'Our children are not fertilizer': Why protests in Chechnya and Dagestan should trouble Moscow (2023)

'Our children are not fertilizer': Why protests in Chechnya and Dagestan should trouble Moscow (1)

WASHINGTON — When the Russian invasion of Ukraine first began, Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov vowed loyalty and military support for the Kremlin. In bellicose (and frequently deceptive) social media posts, Kadyrov and his military commanders sought to use legends of Chechen military ferocity — embedded deep in the Russian psyche — as a countermeasure to the images of a valiant Ukrainian resistance.

But when it came to sending more Chechen young men to the front last week, Kadyrov made a show of defying the Kremlin, which had just announced a “partial mobilization” of 300,000 troops. Chechen conscription targets had been “overfulfilled,” he claimed, in what was widely seen as an effort to blunt popular discontent over a military operation whose failures could no longer be disguised with blustery Telegram messages.

Russia’s war, fought by many Muslims and poor people

Discontent over the draft has extended beyond Chechnya. While many protests have taken place in the northern Caucasus, there have also been demonstrations in the Siberian city of Yakutsk and even in distant Vladivostok, near the border with North Korea.

'Our children are not fertilizer': Why protests in Chechnya and Dagestan should trouble Moscow (2)

Fury at the mobilization has been especially pronounced in Dagestan, which neighbors Chechnya and shares many of its cultural attributes. “I think Dagestan is going to become a hot spot for anti-mobilization protests going forward,” Russia expert Samuel Ramani told Yahoo News. “Unrest, sometimes, in one autonomous region can extend to others. These protests can move asymmetrically.”

“The first to be pushed to the front will be poor boys from Tatarstan, Buryatia, Chechnya, Dagestan and other minority regions,” London-based Russia analyst Jeff Hawn wrote on Twitter.

The mobilization highlights a reality that has become impossible to ignore. While being fought on Russia’s behalf, the war is devastating mostly poor families, many of them from Muslim or Turkic backgrounds, far from the nodes of power in Moscow and St. Petersburg, where wealthier families have long used connections and bribes to absolve sons of military service.

Despite the Kremlin’s Slavocentric emphasis, Russia is a multinational state; though it is dominated by population centers in the country’s west, the 5,600 miles from its European holdings to its Pacific coast contain a rich panoply of ethnicities, religions and cultures.

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“Why are a lot of Muslims going to the army this way? Because they're poor," Paul Goble, a former high-ranking State Department expert on Soviet and Eurasian affairs, told Yahoo News. Enlisting men from dispossessed areas to act as replacement forces in the Ukrainian war seemed to involve little risk for an administration thoroughly oriented toward the country’s power elite.

Goble describes the Kremlin’s approach to the mobilization as having been conducted by Russian President Vladimir Putin under a cynical premise: “How do I carry this out so that few people in Moscow and St. Petersburg get rounded up?”

Yet the extent of the recent protests appears to suggest that the Kremlin misjudged how its mobilization order would be received in the areas it targeted. "This partial mobilization is not well planned and is likely to backfire," Goble told Yahoo News. “This is a classic Soviet approach. They should know better." In shows of solidarity, Muscovites and Petersburgers have also taken to the streets, where they have frequently encountered rough police tactics.

'Our children are not fertilizer': Why protests in Chechnya and Dagestan should trouble Moscow (4)

Instead of evenly distributing the war’s most obvious hardship — that is, military service, with its resulting risk of injury and death, especially in a military as poorly trained, prepared and led as Russia’s — the Kremlin instead concentrated those hardships in areas with few economic prospects and deepening social despair.

‘Russia ruined everything I had’

The Islamic regions of Chechnya and Dagestan were subjugated by the Russian Empire in the 19th century, shortly after Ukraine was also brought under the control of the czars in St. Petersburg. Their unsuccessful attempts at independence would continue into modernity, surviving the cultural erasures of the Soviet Union and persisting into the present.

