Ahead of Russia’s most patriotic and somber holiday, tomorrow’s Victory Day, there is no victory in the war against Ukraine, but rumors abound that President Vladimir Putin will order a general mobilization of soldiers to win one.
Analysts see the mobilization as Russia’s best hope of turning the tide and defeating Ukraine by bolstering demoralized forces and pushing them back into war.
But the risks — admitting that the military campaign has been a failure so far and igniting domestic resistance — may be too great.
Several senior Russian officials have tried to quash the rumours. “No no. I can tell you that on the air and off the air,” Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the Russian parliament, told Russian radio last Thursday.
A day earlier, two shadowy figures in the Siberian oil town of Nizhnevartovsk made clear what they think of conscription.
One, wearing a gray hoodie and camouflage pants, hurled seven Molotov cocktails into a local military recruiting center while the other recorded the incident – one of six arson attacks on Russian recruiting offices in recent times. Several of the attacks led to the arrests of young Russian men.
Russia’s 10-week campaign was not to get that far.
On the day of the invasion, a jubilant Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of state-run RT, quipped that the Russian campaign was just “a standard parade” for Victory Day. “It’s just that this year they decided to hold the parade in Kyiv,” she tweeted, using the Russian spelling of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.
But Russia’s efforts to conflate Victory Day – its celebration of the Soviet victory over the Nazis in World War II – with a victory in its war against what Moscow calls “Nazis” in Ukraine failed with the failure of the capture of Kiev .
The occupation of Ukraine’s strategic port of Mariupol is a rare Russian success, but the city’s bombed-out ruins make an awkward backdrop for a parade. Sergei Kiriyenko, head of the Russian presidential administration, ruled out an official victory parade there last Thursday.
Over the years, Putin has used the holiday to legitimize his increasingly authoritarian rule, exploiting the myth of Russia as a nation that never raided anyone, only fought in self-defense and single-handedly saved the world from the Nazis of World War II has a staggering price of 27 million Russian war casualties.
“Putin will use this day to justify his war against Ukraine and, he believes, to underline Russia’s historic mission in the fight against fascism. He needs to legitimize his war, and he is trying to present it to the world and to Russians as some kind of struggle for historical justice,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, head of the political consultancy R.Politik in Paris.
“The strategic problem facing Russia today is that Russian society is unprepared for a protracted and costly war. She wanted a quick, decisive victory, and Putin cannot give it to the Russians,” she said.
If Putin declared all-out war and mobilized recruits, it would take at least six months to train them, Ms Stanovaya said. It would also be an acknowledgment that the “military special operation,” as Moscow calls the invasion, was a failure, and “Putin cannot admit that,” she said. “There are no signs that the Kremlin is ready to move from a military special operation to war.”
So far, Russia has relied mostly on soldiers who voluntarily signed contracts for military service. Russian officials have previously promised that conscripts would not be sent into battle, although some have.
Speaking to US-funded Current Time TV, Russian military analyst Ruslan Leviev of independent open-source analysis group CIT said partial mobilization could help Russia take control of eastern Ukraine, where much of the fighting is currently concentrated .
Igor Girkin, a former Russian intelligence officer who led a separatist militia in Donetsk Oblast in eastern Ukraine during the 2014 uprising, has repeatedly warned that without general mobilization Russia faces a protracted war with heavy casualties and possible defeat.
“In our case, mobilization is necessary to win the war we are up to our ears in,” he said in a comment on Russian social media VKontakte last month, adding that Russia’s future depends on it.
But Dmitri Alperovitch, head of Washington-based think tank Silverado Policy Accelerator, said mobilizing would be unpopular and risky. “If you have a general mobilization, everyone in Russia will know someone or have a husband, son, nephew or relative going into battle,” he said.
If Putin calls for a general mobilization, “Russia will have a very long war,” said Phillips O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at Scotland’s University of St Andrews. “First the Russians have to train coaches to train all these people.”
This year, Putin faces a more delicate and difficult task than in previous days of victory. Although the Russian media largely ignored Russia’s battlefield losses, they were significant.
Russia has lost a significant number of tanks, armored vehicles, aircraft and warships, most notably the Moskva, the flagship of its Black Sea Fleet, which was destroyed with the help of US intelligence. According to NATO estimates, between 7,000 and 15,000 Russian soldiers were killed.
Russia’s reputation as a leading military power has been badly damaged, and the country faces a debilitating economic isolation that is likely to continue for years to come.
This year’s Victory Day Parade will be smaller and more modest than previous years, with less equipment on parade and no friendly heads of state invited, not even Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who has criticized the way the war is dragging on.
But for many Russians, like 79-year-old Muscovite Valentina, the sacrifices and victories are still great — and underpin support for the war in Ukraine.
“Victory Day is our holy holiday. I always cry on that day,” Valentina said while sitting on a Moscow park bench with two friends last Friday. She did not want to give her last name.
“I was little. My uncle was killed. It was terrible. So many people died and so many cities were destroyed, but our country, the USSR, won this war and we celebrate the heroes on May 9th.”
She then repeated the anti-Ukraine propaganda promoted by Putin and the Russian media, claiming that Ukrainians had been harassing and killing Russian-speaking people for many years.
“Our president did the right thing by sending troops there. We are peaceful people, but something had to be done,” she said.
Analyst Stanislav Belkovsky has predicted that Putin would use the holiday to vow never to leave eastern Ukraine and name part of Ukraine’s territory along the Sea of Azov “Novorossiya” or “New Russia”.
Ms Stanovaya said she expected Putin to highlight his grievances about Western support for Ukraine and to step up efforts to intimidate the West — for example, with more test launches of nuclear-capable missiles.
As the war effort has stalled, commentators on Russian TV have lamented that Russia is fighting with a hand tied behind its back to avoid civilian casualties – against the evidence – and claimed that Western aid, including arms and intelligence, is fighting .
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/europe/as-victory-day-comes-without-a-victory-putin-faces-choices-over-all-out-war-41626668.html As the day of victory comes without victory, Putin faces decisions about all-out war