The movie features nine pumped-up males wearing khaki uniforms without name tags, beanie hats, and beards. Behind them, there are jeeps and silver minibuses, and one holds a walkie-talkie and the other a rifle. Most of the men are getting ready to go. One wishes to be captured on camera.
He speaks Chechen to the undetectable cameraman, telling him to take a photo rather than record. As another man checks his smartphone, the camera pans over to him. According to the videographer, “This comrade is staying.” The person holding the phone has an authoritative demeanor. He says with a wink and a smile, “I’ll be leaving later.”
They appear at ease, as if they were back in Chechnya, the 1.5 million-person mostly Muslim province in the North Caucasus area of Russia, where Ramzan Kadyrov, a former separatist strongman who now refers to himself as Vladimir Putin’s “soldier,” is in charge.
However, the men were captured on camera 1,200 kilometers from their house, near to blocks 3, 4, and 5 of Europe’s largest nuclear facility, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station, in the region of southeast Ukraine that is under Russian occupation.
A Ukrainian law enforcement agency provided Al Jazeera with the video, identifying the person on the phone as Colonel Makhmud Khusiyev, a 43-year-old former wrestler.
Although the video is dated January 7, it may have been shot earlier.
The agency used face-recognition software to compare his high-resolution images and videos with media reports that included him in order to confirm his identification.
His involvement in wrestling events is mentioned in a few Chechen news stories.
Khusiyev is currently one of a number of top officers of the special forces company Akhmat Grozny, which is stationed in Grozny, the administrative center of Chechnya.
Khusiyev is wearing a uniform with one of the company’s emblems, a stylized depiction of an eagle spewing rays out of his eyes, on the left shoulder, which Al Jazeera was able to get and verify.
Al Jazeera also verified his identification after discovering now-deleted dating accounts that seemed to be his and contained old pictures of him sporting a riot police uniform in Chechnya.
The plant’s corporate town, Enerhodar, where Akhmat Grozny is located, had a pre-war population of 51,000 but has subsequently seen a more than halving.
Residents of the seized Ukrainian nuclear city claim that the unit comes and goes, working in weeks-long shifts, is in charge of maintaining law and order in the area, and has a greater status than ethnic Russian forces.
Even while the Chechen force has been spotted close to the nuclear plant, it doesn’t seem to be taking part in station-related strategic choices.
The absence of Akhmat Grozny from the area is not made public by the Chechen authorities.
According to Harold Chambers, a Caucasus scholar based in the United States, “official channels for the Kadyrov regime have been relatively quiet about that part of the front.”
He went on to say that Kadyrov might see their use as a way to elevate his position within the Kremlin.
Speaking generally, it is not unusual that they would be sent to such a crucial region, with deployments allegedly occurring inside the [station] itself, but Chambers questioned their ability to complete whatever crucial mission has been allocated to them.
Now a member of the Russian National Guard, Akhmat Grozny is formally subordinate to General Viktor Zolotov, a former bodyguard to Vladimir Putin.
In spite of this, observers maintain that the business, along with practically every military and police organization in Chechnya, is steadfastly loyal to Kadyrov and mindlessly obeys his orders.
One of Kadyrov’s most vocal detractors and a fleeing Chechen video blogger, Tumso Abdurakhmanov, told Al Jazeera that “this [law enforcement] structure is well-known in Chechnya for its crimes.”
Abdurakhmanov said in 2019 that the blogger was the target of a vendetta by Kadyrov’s deputy, Lord Magomed Daudov, after the blogger criticized Ramzan’s father, Akhmad Kadyrov. The senior Kadyrov was a Muslim separatist leader who advocated for a “holy war” against Russia and ordered every Chechen to “kill 150 Russians each,” but eventually changed sides.
The leader of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, denied any involvement. One of the most horrific atrocities of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict is also thought to have involved a man who is thought to be a member of Akhmat Grozny.
A pro-Russian Telegram channel released a video in June 2022 that purported to show a Ukrainian serviceman being beaten and castrated with a knife while tied up and lying on the ground.
The Ukrainian appears to be shot in the back of the skull by the tormentor, who then ties the victim’s body to a car and drags it.
According to Bellingcat and The Insider, two independent Russian publications, the murder occurred in the Luhansk region of southeast Ukraine that is currently under Russian occupation, and one of the few Akhmat Grozny members who is not of Chechen descent committed the crime.
The suspected offender denied any involvement.The second Russian-Chechen war, which started in 1999, is when the Akhmat Grozny unit first appeared.
It was founded by Akhmad Kadyrov-supporting men.
The company, originally known as Terek after a river in Chechnya, recruited numerous ex-rebels who were frequently forced to switch sides through torture and intimidation of their families.
Early in March 2022, days after Moscow’s troops began a full-scale war against Ukraine, Russian forces gained control of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power facility, which once supplied up to 20% of Ukraine’s electricity.
Only 200 kilometers (km) north of the energy-scarce Crimea, a peninsula in the Black Sea that Moscow annexed in 2014, the station is located on the bank of the now-desiccated Nova Kakhovka dam.
To reduce the chance of an explosion during the conflict, all six of its reactors have been placed in a cold shutdown.
One of the engineers told Al Jazeera that in comparison to the Russia-backed separatists from Donetsk and Luhansk who resemble “a herd of bums,” the Chechens are far better dressed, equipped, and armed and appear exceptionally flawless.
One of the engineers added, “Chechens are constantly by themselves, they’re the elite, a higher caste of sorts. For them, Enerhodar serves as a resort.
In addition to ethnic Slavs, Muslim Central Asians and Buddhist Kalmyks and Buryats are among the other minorities who frequently make up the ranks of Russian military.