Dagestan is believed to have suffered the heaviest losses of any region of Russia since the war began in Ukraine. The rugged region on the Caspian Sea coast is more than 1,000 miles from Ukraine. For many in Dagestan, making further sacrifices for the war effort has become untenable. In one protest following the mobilization order, women confronted a police officer. “Why are you taking our children? Who was attacked? Russia was attacked? They didn't come to us. It was us attacking Ukraine. Russia has attacked Ukraine! Stop the war!” one woman shouted at a police officer, according to the BBC.

'Our children are not fertilizer': Why protests in Chechnya and Dagestan should trouble Moscow (5)

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More than 100 people have been arrested in Makhachkala, the Dagestani capital, but even the unwelcome prospect of rough treatment by local law enforcement authorities isn't comparable to being ordered to the front, where Russian troops are facing a Western-armed Ukraine that made astonishing gains last month. It was those gains that prompted Putin to announce a mobilization two weeks ago.

For the Kremlin, keeping these rugged, remote republics as part of Russia is a reminder to other ethnic minorities to put their own dreams of independence aside. Otherwise they could suffer the fate that Chechnya did during the 1990s, when its attempts at secession were ruthlessly suppressed by the Kremlin in two costly wars.

The first of those wars was launched by Boris Yeltsin and ended with a devastating rout of Russian forces in the Chechen capital, Grozny. In 1999, Putin, then Russia’s new and untested prime minister, blamed a series of devastating apartment bombings in Moscow and other cities on Chechens, though compelling evidence points to Russia’s own security services as having engineered the attacks.

'Our children are not fertilizer': Why protests in Chechnya and Dagestan should trouble Moscow (6)

Putin used the bombings as justification for the second Chechen war, which he won by leveling Grozny and terrorizing its citizens. The Kadyrov family (first Akhmad and, after he was assassinated in 2004, his son Ramzan) has kept the peace since then with its own brand of pro-Kremlin ruthlessness. After the 9/11 attacks on the United States, Putin argued that his campaign against Chechnya was no different from the “global war on terror” launched by President George W. Bush, despite clear differences between Chechen militants and fundamentalist groups like al-Qaida.

The war in Ukraine, however, appears to have brought about a shift, one that has been accelerated by Putin’s mobilization. Even as Kadyrov pledged his own forces to the war effort, other Chechens went to fight on the Ukrainian side.

“Russia ruined everything I had,” one Chechen fighting for Ukraine told NPR last month.

A message to Russian minorities, sent via Ukraine

With its ferocious defense against the Russian invasion, Ukraine appears to have jostled long-dormant aspirations across Russia, as well as in independent former Soviet republics that live in the Kremlin’s shadow.

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As an emboldened Ukraine continues to push back demoralized Russian lines, the Kremlin has recalibrated its war aims, from outright regime change in Kyiv to holding onto the eastern and southern tracts where it is most entrenched. Yet no amount of propaganda can fully disguise the weaknesses in Russia’s political and military leadership that the last seven months of conflict have revealed.

“The Ukrainians are proving something that everyone thought was impossible,” said Goble. “Namely, that someone could stand up to the Russian army and at least fight it to a draw."

'Our children are not fertilizer': Why protests in Chechnya and Dagestan should trouble Moscow (7)

Unlike the Ukrainians, the protesters in Dagestan and elsewhere are not fighting the Russian army. But they are also making clear that they have no interest in fighting in the Russian army against a Ukraine equipped with powerful Western weapons.

Across Russia, young men desperate to avoid serving in Ukraine have been streaming into neighboring countries like Georgia and the three Baltic nations. But escape is a luxury unavailable to many. Young men stuck inside Russia are faced with the prospect of fighting in a war that has gone on far longer than the Kremlin intended, and that has already claimed an estimated 25,000 Russian lives. If the reasons for invading Ukraine were never clear, the lack of a clear objective is especially pronounced for young men and their families.

