Putin has announced a partial mobilization of 300,000 reservists. What will this mean? How will Ukraine, her allies, and Russia itself react?
In a highly-anticipated yet repeatedly delayed speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Wednesday morning (Sept 21) that the country is to embark on a large-scale mobilization of military reserves. This is in response to successive failures in the ongoing war in Ukraine, most recently resulting in a lightning-quick counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region that liberated 6000 square kilometers of land and redoubled the ongoing humiliation of Russia’s military.
Russia has for some time faced a dilemma between the need for a full national mobilization to answer the massive attrition of their forces and equipment in Ukraine and the political fallout that would almost certainly result.
In an attempt to square this circle, Putin called for only a partial mobilization of the two million available reserves. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has clarified that some 300,000 reservists will be called to immediate active duty.
This declaration is a tacit admission that the war has been a failure for the Russians, and that what had been intended as a quick and easy intervention is now in fact a war. Up to now, it has been a requirement for the public to call the conflict a “special military operation,” facing punishment for saying the word “war” in this context.
The Kremlin has been laying the groundwork in the past week by changing legislation to dramatically toughen sanctions for those deserting and causing damage to military property. The change in the law now includes the terms “mobilization, martial law and wartime.”
Putin’s speech went beyond communicating a call-up for the reserves to threaten Ukraine’s allies: NATO and the West. Putin announced, in a flurry of hypocrisy:
Nuclear blackmail has also been used. We are talking not only about the shelling of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant—encouraged by the west—which threatens to cause a nuclear catastrophe, but also about statements from senior representatives of Nato countries about the possibility and permissibility of using weapons of mass destruction against Russia: nuclear weapons.
I would like to remind those who make such statements about Russia that our country also possesses various means of destruction, and in some cases they are more modern than those of Nato countries. When the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we, of course, will use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people.
This is not a bluff. And those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the weathervane can turn and point towards them.
This is a case of every accusation being a confession. The West has not threatened Russia with nuclear attacks—these have been Russian threats instead. And the “territorial integrity” of Ukraine was more than “threatened”: Russia invaded the sovereign nation outright.
These recent announcements come in tandem with the Russian declaration that four regions (Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson) will have referenda on joining the Russian Federation as early as this weekend. None of these regions is presently under control of the Russian forces, and so these are nothing more than shams to lay further foundations for Russia to attack Ukraine with even greater force. If these referenda return results that pull the regions under formal Russian control via annexation—and with a total lack of democracy, they will—then any attempts by Ukraine to liberate these areas by use of force will be considered an outright act of war on Russian territory.
The better Ukraine do in this war, the worse the prospects for them become. The more defeats Putin suffers at the hands of the better-equipped and -trained Ukrainian forces, the more likely he is to react as a cornered animal and take catastrophic actions.
The question for Ukraine’s allies now is whether this requires an escalation of equipment and armaments being provided. Will a continued consistent attrition with present levels of Western equipment suffice for renewed Russian provision of cannon fodder, or will the NATO allies start providing US and Western jets and longer-range missile capabilities (ATACMS)?
There is also the question of how Russians will deal with the news. The stock market has reacted badly, with the announcement sending Moscow’s MOEX index plunging by some 10% after crashing 8.7% on Tuesday in light of predictions of the speech. Legendary Russian singer Alla Pugacheva has just come out publicly against the war, possibly having more public impact than anything else.
Although this isn’t a full mobilization, is it enough to mobilize the discontent of the Russian people and the ire of prospective Brutuses in Caesar’s Kremlin cabinet?
[For frontline updates, check Jonathan MS Pearce’s video daily video series “Ukraine War Update“]