Russia pushes for Republican units from the North Caucasus to fight in Ukraine – Analysis – Eurasia Review
By Valery Dzutsati*
One after another, the authorities of the North Caucasian republics announce the creation of volunteer units to fight against Ukraine. The Russian military command proposed the creation of a Dagestan rifle company on the basis of the 136e Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade, stationed in Buinaksk, Dagestan. On June 16, Colonel Sergei Pavlenko, head of the topographic service of the General Staff of the Southern Military District, met with the head of Buinaksk, Islamudin Nurgudayev. Pavlenko said all Russian regions should form such units. According to Pavlenko, contracts with regular Russian military benefits are signed for three months with the possibility of renewal. Men up to 50 years old are welcome to join the unit. After brief training in Buinaksk, the company will be sent to the training grounds of the Russian-occupied part of Ukraine’s Donetsk region (Chernovik, June 16). A typical motorized rifle company of the Russian army consists of 100-120 soldiers.
Kalmykia, which borders Dagestan from the north, is also preparing to send a company of volunteers to the Ukrainian front line. The Governor of Kalmykia, Batu Khasikov, announced a registration bonus of 30,000 rubles (about $550) for volunteers (Kavkazski Uzel, June 4). In Ingushetia, by order of the Russian Ministry of Defense, regional authorities constitute an Ingush society within the 34e Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade (Sunja-ri.ru, June 21st). Sources say that the Ingushetia authorities plan to recruit 94 people and train them for a month based on the 503rd Motorized rifle regiment stationed in the village of Troitskoye in the Sunzhensky district of Ingushetia. The Ingush authorities promise a registration bonus of 100,000 rubles (about $1,800) as well as 300,000 rubles (about $5,500) per month (including all benefits) from the Russian government (Gazetaingush.ruJune 25).
Some ethnically labeled units are already operational in Ukraine. Chechen militarized forces under the de facto Republican leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s control has been in Ukraine since the Russian incursion began in February 2022. Kadyrov has spoken on social media in support of the Russian invasion of Ukraine with manpower.
Other North Caucasian governors, with the exception of the North Ossetian leader, have been much more reticent about the war in Ukraine. In June, North Ossetia Governor Sergei Menyailo unexpectedly said that a North Ossetian battalion was fighting in Ukraine and had been reinforced by a tank unit. The released video showed several old T-62 tanks driving on the road. The officer reporting to Menyailo in the video appeared to be an ethnic Russian. A tank displayed an Ossetian flag. Two tanks had names of towns in North Ossetia written on them (Region15.ru, June 20). A typical motorized rifle battalion in the Russian army consists of around 800 soldiers.
Menyailo was sanctioned by the United States Treasury Department on June 20, 2014 for being responsible for actions against the territorial integrity of Ukraine. In 2020, when Menyailo was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to the Siberian Federal District, he was again sanctioned by the European Union and the United Kingdom for his involvement in the poisoning of the opposition leader. Russian Alexei Navlany (Treasury.gov, March 2, 2021). Menyailo took part in the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and served as governor of Sevastopol from 2014 to 2016. Previously, until 2011, Menyailo was deputy commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet stationed in Crimea. Putin appointed Menyailo governor of North Ossetia in April 2021.
The creation of Republican units for the war in Ukraine demonstrates the manpower shortages facing the Russian military. The Defense Committee of the Russian State Duma (lower house of parliament) recently approved amendments allowing school graduates to enter into military service contracts immediately, rather than after three months of compulsory military service as at present (Interfax, June 26). The idea is that military units named after republics will attract more recruits from those republics. Areas with an ethnic Russian majority do not have the same advantage, as regional identities there are too weak to mobilize people effectively. Thus, so far there has been little information about the creation of a Ryazan regiment or a Pskov company, although people are certainly recruited from these areas as well.
The campaign for the establishment of republican units could also have political objectives. The North Caucasian republics were the least favorable to the war in Ukraine among Russian regions (see GED, June 7). With the creation of Republican military units, regional media will follow the activities of their respective units in Ukraine, which is likely to help build popular support for Russia’s war against its neighbor.
That said, units fighting in Ukraine bearing the names of republics are unlikely to have a significant impact on Russia’s war effort or popular support in the North Caucasus. The strength of the newly formed units seems low. North Caucasians have suffered significant losses, and despite significant financial incentives, most people are likely to conclude that the risks are not worth it. Dozens refused to fight. Around 270 servicemen from the North Caucasus were killed in Ukraine according to official (probably underreported) information in mid-June (Kavkazski UzelJune 17).
The governors’ rallying call is also likely to fall on deaf ears. The North Caucasian republics do not elect their governors. Instead, their leadership is appointed by Moscow. The result is docile governors who report to Moscow and are not dependent on their constituents in the region. The flip side of Moscow’s control over regional governors is that they lack support among local populations. While Russian authorities can still implement policies through the government machinery, subsidies and other incentives, fostering genuine patriotism among residents of the periphery is beyond the capacity of flexible and politically neutral leaders.
*About the author: Valery Dzutsati received his doctorate in political science from Arizona State University in 2017. Valery is from North Ossetia. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history from North Ossetia State University and a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Maryland. His research interests cover ethnic and religious conflicts, political violence, the evolution of Russia and Eurasian countries. His articles have appeared in Caucasus Survey, Conflict Management and Peace Studies, Nationality documents, Nations and Nationalism, Politics and religion, Post-Soviet Affairs, Religion, state and society, Small wars and insurgenciesand Quarterly journal of the social sciences. Since 2009, he has systematically covered developments in the North Caucasus for the Washington-based research and analysis institute The Jamestown Foundation. in Vladikavkaz.
Source: This article was published by The Jamestown Foundation