“Our children are not fertilizer!” another woman protesting in Dagestan shouted at authorities.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been courting this discontent. In a video posted to Twitter last week, he stands before a Kyiv monument to Imam Shamil, a Dagestani warrior who fought against Russian conquest. “Dagestanis should not be dying in Ukraine,” Zelensky says, naming other ethnic minorities being asked to make sacrifices for Russia’s sake. “Chechens, Ingushetians, Ossetians, Circassians and any other peoples who found themselves under the Russian flag. Almost 200 different peoples. You know who is sending them to Ukraine.”

'Our children are not fertilizer': Why protests in Chechnya and Dagestan should trouble Moscow (8)

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When Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in February, the residents of Moscow and St. Petersburg rose up in protest. There have been anti-mobilization protests there too, but the heart of the resistance now lies hundreds of miles from those redoubts of power and wealth.

The mobilization also deepens seemingly irresolvable contradictions within a multiethnic society where national identity is subordinate to rule from Moscow.

The legend of the Chechens

Known for keeping a pet tiger and brandishing weapons, Kadyrov, along with his adherents, has consciously burnished the prevailing image that many Russians hold of Chechens as hardscrabble fighters unafraid of either meting out death to the enemy or dying in battle themselves. In some ways, Kadyrov is the modern-day version of the larger-than-life warlords depicted in the fiction of writers like Leo Tolstoy, as well as more recent depictions of the north Caucasus in television and cinema.

Kadyrov has been regularly taking to Telegram, a social media platform popular in Russia, to boast of forthcoming battlefield conquests, raising fears that the kind of brutality that once marked the fighting in Chechnya would also inform Russia’s conduct in Ukraine.

'Our children are not fertilizer': Why protests in Chechnya and Dagestan should trouble Moscow (9)

“For Russians raised on the 19th century literary classics, this is the wild frontier, a land of ferocious brigands, unbreakable blood oaths and fiery passions. It’s what Sicily is to the Italians, what Scotland was once to the English,” Russia expert Mark Galeotti told Yahoo News. “Of course, the Russian perception is based on myth, prejudice and Orientalism, but it’s nonetheless powerful for all that.”

The resistance to Putin’s mobilization contradicts that facile narrative, making clear to the rest of Russia that ordinary Chechens are unwilling to heed Putin’s order. In an effort to blunt popular discontent, Kadyrov said Chechnya had fulfilled 254% of its conscription commitment to Ukraine. While that figure is difficult to confirm, it was also an obvious signal for the Kremlin to back off.

An analysis from the Institute for the Study of War described Kadyrov’s resistance to the mobilization as “a worrisome indicator for the Kremlin” because, as that analysis argued, “if one of the war’s most vociferous and aggressive advocates feels the need to refuse to mobilize his people, at least publicly, that could indicate that even Kadyrov senses the popular resentment the partial mobilization will cause and possibly even fears it.”

While shows of defiance in Chechnya, Dagestan and elsewhere may not result in independence in the short term, it is clear that a movement has been reawakened.

“I don't expect the borders of the Russian Federation to be where they are now in 10 years," Russia expert Goble told Yahoo News.

Cover thumbnail photo: Gavriil Grigorov/Kremlin via Reuters

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What did the Russians do to the Chechens? ›

During the Russian Civil War, Chechens and other Caucasian nations lived in independence for a few years before being Sovietized in 1921. In 1944 on the grounds of dubious allegations of widespread collaboration with the advancing German forces, the Chechen nation as a collective were deported to Central Asia.

Do the Chechens fight for Russia? ›

Pro-Ukrainian forces

Many Chechen groups have formed or moved to Ukraine throughout the Russian Invasion of Ukraine. Several hundred fighters have joined the war, most joining one of several Chechen groups. Some of these groups started operations during the Donbas war in 2014.

