In a sign that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is not going as planned, the nation is now reaching out for help to several other nations. Where they are looking for help is just as telling.
After the initial invasion did not achieve immediate success, Belarus announced that it was sending troops to help Russia in its fight against Ukraine. Belarus, part of the old Soviet Union is a Russian puppet state and part of Russian military had used Belarus as a staging area for its invasion of Ukraine.
Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman leader of Chechnya, said Monday that he was in Ukraine alongside Russian forces who are leading an offensive in the country. Kadyrov is accused by international NGOs of serious human rights violations in the tightly controlled Caucasus republic.
Russia has also appealed for troops from Syria, offering monthly pay for anyone willing to fight in Ukraine. Russia had aided the Syrian government in its civil war and now wants to draw on that experience in city fighting to help it in the Ukraine. Concern arises among human rights groups that the Syrian experience in the civil war includes war crimes and the use of chemical weapons in defeating stubborn resistance in urban areas such as Aleppo.
US officials told several media outlets over the weekend that Russia asked China for economic and military aid for the war in Ukraine. China has already stepped in to offer to fill certain gaps left as other countries impose sanctions on Russia for its invasion.
The fact that Russia is asking for help now, says that it did not expect for the conquest of Ukraine to take this long and the Russian military has not achieved its objectives. It also says that there is a fear that a rising death toll will have cause unrest in Russia itself. Belarus has a military that is hardly worth the name and so they are likely providing mainly soldiers rather than complete military units to attack Ukrainian positions. Any help from Syria will also be just troops to fill the ranks. Those things indicate that casualties, (and maybe desertions?) are well above what was expected.
None of that means that Russia will not eventually win, militarily. They still have the overwhelming preponderance of both firepower and numbers. However, it means that they have planned poorly, executed poorly and are having to resort to other options that are starting to become more extreme (troops from a country with a still lingering civil war is a sign you will take any help you can get, rather than a sign you are getting key resources).
Unfortunately, these signs of potential desperation also mean that Putin will resort to increasingly desperate measures on the battlefield. We are already seeing a shift in tactics. There are at least two confirmed reports of the bombing of hospitals, as Putin is turning to tactics used in Syria to terrorize civilian populations. The world can only hope that Putin’s frustration does not escalate even more into the use of chemical or biological weapons. However, the US and its allies should be preparing now for what the response will be if that happens. It cannot go unpunished, as President Obama let happen in Syria after saying there was a “red line” that should never be crossed.
Even if Russia wins militarily, what will that mean and what will be the cost? Russian President Putin seems isolated and obsessed. His position as absolute dictator of Russia probably prevents him from giving in and losing face by appearing to have his invasion fail. That means that he is likely determined to ‘win’ at any cost, and in the end that will be the great tragedy.