Fighters from Russia's Chechnya region under the command of leader Ramzan Kadyrov have likely been ordered to assume a prominent role in the fighting in Ukraine a week after the governor of Russia's Belgorod region declared the evacuation of children in response to ongoing attacks from Ukraine across the border.
After the withdrawal of Wagner Group mercenary forces from the ravaged city of Bakhmut, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, concluded in its most recent report that Russian military commanders likely ordered the Chechens into battle.
According to the ISW, Kadyrov announced on Wednesday that his forces had received new orders and would be deploying to "active combat activities" to "liberate" a series of settlements after assuming responsibility for the front line in the contested city of Bakhmut in Ukraine's southeast Donetsk region.
Kadyrov stated that Chechen special operations forces were preparing for offensive operations ahead of the anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive to reclaim territory from Russian forces.
"The alleged return of Chechen forces to offensive operations would end Kadyrovites' nearly year-long hiatus from high-intensity combat operations" in Ukraine, according to the ISW.
Following their involvement in the bloody battles in Ukraine's Mariupol, Severodonetsk, and Lysychanak, Chechen fighters have predominantly operated in areas behind the front line, according to the institute.
"The Kremlin may perceive Chechen units as an untapped assault force that can restore Russia's ability to sustain simultaneous offensive efforts along multiple axes of advance," the ISW said. However, the ISW noted that if reports of 7,000 Chechen personnel in Ukraine are accurate, Kadyrov's forces will lack the manpower "to mount multiple significant offensive operations successfully"
Kadyrov had previously deployed his Chechen Republic forces to support Russian military operations in Syria and Georgia. He described himself as a "foot soldier" of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Authorities have begun evacuating children from the districts of Shebekino and Graivoron in response to reports of a potential return to offensive operations by Chechen forces.
Wednesday, the regional governor of Belgorod, Vyacheslav Gladkov, announced via Telegram that the first 300 evacuated children would be taken to Voronezh, a city approximately 250 kilometers (155 miles) further into Russia. He said 1,000 children would be relocated to other provinces in the following days.
"The issue of children's safety in the two districts...is crucial," said Gladkov. "We adults are all very concerned."
A correspondent for the state-run news agency RIA Novosti near Voronezh reported on Wednesday that buses carrying approximately 150 passengers had arrived.
Gladkov stated that the situation was deteriorating in the village of Shebekino, where he reported additional bombardment that resulted in four injuries but no fatalities.
According to the ISW, the governor urged Russian forces on Wednesday to attack and capture Ukraine's Kharkiv region and city to establish a buffer zone between Belgorod and Ukraine.
'The Situation is Quite Alarming'
Local news sources reported early Thursday morning that Shebekino was being heavily bombarded. On Tuesday, one person was purportedly killed, and two others were injured in an attack on a Belgorod center for displaced people. Several oil facilities in the region have also been attacked in recent weeks.
The attacks on Russian territory have occurred as Kyiv prepares a major offensive against the forces of Moscow.
Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the bombardment of Belgorod as "very concerning."
"We have not heard a single word of condemnation from the West so far," Peskov said of the attacks on Russian civilians in the region.
More than a year into its Ukraine campaign, Russia has faced escalating assaults on its territory, including an unprecedented incursion by Russian anti-Putin fighters into Belgorod last week and a drone attack on Moscow on Tuesday.
The Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC) and the allied Freedom of Russia Legion's incursion into Russia from Ukraine last week were the largest since Russia's full-scale invasion a year ago.
Despite the drone attacks on Moscow and the ongoing shelling of border regions, the Kremlin stated on Wednesday that it was not contemplating implementing martial law in Russia.
Peskov stated that the imposition of martial law in Russia was not presently under consideration.
After the drone assaults on Moscow, Peskov reportedly responded to Kadyrov's demands for harsher attacks on Ukraine and the declaration of martial law.
Peskov stated that Moscow, not the regions made such a decision. He was also concerned about the ongoing bombardment of Belgorod.
"Measures are being taken," Peskov said.