What caused the Chechen Russian conflict? ›

The debate in Chechnya over independence ultimately led to a small-scale civil war since 1992, in which the Russians covertly tried to oust the government of Dzhokhar Dudayev. The First Chechen War began in 1994, when Russian forces entered Chechnya to restore constitutional order.

Why were there protests in Russia? ›

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, anti-war demonstrations and protests broke out across Russia.

What is special about Chechens? ›

The Chechens are one many ethnic groups that have been traced back to the highlands of the North Caucasus for thousands of years. While their presence can be traced back centuries, much of their recent history has been defined by their desire for independence and autonomy.

Did Russia lose to Chechen war? ›

Despite the early Chechen defeat of the New Year's assault and the many further casualties that the Russians had suffered, Grozny was eventually conquered by Russian forces after an urban warfare campaign. After armored assaults failed, the Russian military set out to take the city using air power and artillery.

Is Chechnya a free country? ›

Chechnya is not categorized as a sovereign country but as part of the federal region, a subject of Russia. As a Russian Federation, Chechnya is governed by the rules and regulations of Russia. Chechnya is in the North Caucasus. The location is within 100 kilometers of the Caspian Sea.

When did Russia take over Dagestan? ›

In the early 1800s, Russian Tzar Nicholas I led an invasion of the Caucasus, including the regions we now know as Chechnya and Dagestan. After decades of fighting, they were incorporated into Imperial Russia, and have been under some form of Russian rule ever since.

What seems to be the conflict surrounding the story Chechnya? ›

What seems to be the conflict surrounding the story? Man vs. society, particularly the war between the soldiers and rebels in Chechnya War.

What are Chechen soldiers known for? ›

“There is no formal relationship with the Russian military command and these Chechen fighters are known for their brutality. As for effectiveness, they certainly are effective at terrorizing populations.”

How many people have left Russia? ›

In this third wave alone, nearly 300,000 Russian citizens had left Russia before 27 September, with that number approaching 400,000 by 4 October. An upper estimate is for 700,000 Russians to have fled conscription since it was announced.

What happens if you protest in Russia? ›

In practice, the right to freedom of assembly is restricted by Russian authorities. According to a Russian law introduced in 2014, a fine or detention of up to 15 days may be given for holding a demonstration without the permission of authorities and prison sentences of up to five years may be given for three breaches.

Can Russians travel to us? ›

Russian citizens who wish to travel to the US for business or tourism purposes must apply for a US B1/B2 Visa. While the application process cannot be 100% online, iVisa can help you obtain the confirmation page you are required to have for your interview at the embassy, and they can do that offline or online.

Is Chechen different from Russian? ›

Chechen is the statutory provincial language in the Republic of Chechnya which is part of the Russian Federation (Ethnologue). Russian is the language of wider communication, while Chechen is spoken mostly among Chechens.

What race are the Chechens? ›

The Chechens are one of the oldest indigenous ethnic groups of the Caucasus. They belong to the Caucasian-Balkan type of the Europeoid race. Their language is Chechen, which together with the related language of the neighbouring Ingush people forms the so-called Vaynakh branch of the Ibero-Caucasian language group.

Is Dagestan a country or part of Russia? ›

Dagestan (/ˌdæɡɪˈstæn, -ˈstɑːn/ DAG-i-STA(H)N; Russian: Дагеста́н; IPA: [dəɡʲɪˈstan]), officially the Republic of Dagestan, is a republic of Russia situated in the North Caucasus of Eastern Europe, along the Caspian Sea.

Are Chechen people friendly? ›

Chechen locals are generally very hospitable and are generally curious about those who visit their place.

Can Americans go to Chechnya? ›

Do Not Travel to: The North Caucasus, including Chechnya and Mount Elbrus, due to terrorism, kidnapping, and risk of civil unrest.

