Putin faces second war front as Chechens threaten new offensive in Russia

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Russian President Vladimir Putin could be facing another war front, this time on his own turf, as one Chechen battalion prepares a second offensive against Moscow, a spokesman for the volunteer fighting force in Ukraine said.

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, volunteer Chechen forces joined the fight in support of Kyiv — fueling the flames to a long-held animus towards not only Russia, but Putin. 

“We know the enemy’s positions, where Russian military bases are,” Islam Belokiev, spokesman for the Sheikh Mansur Battalion, said in a video message obtained by Fox News Digital this week while announcing a plan to once again fight for Chechen independence. “We have divided the Chechen Republic of Icheriya into three fronts and 16 sectors.”

Members of the volunteer Sheikh Mansur Battalion speak to an AFP journalist during an interview on June 9, 2022, in the town of Zaporizhzhia, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Members of the volunteer Sheikh Mansur Battalion speak to an AFP journalist during an interview on June 9, 2022, in the town of Zaporizhzhia, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 
(Photo by GENYA SAVILOV/AFP via Getty Images)

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Chechen resistance to Russian rule dates back centuries, and calls for independence began more than 30 years ago following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. 

Broad autonomy was granted under a peace treaty signed by then Russian President Boris Yeltsin after a brutal war devastated the republic from 1994-1996. 

However, disdain for Putin and a decade of war broke out after he voided the treaty and launched a deadly military campaign in 1999 following his appointment as prime minister by Yeltsin.

Grozny, Russia, besieged by the Russian army in August 1996.

Grozny, Russia, besieged by the Russian army in August 1996.
(Photo by Eric BOUVET/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

In an infamous speech that was a prelude to his presidential rise, Putin said, “We will pursue the terrorists everywhere. If we catch them on the toilet, we will wipe them out in the outhouse.”

An estimated 160,000 people were killed in both campaigns, though exact figures remain unclear.

At least two volunteer Chechen battalions, including veteran soldiers from both the first and second Chechen wars, have taken up arms against Russia in Ukraine, including the Sheikh Mansur Battalion and the Dzhokhar Dudayev Battalion.

Both groups have been vocal in denouncing the leader of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, who was appointed to the post in 2007 by Putin and has brutally backed his war efforts against Kyiv.

Ramzan Kadyrov proudly displays his shooting skills in front of members of his private army at a firing range in his village of Tsentoroi in Checknya, Russia, in November 2004. 

Ramzan Kadyrov proudly displays his shooting skills in front of members of his private army at a firing range in his village of Tsentoroi in Checknya, Russia, in November 2004. 
(Photo by Kadyrov Press Office/Getty Images)

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A spokesman for the Sheikh Mansur Battalion said the resistance group had divided Chechnya into three sectors and claimed to have begun working with local populations “to uncover the enemy troop movements, type of transport, type of armaments, number of troops and quantity of weapons.”

Fox News could not independently verify the claims, but Rebekah Koffler, a Russia expert and former intelligence officer in Russian doctrine and strategy for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), said it could serve as a strategy to distract Putin’s war effort in Ukraine. 

“The possibility of them taking advantage of Putin’s forces being tied up in Ukraine to assert their independence is very plausible,” she explained. 

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It is unclear if the Chechen volunteer forces are strategizing with Kyiv by creating a second front, but Koffler noted that even if a second front is not fully launched in Chechnya, it could still strain Putin’s forces.

It would “at least make Putin and the Russians believe that they will have to divert their attention and take eyes off Ukraine, so Ukrainians could launch a counter-offensive,” she said. “That’s very clever.”

Caitlin McFall is a Fox News Digital reporter. You can reach her at caitlin.mcfall@fox.com or @ctlnmcfall on Twitter.