Seeking Security

Jihadists in Ukraine, can the country be the new gateway for jihad in Europe?

October 9, 2015

The current situation in Ukraine is mostly considered as a simply conflict between pro-Russian insurgency and the Ukrainian government. But the truth has become far more complex and it is now a crucial security issue for EU and Russian governance.


The employment of paramilitary volunteer battalions by Poroshenko’s government to fight pro-Russian separatists in eastern regions is attracting a large number of jihadists in Europe. Such jihadi fighters mainly comes from the Caucasus and from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. Being the state of Ukrainian military poor, the government needs to employ new forces. But are really jihadists the solution?

Three units of anti-Russian Islamic fighters have been formed: the Dzhokhar Dudayev battalion which operates throughout the conflict zone in the Donbas and the Sheikh Mansur battalion, based in Mariupol and splintered off from the Dudayev one. Both involves Uzbeks, Chechens and Dagestanis while the third battalion, Crimea, is based in Krematorsk and it mostly includes Tatars from that region. Some members of these battalions are veterans of jihad and trained with the Islamic State in the Middle East.


The presence of young Chechen Islamic fighters inside Ukrainian politics is another cause for concern. As the picture below shows, Pravyi Sektor, an ultranationalist political party, is now become a paramilitary group. The leader, Dmitri Yarosh is next to a jihadist, probably a Caucasian fighter. Yarosh has recently become advisor to the Ukrainian Chief of Staff Viktor Muzhenko, according to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry so to integrate his paramilitary troops into the government’s official forces.



Some ultranationalists are veterans of jihad such as Isa Munaev (military commander of Grozny during the Second Chechen War) killed in the Battle of Debaltseve last February but founder of Dzhokhar Dudayev battalion in 2014.


Many Chechens, on the Ukrainian side, are young fundamentalists coming from the “Caucasus Emirate” now allied of the Islamic State, whose fighters are involved in battles in Syria and Iraq gradually gaining power in the IS hierarchies.


Although the presence of jihadists and Chechen separatists in Ukraine is not a surprise, Bruxelles and Washington should think about the integration of Caucasian and Asian jihadists inside Ukrainian military institutions and regular defence forces as a potential threat to the European security. Ukraine could become a gateway for jihad in Europe so to develop new Islamic extremist enclaves and expand their influence in eastern Europe like happened in the Balkans during the Bosnian war.


All of this shows how the current situation is changing the outlook and the aims of the conflict with unpredictable consequences. Jihadists are exploiting such a conflict to be more trained, armed and radicalized in a key geographical area very close to EU countries and Russia.


Therefore, Moscow should be not considered as a threat because the real one is the potential Islamization of the conflict. EU and NATO should revise their strategy to support Kiev due because of its strategy to train jihadists who are increasing their propaganda in eastern Europe in order to attract more "brothers" to fight Russia. They could make Ukraine a radicalized country to promote a second Islamic “war front” in addition to the Caucasian one with logistic jhadi bases on the Ukrainian soil.


Moreover, nothing prevents to some of the 6000 European jihadists in Syria to come back to Europe to develop further Islamist enclaves near EU borders, exploiting the Ukrainian policy to train foreign fighters.


EU and NATO should avoid to underestimate such a situation because we must definitively fight jihadism in the Middle East but we should also prevent the development of home-grown jihadist radicalisation close to our countries.


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