Faced with a series of setbacks in eastern Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Wednesday a “partial mobilization” of Russian reservist forces. But some analysts say the move will have only a limited impact on the front lines of the conflict.
In a televised address on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization” of Russian reserve forces to help boost the war effort in Ukraine.
The mobilization of these forces will serve to “protect our nation, its sovereignty and its territorial integrity” as well as to “ensure the safety of our people and those of the areas which have been liberated”, he declared, the latter referring to the occupied areas of Ukraine.
In his speech, Putin seemed to move from his earlier rationale for the invasion – that Russia was simply carrying out a “special military operation” in Ukraine – to invoking a more existential threat, namely that Russia is resisting a onslaught of a West whose objective is “to weaken, divide and ultimately destroy this country“.
Shortly after Putin’s speech, his Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu declared that Russia was not at war with Ukraine but with the “West collective”. Shoigu also gave more details of the new plan, saying it would only involve 300,000 combat-serving reservists.
But some fear that this is only the beginning of a broader mobilization. “The mobilization order is formulated in the broadest possible terms, allowing the Minister of Defense to decide who and how many people will be sent to the front. Sergei Shoigu has capped the number at 300,000, but he can revise that at any time and call up unlimited reservists,” said Pavel Chikov, a Russian lawyer and chairman of Agora International Human Rights Group. wrote on Telegram.
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The number of Russian reservists who could possibly be called up remains unknown, with estimates varying widely.
“In theory, Russia can mobilize between 2 and 20 million men,” said Nicolo Fasola, a Russian army specialist at the University of Bologna. Two million men who have served in the last five years could be considered among those who saw combat and are therefore eligible for mobilization. In total, Fasola said, 20 million men on the list of reservists are still of frontline age.
Choigou said about 25 million people meet the criteria to be mobilized, but only about 1% will be called.
For now, Fasola said, the talk of mobilizing just 300,000 troops allows the government to fuel the illusion among the Russian population that the invasion remains a “special military operation” that does not yet require a mobilization. total nationalism, allowing Putin to stick to his “propaganda messages”.
“More prisoners and more d*aths”
Putin’s latest move has a public relations purpose as well as a strategic purpose, said Jeff Hawn, an expert on Russian military affairs. “The main target of Putin’s speech is the West – he wants to show he can raise the bar. But by sticking to ‘partial’ mobilization, he’s also trying to dampen internal reactions,” said Hawn, a consultant for the New Lines Institute think tank. Moreover, Putin wants to show the world that he’s in charge. an army with enough reserves to keep fighting.
Mobilizing more troops is essential if Russia is to resist the Ukrainian advance, Fasola said. “Adding 300,000 men is a necessary step. Otherwise, the prospect of losing the war became very real.”
But the impact of this mobilization may be limited, Hawn said, noting that it is really just “formalizing the unofficial shadow mobilization” that has been going on for months.
“The biggest impact this partial mobilization will have is more prisoners and more d*aths, because this military doctrine does not solve the fundamental problem of the Russian military,” Hawn said.
These reservists “will receive only short training sessions and will have no previous combat experience alongside the men already on the front lines. And [they] don’t know the commanders,” Hawn noted, adding that this would only undermine the cohesion of the Russian combat force.
But there is a notable difference with this latest decree: reservists refusing to go to the front will now have to face long prison sentences between 10 and 15 years old.
Indeed, Putin’s call for Russians to defend the country against Western onslaught may do little to stir up patriotic fervor. Demonstrations against the announcement of the mobilization broke out across Russia on Thursday, with more than a hundred people detained, according to local rights groups.
Many Russians were seen trying to leave the country as soon as tougher penalties for those who refuse to take up arms were announced. As a Turkish journalist Ragıp Soylu said on Twitter“direct flights between Moscow and Istanbul or Yerevan are fully booked”.
“Russia sticks to a military doctrine of overwhelming the enemy with numbers,” Fasola said. “Moscow saw it working in Georgia (in 2008) and Ukraine in 2014 and thought it was still a valid option. But this time seems to be different.”
Moreover, sending more reservists does not solve some of the fundamental weaknesses of the Russian army. “This doctrine does not make it possible to compensate for the shortcomings of the Russian army brought to light by this war”, observes Hawn. Facing Ukrainians armed with modern Western weapons and officers influenced by NATO strategists, he said the Russians appeared ill-equipped and poorly commanded.
Above all, Russia could be faced with a problem of supplying the necessary equipment. Russia’s military sector has been affected by both war and Western sanctions, Fasola said. Equipping 300,000 new soldiers will likely involve relying on stockpiles of obsolete weapons that may prove ineffective against the technologies Ukraine currently uses.
Putin has already said he wants to increase arms production. But it takes time, Fasola said.
“I would say getting the soldiers to the front line could take about a month,” he estimated. “Much less [time] than to produce more weapons – which could lead to a delicate situation for the army, where soldiers are available but not fully equipped.”
This article has been translated from the original in French.
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