There is no doubt the Ukrainian military has made some spectacular gains in recent weeks. But predictions of a Ukrainian victory over Russia in this conflict are premature and may even be a bit naive.
After watching Putin operate over the past couple of decades, it’s pretty clear that unless he is removed from power by his own people, which is possible, he has no intention of accepting defeat.
On Wednesday, Putin announced an impending “partial mobilization” of military reservists. He insisted that “only citizens who are currently in the reserve will be subject to conscription, and above all, those who served in the armed forces have a certain military specialty and relevant experience,” CNBC reported.
In a televised address afterward, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu put the number of draftees at 300,000, according to Reuters. The actual figure in Putin’s mobilization order remains confidential. At the same time, Shoigu made the preposterous claim that only 5,937 Russian troops have been killed since hostilities broke out in February.
But the frenzied level of activity inside the country over the last 48 hours suggests that a much larger mobilization may currently be underway. The 300,000 number floated by the Russian media may only be a part of what Putin is sending to the frontline. Reports indicate the actual number might be as high as one million.
To say the least, 300,000 fresh troops could be a boon for Russia and a relief for their battered soldiers. A million additional troops would be a game-changer.
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The Guardian’s Andrew Roth, reporting from Moscow, described the mood inside the Russian capital as “emotional” as mothers and wives said tearful goodbyes to sons and husbands. He reported accounts of draftees being forced to pack their bags and appear at draft centers within one hour’s notice.
Roth believes there are indications a larger draft is in progress and that “ethnic minorities may be disproportionately affected.”
He cited an article appearing in Novaya Gazeta Europe, an independent Russian newspaper, which claimed “a source in the presidential administration said Russia was seeking to draft more than 1 million people into the army.”
According to Roth, “video and anecdotal evidence from around Russia has shown large drafts taking place even in small towns. … Many are in Russia’s ethnic minority republics, reinforcing a sense that the country has been disproportionately relying on ethnic minorities to provide its main fighting force in Ukraine. Those regions have also suffered a disproportionate number of deaths and casualties from the war.”
Although Putin said only current reservists would be called into service, there are numerous reports of citizens who never served in the military receiving summons, according to the Guardian.
In Buryatia, which is located in eastern Siberia, there were reports of older men, including a 52-year-old, being forced into duty. The article described a 38-year-old father of five with no previous military service being called.
A woman who lives in a village of 450 people in Buryatia told Roth that more than 20 draft papers had been delivered.
Alexandra Garmazhapova, president of the activist group Free Buryatia Foundation, noted, “It’s not a partial mobilization, it’s a 100% mobilization.” She said her organization had received word that over “3,000 reports of ‘povestka,’ or draft papers” had been served in Buryatia during the 24 hours following Putin’s announcement.
Roth cited university students in classrooms, workers at two large mining companies and men gathered at a football stadium all receiving draft notices.
A young reporter for the Sota Vision newspaper, Artem Krieger, who was in Moscow to cover the protests, was handed a draft notice, the report said. From the back of a police van, Krieger told TV Rain, “All the men, absolutely everyone, was given a draft notice.”
Putin’s massive ego will not allow him to lose this war. His legacy is at stake. He obviously sees this escalation as his best option under the circumstances.
Even if Roth has misjudged the size of this mobilization, the addition of 300,000 additional troops itself is a major escalation of the war by any measure.
But is forced service really a good strategy? Al Jazeera reported that shortly after Putin’s call to arms on Wednesday, there was a surge in search-engine activity for “how to leave Russia.”
Putin is drafting the old and the young, the inexperienced, and those who would rather stick needles in their eyes than fight a war they don’t believe in. Many Russians have opposed this misguided “special military operation” from the start and may simply refuse to fight.
Ukrainian journalist Andrii Tsaplienko pic.twitter.com/sCDJbyfSIm
— UkraineWorld (@ukraine_world) September 22, 2022
Thousands of Russians are trying to flee the country to avoid service. One 29-year-old sergeant in the Russian reserves spoke to The Guardian from the airport in Orenburg. He said, “I am simply not letting Putin turn me into a killer in a war that I want no part in. … I will be driving across the border tonight. I have no idea when I’ll step foot in Russia again.”
Time will tell if Putin’s latest strategy is the magic bullet.
If not, he has one last arrow in his quiver.
How will NATO respond?
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