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    SOBR Akhmat (Formerly Terek): Kadyrov’s Praetorian Guard

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    1.0 Introduction

    Special Rapid Response Unit (SOBR) Akhmat is an elite force of the Chechen Republic. Whilst technically being an internal security force, SOBR Akhmat has actively deployed abroad. Given how well-funded and equipped SOBR Akhmat is, it is a core component of Ramzan Kadyrov’s security in Chechnya. 

    2.0 Motto, Symbols And Patches

    SOBR Akhmat’s distinctiveness as a unit can be attributed to its unique motto, symbol usage and the patches of its personnel. 

    2.1 Motto 

    Notoriously, Akhmat’s motto is ‘Akhmat is power’ (Ахмат сила). This motto is commonly shouted by Akhmat personnel during military parades as well as by various key figures in the Chechen Republic. Like with much of the symbology used by the unit, the motto pays homage to Ramzan Kadyrov’s father Akhmat Kadyrov (Ахмат Кадыров). (Source) (Source)

    Since around 2017, the motto has been used as a battle cry of Akhmat personnel and the Chechen Republic more broadly. As noted by researcher Nicholas Scott Laznovsky, the motto draws from a range of influences. it was adopted to memorialise Ramzan Kadyrov’s father in a religious and warrior-like manner, whilst also serving as a rebrand of Chechen identity. (Source)

    2.2 Symbols 

    Notably, a significant aspect of SOBR Akhmat’s symbology is centred on a rebranding of Chechen identity after the Second Chechen War. This is reflected in the imagery adopted by the unit within its emblem and broader symbology. (Source)

    2.2.1 Emblem

    Seemingly, SOBR Akhmat uses an emblem that incorporates a mix of standard SOBR symbols with more distinctively Chechen ones. 

    2.2.1.1 Sword Symbol

    SOBR Akhmat’s emblem includes a sword at its centre. Pointing downward, the sword also is wrapped around two buildings on either side of it. Whilst the buildings are unique to Akhmat’s emblem, the downward-pointing sword is pretty standard for Russian military and SOBR units. (Source) (Source)

    2.2.1.2 Two Gold Buildings

    Interestingly, buildings unique to the region of Chechnya are also incorporated in the emblem. In the centre of the emblem, two gold buildings on a gold base can be seen.

    On the left of the earlier-mentioned sword is a tower. It is made in the style of Nakh, an ancient and medieval form of architecture native to Chechnya and Ingushetia. The natives of these regions are also known as the Nakh or Vaniakh peoples of the Northern Caucasus. In modern terms, the people in these regions are referred to as the Chechen and Ignutuish peoples. (Source) (Source)

    Additionally, the building on the right is an oil derrick. It is unclear why this was picked but it is likely down to Chechnya being an oil-rich region. Potentially, this helps explain why many Chechen elites are involved in the resource-extraction business within the region. (Source)

    2.2.1.3 Chechen and Russian Flags

    Additionally, a Russian flag on the left side of the emblem and a Chechen flag on its right side can be seen. Coincidentally, this mirrors the patches that SOBR Akhmat personnel wear, as will be explained later. It is feasible that these flags were incorporated into the emblem to show that whilst Akhmat is a Chechen unit, it still ultimately serves under the Russian banner. 

    2.2.1.4 Background Swords

    Intriguingly, the emblem also incorporates two swords in the background of the emblem. The hilts and handles of the sword are located on the top half of the emblem’s background. Meanwhile, the bottom half of the background includes the blades of the sword show, It is unclear what the symbolic significance of this is supposed to be. 

    2.3 Patches

    Despite being an otherwise distinctive unit, SOBR Akhmat personnel sport patches which are not particularly remarkable in their symbology. Keeping things simple, Akhmat personnel are commonly seen wearing only a few patches.

    2.3.1 Chechen And Russian Flag Patches

    Based on numerous pictures, it is clear that Akhmat personnel commonly sport Chechen and Russian flag patches on their shoulders. All Akhmat personnel appear to adhere to a code of having the Russian flag patch on their left side and the Chechen flag patch on their right side. Most likely, there are strict rules as to how the respective patches can be worn by Akhmat personnel. (Source) (Source)

    SOBR Akhmat personnel training
    SOBR Akhmat personnel training
    2.3.1 Other patches

    As is worth noting, Akhmat personnel may also be seen wearing other patches since the widened invasion of Ukraine. They include the following:

    • Z patches – These are commonly worn across various Russian combat elements since February 2022 to represent participation in the invasion of Ukraine. Some include Russian flags alongside them.
    • Callsign patches – Some SOBR Akhmat personnel can be seen wearing patches with their respective callsigns on them. 

