Prominent pro-Kremlin military blogger issues public apology after criticizing Chechen Akhmat units

Pro-Kremlin military blogger Vladimir Romanov has publicly apologised for his comments suggesting that Chechen "Akhmat" units in Belgorod Oblast stood behind conscript soldiers during Russia's war against Ukraine. On Sunday, 7 July, Romanov posted an apology video on his channel, recorded with the commander of the "Akhmat" special forces reconnaissance group, codenamed "Aid".

Two days earlier, Romanov had published his report. In a 10-minute video, he recounted his trip to the border with Kharkiv Oblast, stating: "On our border in Belgorod Oblast, there are conscripts, that's the reality. TikTokers (Chechen troops) stand behind them, while our conscripts are at the front."

Military bloggers sometimes refer to "Akhmat" as "TikTok troops" to imply a high number of staged videos from the front lines produced by this unit.

The following morning, pro-Kremlin Telegram channels reported that Chechens were "looking for Romanov to account for his words." In the video, Romanov said that after a "long and frank conversation" with former "Akhmat" special forces commander and current deputy head of the Main Military-Political Directorate of Russia, Apty Alaudinov, he fully retracted his previous statements and promised to "check information more thoroughly." He acknowledged it became clear to him that "Akhmat" units stand alongside conscripts on the front line.

"A real man is never ashamed to apologise if he is wrong, so it’s great that we sorted this out," added the fighter sitting next to Romanov in the video, who was introduced by the blogger as "Aid."

Russian media had previously reported that the Chechen special forces "Akhmat" had been redeployed to Belgorod Oblast in early June to create a so-called "buffer zone." Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty noted that regional and pro-military Russian channels at the time wrote that Kadyrovtsy occupied "at best, the third to fifth lines of defence," with conscripts assigned to the front lines.

An agreement to send the West-Akhmat battalion, formed in Chechnya and part of the structure of the Russian Ministry of Defence, to Belgorod Oblast was reached at a meeting on June 12 between Deputy Delimkhanov and Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov. According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the initiative came from Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. An expert at the US-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW), Kateryna Stepanenko, believes it might have been an attempt to avoid participation in fights within Ukraine.

  War in Ukraine, Kadyrov, Belgorod