Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to greatly escalate his war against Ukraine — his announcement Wednesday of a partial mobilization of reserves, four mock referendums in partially occupied Ukrainian territories and a veiled nuclear threat — reflects his despair at Ukraine’s progress past weeks has made undo . That desperation is probably a result of internal pressure.
So far, Putin has made efforts to formal mobilization of the armed forces by calling up former military personnel and recruiting new troops (although the military there informally may be as early as April or Be able to). Putin has almost certainly veiled to avoid domestic backlash. Russians often say to themselves in times of hardship, “as long as there is no war.” The phrase is a reference to the unhealed trauma of World War II. Putin knew that war would be unpopular and had limited all of his previous military interventions before the current invasion of Ukraine.
For Putin, winning is the only option. Withdrawing or compromising is something a Western leader would think about; Russian leaders don’t take exits.
So far, Putin has tried to perpetuate the fiction that the size of the operation and the extent of the losses were minimal. Just days after he entered Ukraine in late February, the Kremlin warned against prison sentences of up to 15 years for calling it a “war” or an “invasion”. As late as September 13, following the recent Ukrainian counter-offensive in which Ukraine took back significant territory from Russia, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said said “at this point” there had been no discussion of mobilization.
What changed? Putin was most likely convinced by the radical elements in his circle that, given the recent military losses, a drastic escalation was the only way to win the war. And for Putin, winning is the only option. Withdrawing or compromising is something a Western leader would think about; Russian leaders don’t take exits.
As such, the escalation is primarily a signal to the West. Putin is trying to scare the West about the possibility of a bigger war and even the use of nuclear weapons to pressure the West to limit its crucial support for Ukraine.
These radical Russian elements have long been pushing for further action. The most important among them is Nikolai Patrushevthe powerful secretary of the Security Council and close ally of Putin, who represents the so-called siloviki (a circle of ultra-nationalists linked to the security services).
Russia expert Marc Galeotti has described Patrushev as “the most dangerous man in Russiafor pushing Putin further towards extremist positions. Patrushev’s friendship with Putin dates back to Patrushev’s career as a KGB officer in Leningrad, and experts say Patrushev has been listening to Putin for years. Indeed, Galleotti Notesin a long interview to the Russian government, Rossiyskaya Gazeta in May, Patrushev finally calls for Russia to start a full-scale war. That requires full mobilization – as well as total state control of the Russian economy.
In the past month, other ultra-nationalist voices have also joined renewed calls for mobilization. A prime example is Igor Girkin (aka Strelkov), a former Russian intelligence officer who played a key role in Ukraine’s annexation of Crimea and subsequent fighting in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine in 2014. Girkin has consistently criticized expressed in the way in which the Russian Defense Ministry has been handling the war since the start of the invasion. “If our Kremlin elders don’t change their tactics, we will see catastrophic defeats,” he said. he said earlier this month.
More explicitly, Chechnya strong man and close Putin ally Ramzan Kadyrovwhose troops fought in Ukraine, said in a Telegram message on September 10: “If no changes are made today or tomorrow in the conduct of the special military operation, I will be forced to go to the leaders of the country and explain to them the situation on the ground.” Days later, he called for mobilization.
As Alexey Kovalev, research editor at Meduza has written For foreign policy, a hardliner protest movement calling for escalation has gone largely unchecked in its criticism of the way the Russian leadership has handled the war, though it has largely avoided criticizing Putin directly. Unlike other Russians, these hardliners routinely call the conflict a war.
Against this background, the Kremlin warned critics in recent days to be “very careful”. For the first time, that caution seems to be aimed at hardliners rather than liberal anti-war critics.
Putin’s resort to partial mobilization suggests that he is more afraid of regime hardliners than of his own audience. The growing criticism means the more extreme elements of his supporters can turn against him and threaten his seizure of power in ways the public could not, as the hardliners have ties to the security forces and are more likely to use violence to achieve their goals. reach.
At the end of 1999, Putin wrote a long essay titled “Russia at the Turn of the Millennium”, in which he lamented Russia’s loss of international reputation and expressed fears that Russia would lose its unity. Indeed, this fear has consistently been in the background – and often the foreground – of his thinking over the years. Ironically, Putin’s decisions may end up bringing about exactly what he was trying to prevent.
The West, for its part, must remember that this is not the first time Putin has made nuclear threats, and while it would be irresponsible to reject it, giving in to blackmail has its own consequences. At the moment, the Russian military is unable to fight NATO, and it is unclear to what extent the partial mobilization will solve Russia’s military problems. Moreover, the finger on the nuclear button is still Vladimir Putin’s and not Patrushev’s or other hardliners’.
At the same time, the Ukrainians, the most likely victims of a tactical Russian nuclear attack, remain committed to combat despite the risk. It is now more important than ever to provide them with the support they need. The battle is not just about Ukraine alone: for Putin as well as for the hardliners, it’s about the West.
According to them, the West wants to weaken, if not destroy, Russia, while the Ukrainian government is a puppet of the United States. They are waging this war to preserve Russia’s right to an imperial sphere of influence, its ability to behave outside internationally accepted norms, and its alternative to the rules-based world order in which small states have as much sovereignty as large states and there is a limit to what a government can do to its citizens. The future of the liberal world order is at stake.