    3.0 Organisation

    SOBR Akhmat is the Chechen Republic’s most elite combat unit, despite its official remit being internal security within the region. However, it is also one of the many units at the disposal of Ramzan Kadyrov and the Russian state more broadly. 

    3.1 History of SOBR Akhmat

    Previously known as SOBR Terek, SOBR Akhmat has a unique history as an elite Chechen unit. SOBR Terek was allegedly created in August 2013 at the order of Ramzan Kadyrov. Possibly, SOBR Terek had its name changed to SOBR Akhmat in 2021. Notably, the unit potentially went on to replace the FSB security detail of Kadyrov in 2013. (Source) (Source)

    Named after the river Terek, SOBR Terek had its base set up in Kadyrov’s rural locality Akhmat-Yurt, previously called Tsentaroy. It is highly likely that post-2022, SOBR Akhmat still has its special forces base located in the same area. Additionally, SOBR Akhmat continues to utilise the training facilities within the Russian Spetnaz University since its opening in 2019. (Source) (Source)

    3.2 Place Within The Russian Military Nexus

    Generally, SOBR units are special-purpose units under the command of the National Guard of Russia (Rosgvardia), with Akhmat being no exception to this. Originally, SOBR units were subordinate to the Ministry of Interior Affairs. However, in 2016, the SOBR was then put under the control of Rosgvardia. (Source) (Source)

    3.3 Relation To Other Chechen Units

    As should be noted, SOBR Akhmat is one of many units originating from the Chechen Republic. Termed the ‘Kadyrovitsy’ for their obvious association with Ramzan Kadyrov, the other following units emanate from the Chechen Republic:

    • The 141st Special Motorised Brigade
    • The 249th Separate Special Motorised Brigade Battalion ‘South’
    • OMON Akhmat-Grozny (Source
    • Akhmat Kadyrov Second Road Patrol Regiment of the Police

    Based on the equipment, status and unit count of the unit, SOBR Akhmat appears to be the most elite of the ‘Kadyrovite’ units. Whilst its role is technically one of a rapid response internal security force in Chechnya, it has been increasingly become used as a special forces military unit. 

    3.3.1 The Four Not-So Regiments

    Additionally, in June of 2022, Ramzan Kadyrov also announced the formation of four regiments to participate in the invasion of Ukraine including the following:

    • Akhmat South
    • Akhmat North
    • Akhmat East
    • Akhmat West

    As was noted by Chechnya expert Harold Chambers, however, only one of these is a standard full-fledged regiment. Akhmat East and West are more akin to regiments in terms of personnel count, whilst Akhmat South does not exist in any meaningful form. Indeed, the only actual regiment of the ones listed is Akhmat North. (Source) (Source)

    Interestingly, one of Akhmat’s commanders, Saidi Loranskev, was also made in charge of Akhmat South months into the invasion. According to Chambers, this was to do with issues of looting being committed by then commander of the unit Khusein Mehzidov. Since Mehzidov’s dismissal, Loranskev has been a commander of both Akhmat-South and SOBR Akhmat at the same time. (Source)

    3.4 Key Figures

    Understandably, one cannot assess a unit properly without examining the most important figures within it. In the case of Akhmat, the individuals most pivotal to it are the following:

    3.4.1 Saidi Loranskev (Сайди Лорсанкаев)

    As mentioned earlier, Loranskev is one of the commanders of SOBR Akhmat and the Akhmat-South Battalion. Alongside all three of his siblings, he is presently involved in Russia’s widened invasion of Ukraine since late February 2022. Little can be found regarding his combat experience, but it is likely he is highly experienced and also close with Ramzan Kadyrov. (Source)

    According to statements put out by Kadyrov, Loranskev proved himself to be “a talented and valiant fighter in law enforcement agencies”. Moreover, he also stated that Loranskev proved himself to have “outstanding leadership qualities” as well as “exceptional tactical and fire training” since February 2022. However, it has been difficult to independently verify how true this is. (Source) (Source)

    3.4.2 Apti Alaudinov (Апти Лаудинов)

    Having a senior rank to Loranskev, Apti Alaudinov is SOBR-Akhmat’s highest-ranking commander and is personally close to Ramzan Kadyrov. As well as being the commander of Akhmat, he is also the deputy commander of the  Russian 2nd Army Corps. Additionally, he was a former Assistant to the Head of Chechnya for Cooperation with Law Enforcement Agencies. (Source) (Source) (Source)

