Meet ‘Muslim’: The Chechen Commander Battling Russia With Some Unlikely Allies

The knowledge that the toffee-and-poppy-seed cake had been made by a group of local volunteers was enough to reassure the Chechen militia commander that he would not be poisoned over afternoon tea. “For anything else,” he said, handing over a small cardboard box containing a Geiger counter, “I always scan for radiation.”

Clad in combat fatigues and sporting an impressive black and white beard, the exile goes by the nom de guerre of “Muslim.” Many of his associates were poisoned by the Russian security services, he said, and he was not prepared to meet the same fate. He has survived to reach his mid-40s despite two devastating Chechen wars with Russia in the 1990s, a decade living as a guerrilla in the remote mountains of the North Caucasus, and now 12 months fighting the Kremlin-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.