelled grenade made from a fire extinguisher filled with plastic explosives.
A suicide vest was being made on a nearby work bench. They will wear them if they are taken prisoner by the Russians. They said that the base was mined to be destroyed if it is overrun by an enemy.
Deputy Commander Mansour displayed his “Devil’s Machine” in an outbuilding. It was a rocket launcher that he improvised to fire mine clearance shells.
He shared video from his phone of the device at night. The launch was fiery, followed by a pause and then a massive explosion that lit up the sky. They shout Allahu Akbar: God’s great.
They are fighting here in the hope of bringing their holy war home to their homeland. Kadyrov, though unpopular, is well-funded and protected with thousands of well-armed security personnel. They say that they will fight Russia until the war is over, in hopes of overthrowing him.
Asadullah, a Ukrainian convert to Islam who joined the battalion speaks on behalf of many.
He stated, “If today’s war in Ukraine ends, and we win it, for us it won’t end.”
“We will fight until that time when that evil empire is destroyed completely.”
But for now, it is still a long way away. To the backdrop of artillery fire, we drove fast out of Bakhmut from their bunker. In a war of attrition that no one seems close to winning, their enemy is destroying yet another Ukrainian city block-by-block.