In view of heavy defeats in the war against Ukraine, Russia is counting on further escalation. Kremlin chief Putin announces a partial mobilization of the armed forces. What exactly does that mean – and what do the planned annexations of occupied territories have to do with it?
Russia wants to send a total of 300,000 reservists to Ukraine – around twice as many as are estimated to have been fighting there so far.
They should bring the turning point in the war that has been going on for seven months and is anything but successful from the Kremlin’s point of view. Among other things, a planned large-scale annexation of Ukrainian areas is to be enforced. But is that realistic? The most important questions and answers:
The decree forces Russians to take part in the war, which until now – at least in theory – was voluntary. 300,000 reservists are to be drafted, starting immediately.
According to the Ministry of Defense on Wednesday, former conscripts and regular soldiers with enlisted rank up to the age of 35 and reserve officers in the lower ranks up to the age of 45 are affected. First and foremost, men with combat experience and special military training should be sent to war. There are a total of 25 million reservists in Russia, it said.
In the Federal Republic of Germany there has never been such partial mobilization for combat use. In the past, a larger number of reservists was only used for exercises.
Russia’s governors were directly instructed to organize the enlistment of soldiers in their regions. To enforce the mobilization, Putin has also just tightened several laws. Desertion and “voluntary” entry into captivity are now severely punished.
In addition, after Putin’s order for partial mobilization, conscripted Russians are no longer allowed to leave their place of residence according to the law. The State Duma, on the other hand, said that people could still travel undisturbed within Russia, but that trips abroad were no longer recommended.
There is still official talk in Moscow only of a “special military operation” in the Ukraine – and so far it has probably not brought anywhere near the hoped-for result for the Kremlin. After seven months of war, Russia has conquered larger areas in the east and south of Ukraine, but recently suffered a severe defeat: under pressure from Ukrainian counter-offensives, Russian troops withdrew almost completely from the northern Kharkiv region. In other regions, too, the Russian occupiers are threatened with losing control.
In addition, according to independent observers, the losses are significantly higher than the figure of almost 6,000 dead Russian soldiers now conceded by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Against this background, Putin probably hopes to be able to bring about a turnaround on the battlefield with the reservists who have now been mobilized. And he is also likely to speculate that his recent threats will intimidate Ukraine and its Western supporters.
The occupiers in the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk, as well as in Cherson and Zaporizhia in the south, have announced that they will hold votes on union with Russia that are in violation of international law for this week. These are sham referendums because they are being held without Ukraine’s consent, under martial law and not according to democratic principles. With the four areas, Moscow threatens to annex an area of over 108,000 square kilometers. That corresponds to the size of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg together.
Similarly, Russia annexed Crimea, Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula, back in 2014. As was the case then, international recognition is not in sight this time either. Nevertheless, the Kremlin would classify future attacks on Luhansk, Donetsk, Cherson and Zaporizhia as attacks on its own territory. And Putin threatens: “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will absolutely use all available means to protect Russia and our people.” So also nuclear weapons.
According to forecasts by international military experts, Russia is likely to take longer than expected and will only be able to set up units with dubious combat effectiveness.
“Partial mobilization will only really have an impact on the ground in a few months,” says Green Party politician Sara Nanni. The US military expert Rob Lee said on Twitter that more and more soldiers on the Russian side were involved in the fight who didn’t want to be there. His conclusion: “The difference in morale and the cohesion of the troops between Ukrainian and Russian associations is increasing.”
In Kyiv, the announcement from Moscow was noted calmly. External adviser to Ukraine’s presidential office, Mykhailo Podoliak, tweeted: “Is everything still going according to plan or not?”
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had already stressed in advance that Ukraine would not be intimidated. In addition, fresh forces are likely to arrive on the Ukrainian side in the coming months. For example, Ukrainian soldiers are being trained in Great Britain and other western countries.
High-ranking Western politicians see Putin’s announcement as a “sign of weakness” and an “act of desperation” over Russia’s recent military failures. Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Putin “completely underestimated” the situation from the start.
However, it is unclear how Western countries will deal with the new escalation apart from words – in particular with Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons if necessary. So far, far-reaching sanctions have been imposed on Russia and arms and ammunition have been supplied to Ukraine. However, direct military intervention by the West is ruled out.
Since the beginning of the war, many Russians have feared such a move by the Kremlin. On Wednesday, independent organizations set up direct counseling hotlines for men who receive a call-up notice. Many flights to countries that can still be reached from Russia were fully booked.
Protests were called in several cities, but they should not be large. On the one hand, the Kremlin has recently massively expanded repressions against critics. In addition, Russia’s state media have been drumming into citizens for months that the country is being attacked by NATO and the “collective West” – and that defending against it is now a patriotic duty.
Russian President Putin could use the sham referendums as a “loophole” to legally send conscripts to Ukraine. Experts believe he would blame his defense minister for a defeat. Zelenskyj reacts calmly to the referendums.
Ukraine is currently recapturing more and more territory on the ground – but dominance in the air could be decisive for the further course of the war. Currently, neither the Russian nor the Ukrainian air force has the upper hand. The Ukrainian military warns that if this continues, the war could last for years.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz gives his first speech at the UN general debate. He sharply criticizes Russia and Vladimir Putin. All voices and developments on the Ukraine war in the ticker here.