    Markedly, his record within internal security and legal roles is extensive. Since 2001, he served as a prosecutor but transitioned to internal security roles amidst conflict in Chechnya. Some of this experience includes:

    • From 2000 to 2004 – Held various roles in the Department of Internal Security of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Chechen Republic 
    • July 2004 –  he was appointed Deputy Head of the Operational and Investigative Work Department of the Department of Internal Security
    • November 2005 – Headed the Department for Combating Organised Crime of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Chechen Republic
    • March 2009 – Was appointed head of the Department of the Russian Ministry of Justice in the Chechen Republic
    • April 2009 – Appointed deputy head of the criminal police of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the Chechen Republic
    • June 2011- Appointed Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs for the Chechen Republic – Head of Police
    • 2022 – Appointed as Secretary of the Council of Economic and Public Security of the Chechen Republic

    According to some reports, Alaudinov was poisoned in February of this year. Allegedly, he was hospitalised after receiving a letter soaked in poison. Alaudinov was discharged from the hospital late last month and is presently involved in operations within Ukraine. On numerous occasions, Alaudinov has also appeared on Russian state TV, often to engage in propaganda work. (Source) (Source)

    3.4.3 Ramzan Kadyrov (Рамзан Кадыров) 

    Understandably, Ramzan Kadyrov is himself an important figure in SOBR Akhmat since the unit fundamentally acts at his behest. As well as being the head of the Chechen Republic, Kadyrov is also an integral part of Russia’s foothold within it. Initially, starting as chief of security to his later father Akhmat, Ramzan succeeded his father and became head of the region. (Source)

    Importantly, SOBR Akhmat should be seen as Kadyrov’s security guarantee against any power challenge against him within Chechnya. Notably, Kadyrov controls the Chechen Republic in a highly repressive manner, often committing violating human rights. As such, SOBR Akhmat helps maintain such a ruling style whilst also guarding him against dissenting elements. (Source

    Whilst being Russia’’s key to retaining control of Chechnya, Kadyrov has shown an ability to balance showing dissent and loyalty to it. According to Chambers, Kadyrov has actively challenged Russian organisations such as the FSB, MoD and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He has also made highly vocal statements regarding religious issues. (Source) (Source)

    However, Chambers also made it clear that there is a utility for Putin to have someone as outspoken on religious issues and Russian institutions. For one, Kadyrov’s vocal focus on religious issues gains him, and by extension Putin, influence and popularity amongst other majority-Muslim states. Moreover, Kadyrov keeps power divided between key actors and institutions, helping Putin secure to consolidate his position in Russia. (Source)

    3.5 Recruitment 

    Given SOBR Akhmat’s elite status, details concerning its recruitment are hard to come by. However, some information can give insight into what is in store for someone looking to join SOBR Akhmat.

    3.5.1 Methods Of Recruiting

    Seemingly, Akhmat does not utilise social media and advertising in the same way many other units in Russia do when it comes to recruitment. That said, Ramzan Kadyrov has advertised recruitment for the unit on his Telegram account and other social media. As well as speaking highly of the unit’s effectiveness, he has often given out details on contacting recruiters. (Source)

    Potentially, there are a few reasons why recruitment drives for SOBR Akhmat are not as visible as for other Russian units. One reason could be that, unlike other Kadyrovite formations, high-quality manpower is prioritised over force multiplication. Alternatively, it may be that word-of-mouth and nepotism play a large role in how men are recruited. 

    3.5.2 Requirements For Service,

    Unfortunately, sparse information exists regarding the requirements placed on those wishing to join SOBR Akhmat. Despite this, publicly available sources suggest they may include the following:

    • Being a Russian citizen
    • Being between 20 to 50 years old
    • Travelling independently to Grozny (travel is allegedly compensated)
    • Doing 10 days of volunteer training within Russia, and 30 within itself
    • Independent approval for admission by recruiters in SOBR Akhmat
    • Criminal record certificate
    • Medical certificate

    Some information also exists around the general requirements for most SOBR units which likely applies to Akhmat:

    • Being able to run 3.5km in around 12 minutes
    • Having the ability to do 18 pull-ups (likely in one go)
    • Successful completion of the ‘Cooper Test’
    • Passing sparring tests
    • Being able to pass various cardiovascular and strength-based exercises and tests
    • Learning a military specialism (if relevant)
    • Completing tests demonstrating proficiency in small arms, engineering training, military topography and medicine. (Source) (Source)

