DEBKA Exclusive: Moscow posts two Chechen platoons in S. Lebanon, one headed by an ex-rebel commander, “to improve Russia’s image in the Arab world”

The Muslim commandoes of the Vostok (East) and Zapad (West) battalions of the Russian Army’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) (picture) are being sent to guard the 150 Russian military engineers. They arrived in Beirut this week to restore the roads in Lebanon damaged by Israeli bombing.
debkafile reports: Moscow did not consult Israel before stationing Muslim Chechen troops on its border for the first time.
Russian defense minister Sergei Ivanov said openly to Russian media that the deployment of former rebel Chechen troops in Lebanon aimed at “improving Moscow’s image in the Arab and Muslim world.”
debkafile‘s military sources: The Russian units are operating independently of the largely-European UN peacekeeping force. Their vehicles fly Russian and Lebanese flags. UNIFIL too was taken by surprise by the posting of Chechen troops to Lebanon. Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora was informed but omitted to notify Washington, Paris, Berlin, Rome or the UN.
The Kremlin’s rationale for making Russia the first nation to deploy a Muslim contingent in South Lebanon – albeit outside the UN force – is part of a hard-hitting foreign and domestic policy initiative, which is summed up by debkafile‘s sources:
1. The Putin administration wants to demonstrate to Russia’s teeming Muslim community its willingness to step into Middle East conflicts – on behalf of the Muslim-Arab interest. This straw in the wind indicates the Kremlin’s orientation on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
2. Moscow is building another bridge to Tehran through a joint, potentially interactive presence in Lebanon.
3. As a step to promote cooperation with Hizballah, with whom the Chechens, with their long record of extremist Muslim terrorist action against the Russian army, have much in common – in contrast to the European contingents of UNIFIL.
4. The Russian Chechen unit’s cooperation with Hizballah in the parts of Lebanon under its control will pave the way for a Russian Muslim military presence north of Israel which is independent of the UN and not bound by accords to which Israel is a party.
According to debkafile‘s military sources, the Israeli government and IDF high command were taken aback by the Russian step, which lends a different and inimical aspect to the international deployment on its northern border. When it signed off onto UN Security Council resolution 1701, Israel never envisaged the measure would open the door for Russian military intelligence to step in and camp on its border, using former Muslim terrorists involved in organized crime.
The Chechen Vostok and Zapad battalions are part of the 42nd Motorized Rifle Division that is permanently deployed in Chechnya, in charge of the eastern and western regions. The Zapad battalion is led by Major Said-Magomed Kakiev, the Vostok’s commander is the former rebel Sulim Yamadaev.
This same Yamadaev, the former Chechen rebel commander who won an amnesty and the Hero of Russia award in 2004, is alleged by the Russian media with leading the robbery of the Samson-K meat-processing plant in St. Petersburg on September 15. He and up to 40 of his armed men stayed in the city’s Nevsky Palace Hotel, one of the most opulent in Europe, where he was seen embracing the leader of the local organized crime gang, Vladimir Kumarin.

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