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Sheikh Mansur Battalion (SMB)

Updated: Apr 21, 2023


Insurgency Overview


The Sheikh Mansur Battalion (SMB) is a Chechnian volunteer peacekeeping unit fighting for Ukraine since the start of hostilities in the Donbas during the summer of 2014 (1). Named after the Chechnyan military commander and Islamic leader Sheikh Mansur Ushurma, the SMB fights as a part of the Ukrainian Volunteer Corp, claiming that their purpose is to take revenge for ancient grievances that date back to Imperial Russia’s 18th-century conquest of the Caucasus (2). However, due to the nature of the SMB as a volunteer battalion from an Islamic background, fighters with various motives have joined their ranks; these ideologies and backgrounds range from Chechnian War veterans to battle-chasing jihad fighters (3). Despite the SMB’s support throughout the 2014 war in the Donbas, the battalion has faced sanctions from the Ukrainian government, and certain members have been subjected to extradition to Russia (4).


History & Foundations

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian hostilities toward the breakaway state of Chechnya turned the Caucasus region into a breeding ground for anti-Russian insurgencies and left countless civilians labeled as refugees. Although Russian media claims that the insurgent actions in Chechnya have died down since 2015, almost weekly attacks, murders, and bombings still continue to occur (5). Intending to unite insurgent groups fighting in the North Caucasus, the emir of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria formed the Caucasus Emirate (CE) in 2006 while Russian presence in the area was at an all time high (6). This Sunni nationalist organization, primarily made up of political refugees from the First and Second Chechnya war, recognized that the situation in Ukraine (during the outbreak of conflict in the Donbas in 2014) was similar to what the CE faced in Chechnya in the early 2000s. Feeling the need to repay a debt to the people of Ukraine who fought to protect Chechnya during their conflict, the CE formed the Dudayev battalion in Denmark in 2014 to fight alongside the Ukrainian military in the Donbas (7). However, the Dudayev battalion would later split to create the SMB to fight on multiple fronts (8).


While fighting as part of the Ukrainian Volunteer Force, the SMB opened a pathway for Ukrainian forces to secure the town of Mariupol by retaking the village of Shyrokyne in 2015 (9). As the conflict began to reach a stalemate in 2018, members of the SMB began to face extradition to the Russian Federation, as well as endure sanctions by the Ukrainian government due to their lack of official jurisdiction. The members of the SMB were later accused of criminal actions by Ukrainian media (10). These accusations would lead the SMB to turn in their weapons in 2019, after one of their members, Timur Tumgoev, was extradited to Russian secret service custody and faced a 18-year prison sentence (11). Despite these sanctions and fear of extradition, the SMB would return to the frontlines of Ukraine after the start of Russia’s invasion in 2021, fighting once again as part of the Ukrainian Volunteer Force against Russian aggression (12).


Objectives & Ideology


Although the SMB’s parent organization, the Caucasus Emirate, has a primary goal of establishing an independent North Caucasus region ruled under Shariah (the organization is committed to the global Jihad movement). While the CE seeks to take back lands beyond the Caucasus that were historically inhabited my Muslim majorities, the SMB’s current goal is solely to support the Ukrainian people in their fight against Russian occupiers, hoping to prevent another former Soviet country from falling under Russian control (13). The SMB’s key motivation in the conflict is to undermine Russia and strengthen ties with their Ukrainian allies. However, the SMB claims that it does not matter if the conflict is in Ukraine or Afghanistan; they will take up arms against Russia wherever they may be (14).


Approach to Resistance


The SMB maintains a primarily paramilitary structure, allowing them to embark on operations similar to those conducted by other insurgencies in the North Caucasus region, such as mining operations, sabotage missions, partisan warfare, and ambushes (15). Despite the SMB’s relatively low manpower, which is estimated to be made up of more than 100 men, they have still played a key role in bolstering the Ukrainian armed forces’ numbers and level of experience. During the beginning of Russia’s 2022 invasion, the SMB was stationed in Mariupol, taking part in some of the fiercest frontline combat, but would later go to Kyiv to help defend the capital, which they saw as a higher priority (16). After securing the capital during the battle of Kyiv, the SMB continued to push Russian forces back into the Sumy region (17). Eventually, they would return to the Donbas and Luhansk regions to participate in some of the most consequential fights of the war, such as the Battle of Severodonetsk, the Battle of Bakhmut, Battle of Mariupol and the Battle of Soledar (18).


International Relations & Alliances


Within Ukraine’s Volunteer Force, there are multiple ethnic Muslim battalions with which the SMB shares common goals and historical roots. The vast majority of these battalions are Ukrainian Tatars and Turks who lost their homes in Crimea after the 2014 annexation, such as the Noman Çelebicihan Taburu Battalion and the Devlet Giray Yedek Taqimi (19). The SMB is also working alongside anti-regime fighters from the Syrian group Ajnad al-Kavkaz, who have come to fight in Ukraine due to Russia’s involvement in Syrian conflicts (20).


While many Western nations associate Islamophobic ideologies with far-right groups, the SMB has allied with the right-wing paramilitary group Right Sector during their involvement in the 2014 conflict in the Donbas. Another unlikely alliance was formed between the SMB and the Ukrainian Azov Battalion (now Regiment), which most western countries associate with the neo-Nazi movement (21). All in all, it seems that uncommon alliances have been formed in the war in Ukraine, often under the traditional notion that 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'.

Works Cited (Chicago-style)

(1) - Tor, Aleks. “Opinion: Ukraine Has a Duty to Remove North Caucasian Volunteer Fighters from the Sanctions List .” OC Media, December 7, 2021. https://oc-media.org/opinions/opinion-ukraine-has-a-duty-to-remove-north-caucasian-volunteer-fighters-from-the-sanctions-list/.


