Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Russia’s Chechnya region and an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, said on Saturday that Chechen fighters had been deployed to Ukraine and urged Ukrainians to overthrow their government.
In a video posted online, Kadyrov boasted that Chechen units had so far suffered no losses and said Russian forces could easily take large Ukrainian cities, including the capital Kyiv, but that their task was to avoid loss of life.
“As of today, as of this minute, we do not have one single casualty, or wounded, not a single man has even had a runny nose,” Kadyrov said, denying what he said were false reports of casualties from Ukrainian sources.
“The president (Putin) took the right decision and we will carry out his orders under any circumstances,” said Kadyrov.
Kadyrov has often described himself as Putin’s “foot soldier” and his words echoed those of the Russian leader who on Friday urged Ukrainians to rise up against their own government, which he said was made up of “neo-Nazis.”
Ukrainian officials say that description of them is absurd.
Kadyrov has deployed his forces abroad to support Kremlin military operations before - in Syria and Georgia.
Kadyrov released his video as Russian forces pounded Ukrainian cities with artillery and cruise missiles on Saturday for a third day running and a defiant President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the capital Kyiv remained in Ukrainian hands.
A short video published by the state-backed Russian news channel RT, which it said was from Friday, showed thousands of Chechen fighters gathered in the main square of the region’s capital Grozny in a show of readiness to fight in Ukraine.
It was not immediately clear whether those fighters, who numbered some 12,000 according to RT, had already been deployed to Ukraine. RT said on Friday that they were awaiting an order from Putin to go in.
Moscow fought two bloody wars with separatists in Chechnya, a mainly Muslim region in southern Russia, after the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union, but has since poured huge sums of money into the region to rebuild it and given Kadyrov a large measure of autonomy to run things.