As Russia has increased its presence in the Middle East, Chechnya has come to play an important role for Moscow in a number of ways. Not only did its leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, use his personal authority and contacts to convey Kremlin messages for several regional governments, but Chechnya has also helped channel Russian influence in various situations. Syria is no exception.
In December, the presence of Chechen fighters among Russian troops was the subject of numerous reports. Kadyrov initially denied any such presence, but suggested that if the Kremlin had to give the order, the troops stationed in Chechnya would be happy to go “fight the scum in Syria.” In January, the Chechen leader admitted that a military police battalion composed of ethnic Chechens was indeed in Syria as part of the Russian Defense Ministry forces. By that time, a video had been leaked of the forces — allegedly about 500 men — awaiting departure to Syria. But most importantly, two of Kadyrov’s own messengers visited Syria and met with the servicemen.