December 8, 2022

Russian President Vladimir Putin We are committed to a partial military mobilization In a Wednesday speech where he is also Threat of nuclear retaliation against the West. It was a sign of Putin’s willingness to escalate the war in Ukraine, like Kyiv Successful counterattack in the Kharkiv region He regained control of the territory and pushed back the Russian front lines.

Putin stopped short of decreeing full national mobilization, instead merely enlisting army reserves, a move he said was. Urgent and necessary. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu later confirmed that Russia would call up about 300,000 reservists with previous military experience.

Putin again made explicit threats to the West. “If its territorial integrity is threatened, Russia will use all the means at its disposal,” He said. “This is not a hoax.” Putin warned that Russia “It also has various means of destruction.” In other words, nuclear weapons – “Some components are more modern than those of NATO countries. “

That’s a particularly horrific threat, as Putin’s speech on Wednesday came shortly after Russian-backed officials moved in four Ukrainian regions partially occupied by Russian forces to hold referendums on whether to formally join Russia. Western countries support Ukraine They have already said that they will not recognize any votes, calling them a total falsity. Russian army too He doesn’t have complete control On any of these regions – Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhya and Kherson – but Moscow would almost certainly use these referendums as an excuse to formally annex the territories. If that happens, as expected, Some experts fear it Moscow will interpret any Ukrainian effort to retake these territories as bringing the fight directly against Russia. The West did not support Ukraine in attacking Russian territory, but they made it clear that these referendums were illegitimate.

All of this – referendums, partial military mobilization, Putin’s renewed nuclear session – is part of an effort to destabilize the faltering war effort and to create Maintains its local standing.

“This was not unexpected, because at this point, [Putin] in the corner. “He had to do something,” said Natia Siskoria, a Russia expert and associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. “I think today’s statement does not come from a position of strength; it is rather a show of weakness, because I think he feels like he is under great pressure.”

Western leaders have echo this feelingAn EU official described Putin’s statement as “…dangerous nuclear gambleThe US ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, described the referendums and mobilization as “signs of Russian weakness and failure.”

However, there is still a lot of uncertainty about what Putin’s announcement might mean at this particular point in the war. Experts wondered how much partial mobilization might mean in the near term, even if they were Beware of being too dismissive. Putin has unleashed nuclear threats against the West before, but now, and the war he launched, he is in a much more dangerous situation.

Then there is how Ukraine, and the West, which supports Ukraine’s efforts, respond. So far, the West has condemned Putin’s move, but it is not clear how it might affect financial or arms support for Ukraine.

There is no easy push of a button and you win Putin’s war decisions under any circumstances. “It’s clear,” said Gustav Gressel, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “He has to choose from a lot of potentially negative scenarios, which are the least negative for him. He has chosen to escalate in order to preserve his local status, his authority and his prestige, but it is not guaranteed that he will get that.”

Putin played despair is still serious

In the past weeks, the Russian war in Ukraine has entered a new phase.

The Kremlin launched its war in February, with the goal of capturing all of Ukraine and capturing Kyiv. The Ukrainian resistance has forced Moscow to scale back its ambitions, and refocus it to the east, in the Donbass, where Russia has fueled a separatist conflict since 2014. Russia and Ukraine have been engaged in a grinding artillery battle, but Russia has also slowly taken territory. However, advanced Western weapons helped strengthen the Ukrainian forces, and in September Kyiv launched a counterattack in the Kharkiv region, and since then Russian forces have repelled, town after town.

Russia has now suffered a series of embarrassing defeats, and is seeing mounting losses after more than six months of war. At the same time, he still controls About 15 percent of the territory of Ukraine. Ukraine’s recent victories, while impressive, are still far from driving Russia out entirely.

Putin’s announcement remains likely a direct response to shifting momentum toward Ukraine on the battlefield, and A possible shift in public sentiment at home against the conduct of war.

But Putin’s announcement on Wednesday still doesn’t offer much clue about how he might approach the next phase of the war — or what that might mean on the ground.

Partial military mobilization is important, but for now it is limited to reservists, and falls short of full enlistment. At the same time, Putin’s mobilization decision also prevents most Russian forces from leaving service or suspending their contracts, an admission that manpower issues have hampered the performance of Russian forces.

But experts have questioned how quickly these employees can make a difference on the ground — or whether they will make a difference at all, given the I mentioned low spirits Between the Russian forces and real questions about the training and readiness of these reservists. As Grisel said, just having more workforce isn’t everything; Russia still needs structure, it needs officers, it needs equipment, it needs supply chains.

Then there’s the nuclear threat – posed to Ukraine, and really the rest of the world. Putin has issued nuclear threats against the West before, but, As pointed out by expertsThis speech contained subtle but potentially disturbing twists of his rhetoric. In his speech, Putin pledged to protect and defend Russia’s territorial integrity, and said he would “use all means at our disposal” to do so. As experts have pointed out, Russia’s nuclear doctrine – that is, its principles about when it will deploy such weapons – has historically It was based on the existence of the state, not specifically on territorial integrity. “So there is a little bit of uncertainty about how to fundamentally reformulate the principles of Russian nuclear deterrence,” Grisel said.

This speech, then, may be Putin’s proposal for a more comprehensive view of Russia’s nuclear doctrine. This change, if real, could become even more difficult to predict when Russia is likely to illegally annex parts of Ukraine. Siscoria noted that Putin repeatedly used nuclear weapons as a threat – At the beginning of the Ukraine war, but Also in 2014. Yet it was a warning, if not about immediate dangers, at least about Putin’s commitment to this war. “He’s ready to escalate the conflict to a new level,” Siscoria said. “But I don’t think the actual prospects for an escalation are that high at the moment.”

For Ukraine, the nuclear threat from Russia is not new. Simon Schlegel, senior Ukraine analyst at the International Crisis Group, spoke to Vox from Kyiv, where he said he did not see Putin’s announcement as an immediate game-changer, even as officials took the Russian escalation seriously — and may react by stepping up their efforts. in their counterattack.

“That might create an incentive on the Ukrainian side to move faster now to make more efforts to reclaim territory that the Russians would then have more trouble claiming properly as their own,” Schlegel said.

But again, a lot of pressure will fall on the West. Ukraine relies on Western financial support and arms; This counterattack and any chance of regaining and holding territory depended on Western arsenals. Prior to Putin’s announcement, some Western partners were reluctant to deliver more advanced weapons.

Putin, in his attempt to raise the stakes, is trying to send a signal to the West that it is time to back down – “accept that Russia has won at least some territory, and not deepen its support for Ukraine.” At least rhetorically, allies and partners have dismissed Putin’s threats, but even the United States, with its billions backing Ukraine, He was careful to avoid provoking Putin. The question for Ukraine’s backers is whether they see Putin’s latest moves as a real threat, or a ploy from a man who feels his victory is fading away — an unpredictable gamble.

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