Pro-Ukrainians Fall in Love With The Chechen Islamic “Jihad”

Dec 08, 2014 at 8:14 AM ET

Islamic insurgents launched a brutal offensive last week against Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, infiltrating and burning down a publishing house and school. A bloody shootout with authorities followed. According to a statement released by Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov on the evening of Dec. 5, there were 14 police and security personnel killed in the attack and 36 wounded.

Now several pro-Ukrainian militias are using the Islamic extremists’ attack as inspiration for a war against Russia on two fronts—Ukraine and Chechnya.

Some ultra-nationalist Ukrainian battalions and citizens posted messages to Russian social media supporting the Chechen attacks in Grozny. One post claims that the offensive shows how “real men” fight. Others suggest that the Ukrainian battalions should adopt Islamic insurgents’ fighting tactics in the battle with pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

In the days following the attack in Grozny, social media accounts claiming to represent the Ukrainian battalions adopted a new jihadi stance, appropriating even the language of that form of holy war. The pages of Christian Ukrainian militias have begun to look more like jihadi forums than anything else.

For example, Andrew Biletsky, the leader of the Azov battalion, gave a speech praising the Islamic gunmen:

Ukrainian battalions have co-opted in the last few days a popular hashtag used by pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine, #SaveDonbassFromUkrainianArmy, transforming it into #SaveChechenPeopleFromRussianArmy. Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine created the former hashtag while fighting against the nationalist Ukrainian armies for Donbass. The latter hashtag speaks to the anger Chechen nationalists feel toward Russia’s long history of imposing its military force in the region.

Russia has had federal control over Chechnya since the Second Chechen War in 1999, and its leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has strong ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. But over the last few years, an Islamic insurgency has gained momentum in the North Caucasus region, staging attacks against local and federal authorities.

Pro-Ukrainians and Chechen nationalists do share a common enemy—Russia—even though one might not associate Ukrainian nationalists with Islamic insurgents. From a certain perspective, both Ukraine and Chechnya have struggled to gain their independence from Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union—but that’s about all the two have in common.

It’s not just a one-sided social media partnership between the Ukrainians and the Chechens, either. The Chechen anti-Russia groups on VKontakte, Russia’s Facebook, have begun depicting the escalation as a glorious uprising—a Chechen-Ukrainian war against Russia.

This isn’t the first time Vocativ has identified sympathy toward “jihad” among Ukrainian nationalists. We wrote in March about an attempt by the Ukrainian nationalist group Pravy Sektor to incite Islamic fighters to act against Russia’s annexation of Crimea. That seemed to be a purely practical matter of realpolitik.

This time, the jihad love appears more genuine on the part of pro-Ukrainians.

Of course, many Russians are incensed with this new social media partnership. Some VKontakte users have gone as far as suggesting that the Ukrainian support for the Islamic insurgents in Grozny is nothing less than insane: