by Ambra Visentin

Former Islamic State (Isis) fighters have allegedly been recruited by the FSB to infiltrate Chechen groups and Tatar battalions in Crimea. The recruitment programme was uncovered by Lilia Yapparova, a special correspondent for the Meduza website, and Vera Mironova, a researcher on terrorist organisations. An FSB source reportedly confirmed the programme, but said the attempt to penetrate Ukrainian military circles had failed.

Meduza cites four former ISIS militants who were recruited, including Baurzhan Kultanov, a former Russian jihadist who was released from prison after serving a minimum sentence in exchange for his cooperation with the services. The FSB had then tried to recruit the commander of a battalion of volunteers, including Crimean Tatars and Chechens, who have been deployed alongside Kiev forces since 2014.

Kultanov, originally from Astrakhan, joined the Islamic State in January 2014, where he stayed for six months before giving up and fleeing to Turkey. Intercepted by Russia, he was picked up by FSB officers. FSB captain Alexander Gushchin, who was leading the criminal case against him, offered him a deal on the eve of the verdict. Kultanov is recruited with orders to travel to Ukraine to infiltrate “Chechen groups and Tatar battalions” fighting alongside the Ukrainian armed forces. In return, Kultanov receives a minimum prison sentence of four years and four months. “You are our eyes and ears, but not the only ones,” Kultanov was told, inviting him to be recruited by other services to become a double or even triple agent. “You don’t have to invent anything. You are a terrorist and a Muslim. Tell them you don’t like Russia and the FSB and you want to help them.

As subsequent training revealed, the FSB was interested in the commander of the Islamic volunteer battalion ‘Crimea’, which has been at war with Russia since 2014, Isa Akaev. In addition, they wanted to instruct Kultanov to find out details about the Turkish IHH fund, through which, according to the intelligence services, ‘people come to Ukraine’. In 2021, however, the FSB changed their plans and told Kultanov that they were sending him to Turkey. Kultanov flew there at the end of March 2022 with false documents and a mission to find out ‘who is preparing what against Russia’ and ‘collect any information related to Ukraine’. In particular, the FSB was interested in who was transporting people to the Ukrainian volunteer battalions and how they were getting from there to the front. Baurzhan Kultanov, who was sent to Turkey at the end of April 2023, was arrested and detained in a prison on charges of violating immigration laws, where he was seeking political asylum.

Cover image: Cover documents, file of Baurzhan Kultanov published by Meduza