May 31, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Russian military orders Chechen forces into combat

Institute for the Study of War

The Russian military command has likely ordered Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov’s forces to begin offensive operations in Ukraine following the withdrawal of Wagner Group forces from Bakhmut. Kadyrov claimed on May 31 that Chechen forces received a new order and assumed responsibility over the Donetsk Oblast frontline. Kadyrov claimed that Chechen units need to start “active combat activities” and “liberate a series of settlements.” Kadyrov added that Chechen “Akhmat” Special Forces (Spetsnaz) and the “Sever-Akhmat” Special Purpose Regiment transferred to the Marinka direction southwest of Donetsk City. The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) also claimed that assault detachments of the 5th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade of the 1st Army Corps and Akhmat Spetsnaz conducted offensive operations in the Marinka direction. Kadyrov noted that the Russian military command ordered Russian, Rosgvardia (Russian National Guard), and Chechen Akhmat forces to begin offensive actions along the front line in Zaporizhia and Kherson oblasts as well. Kadyrov claimed that these units have already begun tactical preparations for these offensive actions and claimed that “Akhmat” units’ offensive operations began before Ukrainian forces launched a counteroffensive. ISW has observed no indications of Chechen offensive operations in Zaporizhia or Kherson as of this writing.

The claimed return of Chechen forces to offensive operations would break Kadyrovites from a nearly yearlong hiatus from participating in high-intensity combat operations. Chechen forces have been largely operating in the rear after participating in the battles for Mariupol, Severodonetsk, and Lysychansk – with the exception of some offensive activities around Bilohorivka, Luhansk Oblast. ISW also observed Kadyrov’s forces operating as a police force in the rear in southern Ukraine and performing localized reconnaissance-in-force operations in Zaporizhia Oblast. Kadyrov also claimed that 3,300 personnel of the “Sever-Akhmat” Regiment were in Chechnya as of May 8, and ISW assessed that Kadyrov may have been conserving his forces instead sending them to the frontlines. Chechen units’ limited participation on the frontlines alongside Kadyrov’s heavy emphasis on recruitment may suggest that Kadyrov is hesitant to commit his forces to grinding offensive operations in Ukraine despite his ultranationalist narratives.

The official Russian responses to recent attacks against Russia remain likely insufficient to satisfy the Russian ultranationalist information space’s desire for escalation in the war. Belgorod Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov called on Russian forces on May 29 to capture Kharkiv City and Kharkiv Oblast to create a barrier between Belgorod Oblast and Ukraine. Gladkov later announced on May 31 the evacuation of children from the border areas of Shebekino and Grayvoron raions — including 300 children relocated to Voronezh Oblast — in response to the “deteriorating” border situation. Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov refused to comment on Gladkov’s statements on May 29, igniting some ire in the Russian information space. Former Russian officer and ardent nationalist Igor Girkin criticized Peskov, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu for their reluctance to address attacks against Russian territory. Russian milbloggers have complained about the lack of Russian military escalation to secure border areas in Belgorod and Kursk oblasts since at least September 2022, often criticizing the Kremlin for underreacting to attacks against Russian territory and failing to fully dedicate itself to the war effort. The evacuations and Peskov’s comments are largely consistent with Putin’s unwillingness and inability to meaningfully escalate the war short of full-scale general and economic mobilization, as ISW has previously assessed.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Russian military command has likely ordered Chechen Republic Head Ramzan Kadyrov’s forces to begin offensive operations in Ukraine following the withdrawal of Wagner Group forces from Bakhmut.
  • The claimed return of Chechen forces to offensive operations would break Kadyrovites from a nearly yearlong hiatus from participating in high-intensity combat operations.
  • The Kremlin may be attempting to reintroduce Kadyrovites as the main offensive force following the culmination of Wagner forces and their withdrawal from the front lines.
  • The Kremlin may also be attempting to sever Kadyrov’s relationship with Wagner financier Yevgeny Prigozhin and re-emphasize federal authority over Chechen forces.
  • The official Russian responses to recent attacks against Russia remain likely insufficient to satisfy the Russian ultranationalist information space’s desire for escalation in the war.
  • Russian forces conducted ground attacks northwest of Svatove and south of Kreminna.
  • Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks around Bakhmut and along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line.
  • Russian forces continue to concentrate in southern Ukraine.
  • The Russian State Duma appears to be considering measures to legalize the military recruitment of current or formerly incarcerated Russian men.
  • Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada Human Rights Commissioner Dmytro Lyubinets announced that Ukraine has a new avenue to repatriate Ukrainian children abducted to Russia.
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