In an expected televised speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Wednesday morning a “partial mobilization” in Russia, with the aim of finding new men to send to fight in Ukraine. The announcement is very significant, given that so far the Russian regime had refused to start a mobilization to avoid admitting that it was fighting a real war in Ukraine: it had always described it as a “special military operation”. With the partial mobilization, many reservists will be called back into service, that is people who, despite being part of the army because they have done military service in the past, are on permanent leave, have other jobs and, in peacetime, do not participate in military activities.
However, partial mobilization remains a middle way with respect to the general mobilization of the entire population that some had foreseen before the speech: it allows the Russian regime not to formally declare war (with the serious consequences that this would bring, such as the possible imposition of martial law across the country) and to maintain a semblance of normality for most Russians who are not reservists. However, it is possible that thousands of people who have so far led normal lives (and who have not very extensive military experience) could be called to fight a war in which Russia is currently in a position of weakness.
According to information provided to Reuters by the Russian Defense Ministry, there are a total of about two million army reservists, and in this “partial mobilization” 300,000 will be called back into service.
In his speech, Putin also lent his support to the referendums for annexation to Russia proclaimed by Russian and pro-Russian officials from the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, all of which are militarily occupied by the Russian army and its allies. The referendums were announced on Tuesday by the Russian and pro-Russian authorities, and are expected to take place between 23 and 27 September.
The referendums will be organized by occupation forces in Ukrainian territories militarily occupied by Russia, and depopulated due to the war: it is therefore expected that even the vote will be manipulated and not credible.
Annexing a large part of the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine, thus making it Russian territory, could allow the Putin regime to argue that Ukraine, in its counter-offensive, is attacking Russia directly, thus obtaining a pretext for expanding the military conflict. The referendums were also announced with some haste, after the Ukrainian counter-offensive in the north-east managed to recover large occupied territories in recent weeks.
Putin has also harshly attacked the West, using his now habitual bellicose and aggressive rhetoric. He said that “the goal of the West is to weaken and destroy Russia”, and once again he put forward the possibility of using nuclear weapons in the course of the conflict, saying: “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened , we will use all means at our disposal to protect the people. This is not a bluff ». It is possible that if the referendums confirm the annexation of the occupied Ukrainian territories to Russia, those too will come under the definition of “territorial integrity”.
Both the “partial mobilization” and the support for referendums in the occupied Ukrainian territories are in fact a major extension of the conflict by Russia and a rather clear signal that Putin not only wants to continue the war in Ukraine and has no intention to open a peace negotiation, but intends to engage even more men and means, although so far its military objectives have been largely disappointed.