    Likely, the following are considered highly desirable for SOBR Akhmat recruits to possess: 

    • Army Service
    • Connections with existing SOBR Akhmat personnel
    • Higher education of the Academy of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
    A montage of SOBR Terek (now Akhmat) personnel in action (Source)

    3.5.3 Remuneration And Other Benefits Of Service

    As mentioned before, access to information is a barrier and assessment around the contracts signed by SOBR Akhmat. That said, some general assessments can be made on this when referencing other SOBR units and alternative sources of information.

    3.5.3.1 Payment Allocated Per Month

    Whilst exact figures could not be found for the payment of SOBR Akhmat personnel, they do exist for the payment of those in other SOBR units. For instance, someone serving within a SOBR unit within Moscow is paid around 55,000-60,000 rubles per month (Roughly £510 per month). (Source)

    Like Moscow, the Chechen Republic is one of the richer regions of Russia due to the priority given to it when it comes to funding. As such, it is feasible that SOBR Akhmat personnel are paid a similar sum per month for their service. (Source)

    As is the case with other SOBR units, there are ways to collect bonuses and increase your salary. For instance, serving within a unit for consecutive years typically leads to higher salaries. Additionally, it is common for SOBR personnel to also get paid bonuses for the successful completion of operations. 

    3.5.3.2 Compensation

    Like other units, SOBR Akhmat personnel are entitled to compensation under Russian law in the event of injury or death when carrying out operations. This compensation for most SOBR units is as follows:

    • For severe injuries sustained during active service, 85% of monthly wages are paid as compensation
    • For less severe injuries, 50% of monthly wages are paid
    • In the event of debilitating illnesses, 75% of monthly wages are paid out
    • In the event of less severe illnesses, 40% of monthly wages are paid out.

    Likely, compensation is also paid out to family members of dead SOBR Akhmat servicemen. However, the exact amount paid out could not be found. 

    3.5.3.3 Other Benefits Of Service

    Importantly, open sources also provide a potential insight into the benefits that SOBR Akhmat personnel get outside of just payment and compensation. Like other SOBR units, they may be entitled to the following benefits:

    • Special access to mortgages only available for SOBR personnel
    • Access to free housing when serving for a certain period
    • Discounts on public transport
    • Priority is given to the admission of your children to elite educational institutions 
    • Paid leave
    • Free access to military rehabilitation institutions 
    • State pension reserved for military personnel
    • Support provided to your family in case of death during SOBR service. (Source) (Source)

    4.0 Equipment 

    Ostensibly, SOBR Akhmat’s elite status means it is an incredibly well-equipped unit. Through open-source information, some analysis can be done on the expensive and comprehensive arsenal of the unit.

    4.1 Weapons 

    • AKS-74U carbines with EOTech sight and Zenitco furnitures
    • AK-74M with EOTech HHS sights and magnifiers
    • Glock 19
    • PKM with Zentico handguards and foregrips
    • Modified AKS-74 rifles
    • AK-74M Rifles
    • PKM machine guns
    • RPG-7 launchers with PG-8L and PG-7L rockets
    • AGS-17 grenade launchers
    • PKP Pecheneg machine guns

    4.2 Vehicles

    • Ural-4320 Military Trucks
    • KamAZ 6×6 vehicles
    • Armoured UAZ Patriot pick-up trucks
    • UAZ Patriot 4×4 SUVs
    • Toyota Land Cruisers. Sometimes armed with 30mm AGS-17 automatic grenade launchers or heavy machine guns
    • Chaborz-M3 and M6 Light Strike Vehicles (LSVs)
    • Patrol-A 6×6 Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs)
    • SBA-60K2 Bulat APCs
    • BTR-82A Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs)
    • BTR-80 APCs
    • K-4386 Typhoon-VDV Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles
    • KamAZ-63968 Typhoon MRAPs. (Source)

    4.3 Armor And Kit

    • Ops-Core helmets
    • Peltor Tactical ear defenders
    • Team Wendy helmets
    • Arc Rail Mounts 
    • Soldier Plate Carrier System (SPCS) plate carriers
    • Warrior Assault Systems 901 chest rigs
    • Various eye protection
    • Possibly night vision googles (Source)

    SOBR Akhmat (Terek at the time) combatant with a Glock 19 during training (Source)

    5.0 Tactical-Operational Information

    Strikingly, SOBR Akhmat carries out a diverse set of roles through the use of various tactics. Despite the nature of the unit making information hard to obtain, some tactical-operational insights can be gained on SOBR Akhmat.  