Are Chechen people Muslims? ›

The vast majority of Chechens today are Muslims and live in Chechnya, a republic of Russia. Data figures from 2001 to 2021; see also Chechen diaspora. The North Caucasus has been invaded numerous times throughout history.

Is Dagestan loyal to Russia? ›

1991 - After the fall of the Soviet Union, the republic's authorities stay loyal to Russia but the region became infamous for its lawlessness and corruption.

What is Dagestan famous for? ›

Dagestan is famous for its "Legionaries." In Rio at 86 kilos, half the medalists from the USA's J'den Cox's weight class were from Dagestan, the other was from the nearby Republic of Ingushetia.

Do they drink in Dagestan? ›

A note on drinking – Dagestan is not a dry republic, but still, the majority of people in Makhachkala and the republic, in general, do not touch alcohol. Being majority Muslim here does mean that beer houses and bars have to operate in a certain way.

What is the main issue or conflict in the story? ›

Conflict in a story is a struggle between opposing forces. Characters must act to confront those forces and there is where conflict is born. If there is nothing to overcome, there is no story. Conflict in a story creates and drives the plot forward.

What is the main conflict problem of the story? ›

The main conflict in a story may be external (between characters and other characters or characters and their environment) or internal (a struggle within) or may combine external and internal elements. This primary conflict is typically what drives action towards the story's climax.

What is struggle is the main character facing in this story? ›

Answer and Explanation: The struggle between the protagonist and the antagonist is called the conflict.

Is Chechen army part of Russian army? ›

The term Kadyrovtsy is commonly used in Chechnya to refer to any armed, ethnically-Chechen men under the control of Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov - although nominally they are under the umbrella of the National Guard of Russia.

What country is Chechen army? ›

Chechnya (Russian: Чечня́, IPA: [tɕɪtɕˈnʲa]; Chechen: Нохчийчоь, romanized: Noxçiyçö), officially the Chechen Republic, is a republic of Russia. It is situated in the North Caucasus of Eastern Europe, close to the Caspian Sea.

How many Russians live in USA? ›

In the mid-19th century, waves of Russian immigrants fleeing religious persecution settled in the U.S., including Russian Jews and Spiritual Christians.
Russian-born population.
6 more rows

Why is Russia losing its population? ›

Russia's population is in a historic decline as emigration, war and a plunging birth rate form a 'perfect storm'

Can you legally leave Russia? ›

A valid visa is necessary to depart Russia. Travelers who overstay their visa's validity, even for one day, will be prevented from leaving until their sponsor intervenes and requests a visa extension on their behalf.

What does Z mean on Russian tanks? ›

Since mid-March 2022, the "Z" began to be used by the Russian government as a pro-war propaganda motif, and has been appropriated by pro-Putin civilians as a symbol of support for Russia's invasion.

What is the punishment given in Russia? ›

Capital punishment is a legal penalty in Russia, but is not used due to a moratorium and no death sentences or executions have occurred since 2 August 1996.

What happens if you refuse military service in Russia? ›

Refusing to serve or desertion is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The mobilization effort, Russia's first since World War 2, was viewed as a sign of desperation abroad and stoked civil unrest at home, with anti-war protests erupting across the country.

Can Russian nukes reach the US? ›

New START limits all Russian deployed intercontinental-range nuclear weapons, including every Russian nuclear warhead that is loaded onto an intercontinental-range ballistic missile that can reach the United States in approximately 30 minutes.

Are Americans allowed in Cuba? ›

Overview: Traveling to Cuba With a US Passport

The Cuban government allows Americans to visit their country. The restrictions on traveler activities (and where they can spend money) are all US government rules. So, regardless of American regulations, your US passport is valid in Cuba.

Can Americans travel to Iran? ›

Do not travel to Iran due to the risk of kidnapping and the arbitrary arrest and detention of U.S. citizens. Exercise increased caution due to wrongful detentions. Country Summary: U.S. citizens visiting or residing in Iran have been kidnapped, arrested, and detained on spurious charges.

