Faced with the successes of the Ukrainian counter-offensive, Vladimir Putin chose escalation. The Russian president announced this Wednesday, September 21 the “partial mobilization” of the reservists of his army, the day after the announcement of “referendums” of annexation in the regions controlled by Moscow in Ukraine, from September 23 to 27. He also carried out a new nuclear blackmail, stating that he was ready to use “all means”. Decryption with Dimitri Minic, researcher at the Russia/NIS center of the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri).
L’Express: Why is Vladimir Putin now announcing a partial mobilization?
Dimitri Minic: Because Russia has suffered a new setback, perhaps fatal for this special operation, which has not been one since the failure of the first days of the invasion: the success of the Ukrainian counter-offensive was an electric shock, in the Kremlin as well as in Russian media, political and military circles. This recourse to mobilization has been desired for several months by many commentators in Russia. The Kremlin is in a situation of total panic, because they had done everything to avoid a mobilization measure like this, relying in particular on battalions of highly paid volunteers. However, the Kremlin does not want a general mobilization, which would be a life-size test of the true adhesion of Russian youth to this war.
What does this partial mobilization actually correspond to?
It is not the probable two million reservists that Russia has. Putin specified that these were reservists who possess specialties or relevant experience. But, in fact, those who have received more or less regular training are probably not more than 5,000. If we broaden the spectrum to those who have received training since the end of their service, this can go up to 200,000. men, according to estimates from a few years ago, which is close to the figure of 300,000 reservists mentioned by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. But between what he announces and what he will have, the figure could be more than twice lower.
What about their training needs before joining the front?
Serious training is necessary for 90% of them. However, it takes time to train operational fighters for the battlefield: going quickly, it may take one to three months. But the result can only be mediocre on the qualitative level, because these reservists, mostly former conscripts of the last five years, are not psychologically ready to fight the Ukrainians, and have neither experience nor regular workouts. This should therefore not change the course of this war, as Ukraine begins to be in a position to win this conflict. The balance of power is no longer to Russia’s advantage. For her, the objective is no longer to attack, but to defend the territories she is going to annex. Bringing in this mass of men can theoretically help.
This mobilization indeed accompanies the announcement of referendums of self-determination dedicated to annexing the occupied territories of Zaporijia, Kherson, Donetsk and Luhansk…
The illegal proclamation of independence of these territories aims to make them new provinces of Russia. This will allow the reservists mobilized to defend them to be sent there. Putin indirectly carries out a new nuclear blackmail. He seeks to play on the alleged fear of Westerners of a nuclear escalation to encourage them to obtain from kyiv a slowdown or a cessation of counter-offensives. Ukrainian troops will probably try to advance as quickly as possible in the Donbass, where Russia could continue to lose territory, despite the mobilization, the positive effect of which, if any, will anyway late. If the Ukrainians advance too quickly, the Kremlin could launch a tactical nuclear strike.
But wouldn’t such an appeal, unprecedented since 1945, precipitate the fall of Putin’s regime?
Politically, this would lead to the absolute isolation of Russia, including from the states that have remained neutral until now. Militarily, it is not at all sure that this is beneficial, because the Ukrainian troops are not concentrated in one place. Besides, it would embolden the Ukrainians, who may have prepared for the possibility of fighting in a radioactive environment. Not sure if this is the case with the Russians…
And it’s a double-edged sword, the fallout would also reach the Russian soldiers. The idea of a preventive strike on kyiv is possible, even if it is probably illusory to see it as a means of constraining Ukraine. Chemical and bacteriological weapons could also be used. Moscow will pull all the necessary levers, until the over-leverage precipitates the collapse of Putin’s army or regime.