With each day the war in Ukraine continues, the threat of an escalation which draws in more countries becomes greater. Belarus allowed Russian troops to invade Ukraine through its territory in their southward thrust towards Kiev. Subsequently President Alexander Lukashenko acknowledged that Russian Iskander missiles were launched at targets in Ukraine from Belarusian territory over the weekend.
Eastern Europe divided into armed camps
Russia has been forced to fight so far with one arm tied behind its back, a policy which is likely producing more casualties for the attackers than the alternative would.
Unfortunately for Russia, unleashing her full arsenal against Ukraine would lead to massive civilian casualties and devastate the country’s infrastructure.
That might have been acceptable 20 years ago in Chechnya, but this is different. Russia’s most powerful weapons can’t be deployed in an offensive war against a people most Russians view as Slavic brothers.
Iskander missiles are an exception, though they have been used sparingly. These short range ballistic missiles have been the source of some of the largest explosions seen in Ukraine so far, and at least some of them have been launched from Belarus.
Belarus is a close ally of Russia and has clearly been collaborating with Moscow to bring Ukraine back into the fold. Belarus has not, however, contributed to the invasion force or declared open hostilities with Kiev.
In fact, Belarus is currently acting as an intermediary between Russia and Ukraine and facilitating peace talks. This might be part of Putin’s strategy; if Belarus was fully involved in the war effort then it is unlikely that Ukraine would agree to their role as mediators.
Russia calls on old rivals to help her crush opposition in Ukraine
Putin’s other important allies have also been largely supportive of his invasion. American foreign policy in recent decades has driven the Kremlin straight into the arms of Beijing and now that relationship is being tested.
China has given tacit approval to Russia for its war against Ukraine and the Chinese public is reportedly enthusiastic for the most part about the chance to see someone deal a blow to American hegemony.
Inside Russia itself, Putin has the support of one especially vital ally, Chechen ruler Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov once fought against the Russians but he now serves as Putin’s client to keep Chechnya in line. Moscow has invested heavily in rebuilding the rogue republic and earning its loyalty.
Chechen fighters have been sent to Ukraine to fight for Kadyrov and Putin in large numbers. These fearsome mountain people are some of the most dangerous and battle-hardened fighters in the world, and the psychological impact of their presence will be immense.
The Ukrainians, of course, have some feared units of their own to call on, including the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion. Persistent rumors have suggested that the Chechens and Azov fighters might face each other soon on the battlefield, a suggestion promoted by the Ukrainian National Guard on social media.
The war in Ukraine has been a tragedy for millions of people on both sides and it may very well draw in millions more, but it is certainly turning out to be a defining moment in the history of this century and the whole world will be watching closely to see what happens next.