Turkic Nationalist Battalion Forms in Ukraine to “Destroy the Regime” in Russia

Ahmed Adel

Pan-Turkic/Turan Nationalist militants from Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan have formed a new battalion in Ukraine. The new militant group has the aim of destroying “the regime” of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, and to recruit members from various Turkic-speaking countries to foment inter-ethnic and inter-religious issues in Russia.

A video, which has recently appeared on the internet, shows the commander of the so-called Turan battalion, which is part of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, declaring his plan to “destroy the regime of Putin and Kadyrov.” In the video, the militants perform a hand gesture which resembles a wolf’s head – the symbol of the Turkish ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves organisation.

According to reports, there are about 350 people in the Turan battalion, including mercenaries of Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Uyghur origin, as well as immigrants from Azerbaijan. Their commander is 33-year-old Kudaybek ulu Almaz from Kyrgyzstan, who worked in Ukraine as a day labourer and hairdresser before the start of the Russian military operation.

It is notable that in the video, the battalion leader speaks about Russia and not Ukraine. This demonstrates that his goal is to disrupt inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations in Russia, keeping in mind that the country is home to several indigenous Turkic ethnic groups, such as Bashkirs, Chuvash, Kumyks, Karachays and varying Tatar groups in Crimea, Volga region and elsewhere.

As far as funding is concerned, it can be provided for by the West and Turkey in the same structures that once financed the formation of terrorist organisations, like the Islamic State. It is recalled that the Grey Wolves ultra-nationalist organization were once financed by the CIA’s Operation Gladio as part of empowering fascism and dictatorships to halt the spread of communism during the Cold War.

Turan battalion members in Ukraine are gaining combat experience with modern Western weapons. When the war ends and the militants leave Ukraine, they could then engage in terrorist activities in Russia and their home countries.

Although it is doubtful that this particular battalion will achieve anything of note, it does suggest that there is growing pan-Turkic ultra-nationalism emerging in the formerly communist Central Asia region. Ultra-nationalist organizations in Central Asia are being financed by Turkey as part of their own efforts to exert influence under the banner of pan-Turkism.

This poses danger to Russia as pan-Turkic ideology can seep from Central Asia into regions of Russia with significant Turkic populations, such as Tuva, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Chuvashia and Sakha, among others.

According to Russian media, Kyrgyz authorities revealed that the current commander of the battalion went to Ukraine in December 2021 and started working as a hairdresser. At the beginning of the war, Kudaybek volunteered and began serving in the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

The State Committee for National Security of Kyrgyzstan announced that the views of Kudaybek are “contrary to the position of the official authorities of Kyrgyzstan”, adding that “Kyrgyzstan adheres to neutrality in the events between Russia and Ukraine.”

Kudaybek is currently being investigated under the article of the Criminal Code that sanctions the participation of Kyrgyz citizens in armed conflicts or hostilities in a foreign country. If found guilty, on his return to Kyrgyzstan he could be thrown into prison for five to eight years.

For Kyrgyzstan, such extremists pose a major security threat. Although leaders in Bishkek are enthusiastic about the activities of the Organization of Turkic States and support the further integration of Turkic-speaking countries, they are suspicious of ultra-nationalist extremists who want to establish a Great Turkestan at the expense of Kyrgyzstan and other Turkic countries.

Despite Turkic countries wanting closer cooperation, they do not want to sacrifice their sovereignty to form a single entity, with the exception of Turkey, which under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, sees itself as the leader and centre of the Turkic World. Such an empowered Turkey would of course dramatically change the geopolitical situation and balance in Central Asia, something Moscow wants to avoid.

It is for this reason that Moscow finds the strengthening of pan-Turkic ideology concerning, particularly since they are now demonstrating a willingness to fight Russian forces in the Ukrainian battlefield. Although this particular battalion will amount to nothing in Ukraine, it is their ideology spreading, coupled with battle experience, which is of great security concern for not only Russia, but also other Central Asian countries.

Ahmed Adel, Cairo-based geopolitics and political economy researcher.