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Category: Mike Scruggs' Column

Putin’s Terrorist Campaign in Ukraine

Destroyed Russian equipment near Bucha, Mvs.gov.ua March 7, 2022.
Destroyed Russian equipment near Bucha, Mvs.gov.ua March 7, 2022.

Bucha is a small city of 37,000 about 15 miles northwest of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, bordering the Hostomel (Antonov) Airport.  It was captured by Russian forces on March 12 and recaptured by the Ukrainian Army on March 31.

According to interviews with Bucha residents conducted by the anti-war Russian journal website, Meduza, Bucha became directly involved in the war on March 4, when a column of Russian equipment passed through the center of Bucha on its way to Irpin.  One witness told Meduza that “Our [Ukrainian] artillery “finished them off” from an Irpin checkpoint, destroying most of their equipment — they literally burned it to the ground.”

“The city had a territorial defense force, and they started shooting. They [the Russian troops] responded by shooting straight at apartment buildings. During the shooting, a fire broke out in my building after a BRDM (Armored Reconnaissance and Patrol Vehicle) fired a shell at the third story. I live on the fourth.”

 “I got the feeling there were different units dispersed throughout Bucha — they all behaved differently. The city center got lucky — there was some kind of medical unit there. They gathered their ‘200s’ [dead] and ‘300s’ [injured] — they even gave their diesel fuel to the hospital. Those guys were very young, almost like college students. When they were giving the diesel, they said they needed to go further to Kyiv, but they didn’t want to — and that it would be better to say [to their bosses] that they’d run out of fuel. Some of them didn’t want to fight.”

The first of 4 or 5 difficult civilian evacuations began through a “green corridor” on March 9.  People tried to take almost everything they had. Those who stayed behind were left with no food, water, or medicine, and some began to die under such desperate conditions. 

When the city was under Russian control after March 12, some groups of soldiers went door to door looking for “Donbas” veterans. Not finding one veteran, they shot his son.

In one last gesture of common humanity, as they were withdrawing from Bucha, some Russian soldiers gave away their dry rations to starving people in the basement of an apartment building. But later that night, other soldiers threw a grenade in the dark basement. Fortunately, no one was killed or seriously injured.

On April 1, following the withdrawal of Russian forces from Bucha, photographic, video, and eye-witness  evidence revealed that at least 320 civilians had been killed or murdered by the occupying  forces during the last days of March. Many of the victims had been shot, some with their hands tied behind their backs. But many had been tortured, mutilated, or beheaded.  Ukrainian President Zelensky himself pointed out that many of the dead had had their tongues cut out.  Including nearby towns, the number of civilian dead had risen to over 400 by April 5.

According to three Wikipedia sources in Turkey, Australia, and Ukraine, the main Russian military unit in Bucha during the massacre was the 64th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, and the daily tabloid UK Mirror is already suggesting that its young Lt.Col. commander is the main war crime suspect. The 64th is headquartered in the far-eastern Russian city of Khabarovsk, which with over 600,000 population is now larger than Vladivostok about 450 miles to the south. Khabarovsk is about 93 percent Russian ethnics and two percent Ukrainian.  The 64th and its commander do not seem to be reasonable candidates for war criminals. However, there were two smaller but elite Kadyrovite Chechen units there, which participated in the occupation of Bucha and surrounding towns. One was an OMON, which is the Russian military system are elite internal security police. The other was a SOBR (Special Rapid Response Force), which are the elite of elite and specialize in the most difficult combat police work. 

The Chechen Republic (Chechnya) is in the North Caucasian Federal District of the Russian Federation, near but not bordering the Caspian Sea. It has a population of only 1.4 million, and both Russian and Chechen are official languages. In 1959, the country was 49 percent Russian, who were mainly Russian Orthodox Cossacks. It is now over 95 percent Chechen and over 95 percent Sunni Muslim. The Chechens have fought two recent wars with Russia over Chechen independence. The First Chechen War occurred from 1994 to 1996, when Boris Yeltsin was Russian President, and the Second Chechen War occurred  in 1999-2000 when Putin was Russian President. Today Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov is a strong supporter of Vladimir Putin and a Lt. General in the Russian Army.  In late February, Russian State media published a video stating that 12,000 Chechen troops were headed to Ukraine to help the Russians.

