Russia’s 2022 re-invasion of Ukraine has damaged not only bilateral relations between the two majority–Eastern Slavic neighbors but also—perhaps inadvertently—destabilized ties, links, goodwill, and mutual trust between the Russian periphery and the center, on the one hand, and between certain ethnic groups within the Russian Federation, on the other.
Witness the recent conflict between Buryats and Chechens in the invading force. At the end of April, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GUR) released a statement about a gun battle between Russian troops from the Siberian republic of Buryatia and Chechen fighters loyal to Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov. Upwards of 100 soldiers were reportedly drawn into the exchange of fire in the village of Kyselivka, in occupied Kherson Oblast. “The causes of the inter-ethnic conflict are the reluctance of the Buryats to go on the offensive and the ‘inequality’ of their circumstances compared to those of the Chechens,” the GUR statement read. The latter never fight on the front line, always remaining in the rear as “barrier squads,” the spy agency said. “Their [Chechen fighters’] task is to force the occupier’s units to press forward. That is, to open fire on those who are attempting to retreat” (Gur.gov.ua, April 29; see EDM, April 26). Although the GUR report is sparse on details, the Buryats appear to resent the Chechen troops appropriating most of the loot they had plundered from Ukrainian homes. Little wonder the Siberian service members rebelled against Kadyrov’s forces; but there is arguably more to the story than meets the eye.