Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on Wednesday denied reports he sent soldiers to aid pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine, while not ruling out that some Chechens could have gone there voluntarily.
"Ukrainian sources are putting out statements that some 'Chechen units' from Russia have made incursions into Donetsk," Kadyrov wrote on Instagram, referring to the eastern Ukrainian city where pro-Russian rebels have declared a "people's republic".
There were reported sightings of heavily armed Chechen fighters during attacks by pro-Russian rebels on Donetsk's airport this week.
"I officially declare that this does not correspond to the truth. There are no 'Chechen servicemen' or even 'military columns from Chechnya' in the conflict," insisted the strongman leader.
Russia's armed forces do not have separate Chechen units, Kadyrov said.
"Russia is one of the federal subjects of Russia and according to the Constitution does not have (its own) armed forces."
But he said that it was possible that some members of the large international Chechen diaspora could be fighting in the conflict.
"If someone sees a Chechen in the conflict zone, that is his personal affair," Kadyrov wrote.
"There are three million Chechens and around 2/3 of them live outside its borders, including in the West," Kadyrov wrote.
"We cannot and do not need to know which of them are going where."
Kremlin-loyalist Kadyrov has acknowledged his role in freeing two journalists from pro-Kremlin Russian website Life News after they were detained by Ukrainian pro-government forces.
"Thanks again to you for help in freeing our journalists," Putin told Kadyrov on Monday.
Kadyrov called himself "Putin's footsoldier" in an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda daily on Sunday.
CNN on Monday published a video where pro-Russian separatists said they came from Chechnya as volunteers and described themselves as "Kadyrovists".
Kadyrov responded on Twitter on Tuesday: "If there were real 'Kadyrovists' in Donetsk, the Ukrainian security forces would now be a pile of corpses."