The Chechens have a well deserved reputation for terrorism and brutality. Much of this was committed against Russians but some against the United States.  In October 2002, over 40 Chechen terrorists took 850 people hostage in a Moscow theater, and over 170 died. In September 2004, 32 Chechen terrorists took over 1,100 hostages at the Beslan School in the Caucus State of North Ossetia. A total of 333 people were killed including 188 children and 31 of the terrorists. In October 2015, Chechen terrorists exploded a bomb on Russian Metro-jet Flight 9268, killing all 224 passengers and 7 crew members. There are many incidents with smaller death counts, but Americans may remember the April 15, 2015, bombing of the Boston Marathon by two young Chechen men. Three Americans were killed and 264 injured. The Russians had actually notified the FBI of possible trouble.

According to the February 26 issue of Foreign Policy, there may be at least 10,000 Chechen militia followers of Ramzan Kadyrov in Ukraine, but Putin and the Russian State propaganda organs are pushing the number 70,000 with images of thousands of stereotypical Chechens praying in the forest and making lists of assassination targets. A Considerable force of Chechens is said to be at Mariupol, which although having a majority of ethnic Russians is being turned into rubble. Even Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov is said to have been there. Kadyrov was also alleged to have been photographed near the Hostomel Airport, near Kyiv and Bucha. Kadyrov recently threatened Elon Musk for helping the Ukrainians with communication technology.

Chechen elite troops usually wear the Chechen flag shoulder patch as a matter of pride or perhaps terror. They are not always as distinguishable physically from Ukrainians and ethnic Russians as people think. They are somewhat of an anthropological mystery as are several North Caucus peoples. Although over 75 percent of their DNA is middle-eastern,  and only about 5 percent is Slavic, nearly half are fair skinned, and a minority have lighter hair, beard, and eyes. Yet they seldom inter-married with Russians and especially not Cossacks. They, do however, tend to have the middle-eastern nasal and facial features, though often in more moderate forms. Their leader, Ramzan Kadyrov could easily pass for Russian or Ukrainian, as could many of his men.  

Putin is using Ramzan Kadyrov and his Chechen militias as a terror weapon to intimidate Ukraine into capitulating to Russian invasion or hegemony.  He has even bragged that Chechens are his secret weapon.

However, despite their formidable military reputation,  Chechens have not fared well against ordinary Ukrainian Army soldiers. Their casualties have been much higher than expected. An elite team of assassins sent to kill Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was quickly ambushed and wiped out.

I think the Russians have had some legitimate security and relational grievances against NATO, the European Union, and Ukraine, but Putin’s invasion of Ukraine was a tremendous mistake. You cannot bully and ravage a nation into becoming a reliable ally. Putin has jumped into a painful and dangerous quagmire.  His next biggest mistake was employing brutal terrorists against Ukrainian civilians. Allying with terrorists just gets him deeper in his quagmire, perhaps so deep that all the state propaganda in the world will not erase his offense against his own people   But perhaps the biggest mistake Vladimir Putin has made is allying with Communist China. The Chinese are aiming for the number one hegemon spot. Chairman Xi seems to be smiling more. It works well for Xi if Russia is weakened by the present conflict.

I believe we should continue to supply the Ukrainians with arms, ammunition, supplies, and intelligence until the Russians withdraw. It is working, and we should speed up the supply chain. We should help with the refugees.

I have recently seen some disturbing Russian propaganda claiming that the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are not real countries because they were founded by Germans. So we had better make it unmistakable that NATO commitment to them is backed by ready strength.

However, I take a dim view of politicians and media stars who do not carefully weigh the risks of spreading and escalating the war in Ukraine. Our goal should be a just peace, and that is what “winning” should mean. We don’t need the kind of “winning” that ultimately results in a bigger war and exponential loss of life and civilization.

This war is tragic, but it will be interesting to see if our political leaders try to cover up any Chechen role in the Bucha massacre.

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