Friends to the end: The countries that support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Masks with portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin (R), and Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko on display in a street market as souvenirs in St. Petersburg (EPA)
Masks with portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin (R), and Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko on display in a street market as souvenirs in St. Petersburg (EPA)

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine attracted sweeping condemnation from the US, the UK, European powers and other western countries.

But several countries have backed Moscow over its actions.

Belarus

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said his country is not taking part in the Russian war on Ukraine. In a meeting with his army generals, he ordered his troops to protect the borders with Nato members Lithuanian and Poland, saying, “We must see everything that is happening there, in Poland,” the Belta news agency reported.

But video footage on Thursday morning showed Russian troops rolling across Belarusian borders into Ukraine. Belarus still hosts around 30,000 Russian troops who have taken part in joint military drills this month and are poised to remain in the country indefinitely.

Using Belarusian territories by Russia to invade a neighbouring Ukraine could be seen by Ukrainian and European officials as direct aggression. Croatia has already summoned its ambassador to Belarus.

Despite becoming increasingly reliant on Mr Putin to remain in power, Mr Lukashenko thought to command a balancing act between Russia and Ukraine by brushing aside claims of war plans, saying that his country did not want war before the invasion.

China

The recent statements from China’s foreign ministry, following a 5,300-word joint-statement by Mr Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this month, suggest that China would support Russian demands all the way. The foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying had a massive swipe at the US and warned against a spillover of western economic sanctions that would affect China’s interests. After the invasion, China called for restrain and refused to portray the Russian military operations in Ukraine as an “invasion,” which suggests a Chinese aim to stick to Russia’s narrative over the rapid developments.

But, in reality, the Ukraine crisis poses a significant challenge to China as it tries to strike a delicate balance between its unprecedently close partnership with Russia and its efforts to stop its relations with the west from deteriorating. Beijing has also shown it is willing to accommodate the concerns of Ukraine, the EU and the US, repeating their call for de-escalation and restoration of the diplomatic path.

To be sure, China is not expected to openly endorse the Russian invasion of Ukraine as this would be detrimental to its positive relations with Ukraine and further cast a shadow over its already complicated ties with the rest of Europe. It would also erode its longstanding claim that it respects sovereignty, territorial integrity of nations and the non-intervention principle.

North Korea

The regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un thought to weigh in on the Russia-Ukraine crisis to support Russia and settle a diplomatic score with the US, demanding it to cease its “hostile policy for isolating and weakening” Russia.

Prior to the invasion, North Korean diplomats met with their Russian counterparts to discuss “strategic cooperation” and “issues of mutual concern regarding the regional and international situation,” as per North Korean press releases.

Russia is one of the North’s few partners. Last month, Russia and China blocked US efforts to impose sanctions on Pyongyang after the regime launched a record-breaking seven consecutive missile tests in one month.

South Korean presidential hopeful Yoon Suk-yeol suggested last week that Mr Kim may exploit the war in Ukraine to launch more long-range missile tests. Mr Kim may think that the US and its allies are distracted and out-stretched by the war in Ukraine and that more missile barrage would go unpunished. This would also be portrayed as a test for the Biden administration and its ability to simultaneously observe and effectively deal with multiple security crises in different regions.

Syria

Syria was quick to recognise the two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine, the Luhansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic, hours after Mr Putin this week recognised them as independent states. According to the state-run Syrian news agency, Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said Damascus “will cooperate” with the two eastern Ukrainian regions.

Mr Putin has supported the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad throughout the civil war raging across the country since 2011. Bashar al-Assad also relies heavily on Russia for survival and for the reconstruction of his country from the large-scale devastation which Russian troops played a central role in initiating during the fight against rebels and insurgents.

Experts say Assad has no option but to show his public backing for Mr Putin’s demands. For instance, Syria also recognised the two breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia after the Russian-Georgian war of 2008.

Venezuela

This week, the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has expressed support for Russia’s actions in Ukraine, as the two countries worked to consolidate their relations.

On Tuesday, vice president of the ruling Socialist Party, Diosdado Cabello, said that Russia has “every right to defend its position and its territory,” claiming, without evidence, that “People are taking refuge in Russia because they are being massacred in Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who was recognised by the US, multiple European and Latin American countries as the legitimate Venezuelan leader, expressed in a statement his solidarity with Ukraine. His government said that it backed Kyiv in the face of the “unfortunate” realisation of “a unilateral action of intervention” by Russia and condemned the recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk as “illegal.”

The Houthis

Yemen Houthi rebels have supported Russia’s recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent republics but warned against the war that would “drain Russian capabilities.”

Critics of the Houthis say that the Iran-backed group, which seized the capital Sanaa by force and expelled the UN-recognised government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, has received political and financial support from Russia in recent years.

Experts say that Iran, which called for restrain but blamed the US and Nato for the Russian escalation, would tacitly approve the Houthis’ declare support of Russia’s policies in Ukraine.

Iran is currently engaged in fierce negotiations with western powers, Russia and China, over the potential revival of the nuclear deal abandoned by the Trump administration in 2018. Russia has sold scores of advanced weapons to Iran in recent years and granted it diplomatic cover in the UN against US economic sanctions.