    5.1 Notable Operations 

    Although a relatively young unit, SOBR Akhmat has been involved in an array of notable operations. As well as carrying out regular internal security functions, the unit has also deployed in a surprisingly expeditionary capacity. Akhmat has been involved in the following operations since its formation:

    • Combat operations and anti-partisan operations within Ukraine since Russia’s widened invasion in February 2022
    • Counter-insurgency (COIN) operations within Chechnya since 2013
    • Counter-terrorism (CT) operations within Chechnya since 2013
    • Potentially deployed in Syria as a stabilisation and counter-insurgency force, likely at some point post-2015.
    5.1.1 Sightings of SOBR Akhmat within Ukraine since 2022:

    Given the extensive coverage of the widened invasion of Ukraine since 2022, SOBR Akhmat has been more trackable than in other conflicts. According to open-source information, the unit has been seen in the following locations:

    • Mauripol around May 2022
    • Kherson and Zaporizhzhia near December 2022 (Source)
    • Maryinka in June 2023 (Source)
    • Presently, it is believed SOBR Akhmat is assigned to operations in Bakhmut (Source

    As is worth nothing, reports of SOBR Akhmat personnel being deployed within a given area of Ukraine can be hard to confirm. This is since other units referred to as Akhmat and Kadyrovites exist, including the Akhmat Group. As such, tracking these units is difficult, possibly by design. 

    5.2 Core Roles

    Based on available sources, SOBR Akhmat seems to perform an array of roles. Aside from protecting Ramzan Kadyrov from hostile Chechen elements, Akhmat’s roles include:

    • Executive protection
    • CT
    • COIN 
    • Political-Tactical Unit (PTU) roles
    • Acting as a force multiplier for combat operations
    • Possibly conducting special operations
    • Site security.

    5.3 Tactics

    Markedly, there is little information on the tactics that SOBR Akhmat personnel employ when conducting operations. However, training footage and other information give a potential insight into how they may perform their core tasks on the battlefield. Akhmat is likely trained to fight in the following:

    • Urban warfare – both within a CT and conventional warfare capacity
    • Mountain warfare 

    Then SOBR Terek personnel doing winter warfare training. (Source)

    5.4 Personnel Size

    Understandably, finding a reliable and up-to-date personnel count is challenging. That said, most estimates put SOBR Akhmat’s manpower at around 300 personnel. (Source)

    6.0 The Future For Akhmat

    For now, the future of SOBR Akhmat is hard to read. Despite this, there are a range of scenarios that potentially face the unit. For one, Russia’s consolidation of newly-occupied territories in Ukraine could see SOBR Akhmat engaging in counter-insurgency operations within them. Furthermore, it may guard newly established Russian government institutions in them.

    Alternatively, SOBR Akhmat may take significant losses within Eastern Ukraine in the event of successful counter-offensive operations by Ukrainian forces. This may either force the unit to be withdrawn back to the Chechen Republic or reassigned to safer backline duties. 

    Potentially, SOBR Akhmat may be forced to redeploy within the Chechen Republic to guard against incursions from Ichkerian units. It is not implausible that Ichkerian units who fought for Ukraine may be equipped by its intelligence services to retake Chechnya. This becomes a bigger threat if instability within Russia was to take hold, leaving Kadyrov more vulnerable.

    7.0 Conclusion

    Evidently, SOBR Akhmat is an elite, elusive and well-equipped unit. Unlike many other SOBR units, Akhmat is far more fluid in the tasks it carries out. Moreover, its uniquely Chechen identity makes it stand out from other SOBR units.

    Clearly, SOBR Akhmat acts as an asset for the protection of the Chechen Republic’s stability. Whilst initially helping consolidate Ramzan Kadyrov’s control of the region, the unit could be forced to take on new responsibilities in the future. This may include protecting Kadyrov against the fallout of instability within Russia, or against clashes with Ichkerian armed elements.

    Weapons IDing support by @WarNoir 

    Alec Bertina
    Alec Bertina
    Alec is a researcher on Russian non-traditional security actors, with a focus on Russian PMCs. He has also done analysis on the Russian invasion of Ukraine since 2022. Alec has a BA Politics & International Relations and an MA in International Security from the University of East Anglia.

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