(2) - Losh, Jack. “Meet 'Muslim': The Chechen Commander Battling Russia with Some Unlikely Allies.” VICE, August 11, 2015. https://www.vice.com/en/article/9kjb8v/meet-muslim-the-chechen-commander-battling-russia-with-some-unlikely-allies.

Murauskaite, Egle E. “Foreign Fighters in Ukraine: Assessing Potential Risks.” Vilnius institute for policy analysis. https://vilniusinstitute.lt/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/FOREIGN-FIGHTERS-IN-UKRAINE-ASSESSING-POTENTIAL-RISKS.pdf.

(3) - Murauskaite, Egle E. “Foreign Fighters in Ukraine: Assessing Potential Risks.” Vilnius institute for policy analysis. https://vilniusinstitute.lt/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/FOREIGN-FIGHTERS-IN-UKRAINE-ASSESSING-POTENTIAL-RISKS.pdf.

(4) - Tor, Aleks. “Opinion: Ukraine Has a Duty to Remove North Caucasian Volunteer Fighters from the Sanctions List .” OC Media, December 7, 2021. https://oc-media.org/opinions/opinion-ukraine-has-a-duty-to-remove-north-caucasian-volunteer-fighters-from-the-sanctions-list/.

(5) - Souleimanov, Emil A. “The North Caucasus Insurgency: Dead or Alive.” DTIC. ARMY WAR COLLEGE CARLISLE BARRACKS PA CARLISLE BARRACKS United States, February 2017. https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/citations/AD1028002.

(6) - Pike, John. “Military.” North Caucasus Insurgency - 2006-? https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/chechnya3.htm.

(7) - Tor, Aleks. “Opinion: Ukraine Has a Duty to Remove North Caucasian Volunteer Fighters from the Sanctions List .” OC Media, December 7, 2021. https://oc-media.org/opinions/opinion-ukraine-has-a-duty-to-remove-north-caucasian-volunteer-fighters-from-the-sanctions-list/.

(8) - Xudosi, Arslon. “An Introductory Overview of Ukraine's Islamic Militants.” Offbeat Research, January 15, 2021. https://offbeatresearch.com/2020/07/an-overview-of-ukraines-islamic-militants/.

(9) - Vatchagaev, Mairbek. “Two Chechen Battalions Are Fighting in Ukraine on Kyiv's Side.” Jamestown, September 20, 2016. https://jamestown.org/program/two-chechen-battalions-are-fighting-in-ukraine-on-kyivs-side/.

(10) - Tor, Aleks. “Opinion: Ukraine Has a Duty to Remove North Caucasian Volunteer Fighters from the Sanctions List .” OC Media, December 7, 2021. https://oc-media.org/opinions/opinion-ukraine-has-a-duty-to-remove-north-caucasian-volunteer-fighters-from-the-sanctions-list/.

(11) - “Volunteer Battalions Hand in Their Weapons in Eastern Ukraine.” RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty. Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, September 13, 2019. https://www.rferl.org/a/weapons-eastern-ukraine-volunteer-battalions/30163094.html.

Coynash, Halya. “Defender of Ukraine Sentenced to 18 Years after Being Treacherously Handed over to Russia.” Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, June 27, 2019. https://khpg.org/en/1561552673.

(12) - Kvakhadze, Aleksandre, and Cerwyn Moore. “Putin’s Infantrymen: Kadyrov’s Involvement in the 2022 Ukrainian Conflict.” PUTIN’S INFANTRYMEN: KADYROV’S INVOLVEMENT IN THE 2022 UKRAINIAN CONFLICT, 2022, 7. https://doi.org/10.56066/183.

(13) - “MMP: Caucasus Emirate.” CISAC, August 2018. https://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/mappingmilitants/profiles/caucasus-emirate#text_block_19388.

(14) - Murauskaite, Egle E. “Foreign Fighters in Ukraine: Assessing Potential Risks.” Vilnius institute for policy analysis. https://vilniusinstitute.lt/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/FOREIGN-FIGHTERS-IN-UKRAINE-ASSESSING-POTENTIAL-RISKS.pdf.

(15) - Walker, Shaun. “'We like Partisan Warfare.' Chechens Fighting in Ukraine - on Both Sides.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, July 24, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/24/chechens-fighting-in-ukraine-on-both-sides.

(16) - Query, Alexander. “Meet the Chechens Fighting Russia in Ukraine.” The Kyiv Independent, November 26, 2022. https://kyivindependent.com/national/meet-the-chechens-fighting-russia-in-ukraine.

(17) - Captured Tank by the Chechen Battalion. Sheikh Mansour. Sumy Region, Ukraine. YouTube. YouTube, 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdhO0aZdTLg.

(18) - Chechens’ “Sheikh Mansur Battalion" in Central Bakhmut Where Fierce Battles Are Underway. Kanal13. YouTube, 2023. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SeWJt48OLXE.


(19) - Xudosi, Arslon. “An Introductory Overview of Ukraine's Islamic Militants.” Offbeat Research, January 15, 2021. https://offbeatresearch.com/2020/07/an-overview-of-ukraines-islamic-militants/.

(20) - Sultan al-Kanj. “Chechen Fighters Leave Syria to Battle Russians in Ukraine.” Al Monitor, October 22, 2022. https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2022/10/chechen-fighters-leave-syria-battle-russians-ukraine.


(21) - Losh, Jack. “Meet 'Muslim': The Chechen Commander Battling Russia with Some Unlikely Allies.” VICE, August 11, 2015. https://www.vice.com/en/article/9kjb8v/meet-muslim-the-chechen-commander-battling-russia-with-some-unlikely-allies.

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