Risky maneuver by a nuclear power

“If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will definitely use all available means to protect Russia and our people. It’s not a bluff.” With those words, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the immediate start of a partial mobilization in a pre-recorded television language that was broadcast on Wednesday.

According to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, 300,000 people will be mobilized for the military. To be drafted – for the time being – reservists with military experience. They would have the same status and pay as the current contract soldiers and would receive military training before going to the front. There are a total of two million reservists in Russia. Above all, Russia wants to solve the personnel problems at the front with the partial mobilization.

Putin announces partial mobilization

Kremlin boss Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization of Russian troops, and there is talk of 300,000 additional soldiers at the front. Once again, Putin rhetorically attacked the West and indirectly threatened to use nuclear weapons.

High-risk move

There has been repeated speculation over the last few weeks about a general mobilization and also a partial mobilization. It was always clear that mobilization represented a high-risk step. Putin spoke and still speaks of a “special operation” in Ukraine. In fact, however, the decision to conscript men for military service is now made directly by the population. The majority support for the “special operation” in the country – which at least several polls had shown – could thus be lost to Putin.

Russia’s opposition has already called for protests. Shortly after the mobilization was announced, there were also reports of a rush for one-way airline tickets. Statistics from Google Trends show a spike in searches for Aviasales, the most popular Russian website for buying flights.

According to the current law “On mobilization in Russia”, Russians of military age must from now on stay at their place of residence – the freedom to travel will be restricted. Meanwhile, the Russian stock market experienced its sharpest slump since the beginning of the war on February 24.

ORF correspondent on partial mobilization

Paul Krisai (ORF) explains what the partial mobilization of troops announced by the Russian President means for the war in Europe and whether the people in Russia can escape the propaganda machine.

“Mobilization will prolong war”

In any case, military experts and political scientists see the decision as a further escalation: “Ukraine’s successes have allowed the Russian leadership to swing the pendulum of possibilities in an escalatory direction,” said Colonel Berthold Sandtner in an interview with the APA.

On the one hand, Putin has come under domestic political pressure to take tougher action in Ukraine. On the other hand, Russia has not moved a millimeter from its strategic goals regarding Ukraine. The partial mobilization is thus a further escalation and a sign that this conflict will last for a long time. “In any case, the mobilization will prolong the war,” said the military expert and head of the Rochan Consulting think tank, Konrad Muzyka, in an Ö1 interview.

Many details unclear

A lot of things are still unclear in detail – and there is already speculation that far more men could be recruited in the future than previously announced. According to a BBC report, nowhere in the decree signed by Putin is it written that mobilization will be limited to 300,000 men.

The question also arises as to when and for what exactly the new soldiers will be deployed. According to Sandtner, gaps in the existing units could be closed in the short term, perhaps soldiers who had been deployed for months could be replaced and new units set up. The latter would take months, Sandtner said.

The reservists must be called up, formed into military units and their field usability established at least to a certain extent through training measures. Most of the required equipment would have to be obtained from long-term preservation. “To make matters worse, the majority of the Russian professional military is currently deployed in Ukraine.” These men are not needed for mobilization because they would have to form and train the reservists.

Doubts about the morale of new soldiers

Muzyka estimates that some of the men called up could be at the front in four or five weeks. “Russia is trying to make up its biggest deficit through conscription, and that’s not military equipment, it’s manpower, plain and simple. These guys will probably be used first with the infantry, for example to hold terrain, dig positions, take cities.” Muzyka also doubts that the morale of the new soldiers is particularly high.

“Large-scale conscription would most likely overwhelm the Russian Defense Ministry’s ability to recruit, train and equip new soldiers,” the US think tank Institute for the Study of War had recently suspected. The training alone would be time-consuming, and the “procurement of the necessary equipment, ammunition and supplies for a large conscript army” would be “very difficult” in view of the reported Russian material shortages.

Of course, the Russian decision also has consequences for the strategy of the Ukrainian troops: According to Sandtner, the Ukrainian side must now mobilize and train additional soldiers. Muzyka estimates Ukraine’s mobilization potential at 200,000 to 300,000 additional men.

Ukraine scoffs, West sees weakness

In any case, Ukraine and many other states saw the order as proof that the Russian operation was anything but smooth. “Is everything still going according to plan or not?” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podoliak wrote on Twitter. The war planned for “three days” has already lasted 210 days. The German Chancellor Olaf Scholz identified failures in the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine as the reason for the partial mobilization.

The British and American governments also described the move as a signal of weakness: “Putin’s breaking his own promise not to mobilize and the illegal annexation of parts of Ukraine are an admission that his invasion is failing,” said British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace – Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte sees the partial mobilization as a “sign of panic” from Putin.

Annexation of occupied territories threatened after mock referendums

In his speech, Putin also announced the possible annexation of Ukrainian territories with the help of referendums in the occupied territories. “We support the decision made by the majority of citizens in the Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics, in the Kherson and Zaporizhia Oblasts,” Putin said.

In addition to the self-proclaimed “People’s Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, the Russian-occupied areas of Cherson and Zaporizhia in the south also want a vote on joining Russia. In addition, Russia announced that it would extend the referendum in Kherson to parts of the Mykolaiv region. The mock referendums are to be held from September 23rd to 27th. They are also seen as a reaction to the current Ukrainian counter-offensive in the east of the country.

Beware of using nuclear weapons

After the referendums, Moscow could annex the occupied territories. This would further escalate the conflict. According to its own doctrine, Moscow could then use nuclear weapons or threaten Putin with their use. According to Russian doctrine, nuclear weapons can only be used in self-defense. That would be the case, purely formally, as soon as the Ukrainian territories are annexed.

Similarly, in 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea. The vote was not recognized internationally. This time, too, recognition is not in sight. The West had already reacted with sanctions in 2014. However, Russia has always emphasized that it will not allow the punitive measures taken by the EU and the USA to divert it from its goals in Ukraine.

Ukraine threatens severe penalties

Against the background of the upcoming sham referendums, the leadership in Kyiv has warned their compatriots against a vote. “Any participation in the ‘referendums’ is considered a violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity,” Podoljak wrote on Twitter on Tuesday evening. Earlier, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry had declared in a statement that the organization of the sham referendums was punishable by law.

Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Wereshchuk also called for people to ignore the vote – “and thus help the army and themselves”. Anyone who applies for a Russian passport faces up to 15 years in prison, she said on Ukrainian television.

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