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Twisted Alliances: Chechens Fight for Russia in Ukraine

Image: Pro-Russian separatists from the Chechen "Death" battalion run during a training exercise in the territory controlled by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic
Pro-Russian separatists from the Chechen "Death" battalion run during a training exercise in the territory controlled by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, eastern Ukraine, on Dec. 8. MAXIM SHEMETOV / Reuters

Given Russia's troubled history in Chechnya, where they waged two brutal wars to quash separatists, you might expect Chechens to sympathize with Ukrainians in their conflict with Russia. Here, however, we see the so-called "Death" battalion, a group of seasoned Chechens who chant "Allahu Akbar" (God is great) as they train to support the pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

They aren't the only Chechens in the area, though. According to Reuters, "these men are sworn enemies with another group of Chechens who fight on the opposite side of the conflict and support the Kiev government troops."

Image: Pro-Russian separatists from the Chechen "Death" battalion take part in a training exercise in the territory controlled by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic
Pro-Russian separatists from the Chechen "Death" battalion take part in a training exercise in the territory controlled by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, eastern Ukraine, on Dec. 8. Some of those in the "Death" unit said they had initially fought against Russia in Chechnya but later switched sides and were amnestied by a former Kremlin-allied head of the region. MAXIM SHEMETOV / Reuters

Russia sides with the rebels in east Ukraine but denies sending serving troops to reinforce them. Moscow has said any Russians fighting there are volunteers.

Image: Pro-Russian separatists from the Chechen "Death" battalion
Pro-Russian separatists from the Chechen "Death" battalion MAXIM SHEMETOV / Reuters