Why did protests start in Ukraine? ›

The protests were sparked by the Ukrainian government's sudden decision not to sign the European Union–Ukraine Association Agreement, instead choosing closer ties to Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union.

Why were they fighting in the Russian Revolution? ›

The Russian people blamed the Tsar for entering the war and getting so many of their young men killed. The people of Russia first revolted in early 1917. The revolution began when a number of workers decided to strike.

Why did the workers go on strike in Russia? ›

Answer: The causes of the revolutionary disturbances in Russia in 1905 were (i) Due to Russia's defeat in the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, prices of essential goods rose dramatically, so that real wages declined by 20 per cent. (ii) At the Putilov Iron Works, dismissal of some workers caused a strike.

What were they protesting on Bloody Sunday Russia? ›

Father Gapon organised a petition complaining about working conditions in the city and calling for change. It was signed by over 150 thousand people. On 22 January 1905, Father Gapon led a march to deliver a petition to the Tsar. Thousands of workers took part in this peaceful protest.

What happens if you protest in Ukraine? ›

Gathering and disseminating information about the Berkut, judges, or their respective families carries a penalty of up to 2 years in jail; Defamation, either by means of press or social media, carries a penalty of up to one year in jail.

What caused Russia to be mad at Ukraine? ›

Relations between the two countries became hostile after the 2014 Ukrainian revolution, which was followed by Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, and the war in Donbas, in which Russia backed the separatist fighters of the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic.

Is Ukraine a free country? ›

Human rights in Ukraine is a highly contested topic. Since 2017, Freedom House has given Ukraine ratings from 60 to 62 on its 100-point scale, and a "partly free" overall rating. Ratings on electoral processes have generally been good, but there are problems with corruption and due process.

What were the 3 main causes of the Russian Revolution? ›

What are the main causes of the Russian revolution?
  • Autocratic rule of Tsars: In 1914, the Russian emperor was Tsar Nicholas II. ...
  • Conditions of Peasants: Majority of the Russians were agriculturalists. ...
  • Status of Industries: Industry was found in pockets.

Why did the Russian Revolution happen for kids? ›

In 1917, the citizens of Russia were unhappy with their ruler Tsar Nicholas II. Their dissatisfaction led to the start of the Russian Revolution.

How many wars Russia started? ›

The country has been involved in 100s of wars since its inception. It can be divided into 4 sections. Take a look at all the wars Russia has been involved in this list shared with you below.

Why are workers unhappy in Russia? ›

Discontent among the workers

The population of Russia's towns and cities multiplied by four. Working conditions were terrible and trade unionism was banned. There was little to protect the pay or safety of workers.

Does Russia use forced labor? ›

Forced labour

Internal migrants from Russia's poorer regions and migrants from the former Soviet satellite states are reportedly trafficked (sometimes involving drugging and kidnapping) and then forced to work against their will in brick factories and small farms in the North Caucasus republic of Dagestan.

What were the problems of workers in Russia? ›

Rapid industrialization caused discontent among the people, the growth of factories brought new problems, poor working conditions, really low wages, child labor, outlawed trade unions. War and revolution destroyed the Russian economy.

Who was responsible for Bloody Sunday? ›

Bloody Sunday, demonstration in Londonderry (Derry), Northern Ireland, on Sunday, January 30, 1972, by Roman Catholic civil rights supporters that turned violent when British paratroopers opened fire, killing 13 and injuring 14 others (one of the injured later died).

Was Bloody Sunday Russia a peaceful protest? ›

Bloody Sunday, Russian Krovavoye Voskresenye, (January 9 [January 22, New Style], 1905), massacre in St. Petersburg, Russia, of peaceful demonstrators marking the beginning of the violent phase of the Russian Revolution of 1905.

How many Bloody Sundays are there in the world? ›

Four Bloody Sundays | The Irish Story.


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