The Biden administration is preparing for Putin’s surprise on Victory Day

Instead, pundits and Western officials now believe Putin could mark the holiday by declaring a more limited victory in the southern city of Mariupol, which has been bombed by Russian airstrikes for weeks, and in the Donbass, where Russia first invaded in 2014 and where Moscow has has concentrated most of his energies over the past few weeks. Taking Mariupol is key to creating a land bridge linking Russia to Crimea.

But over the holiday, fears loom that Putin will use the day to double-down on the invasion and announce a full-scale mobilization or call-up of reservists to replenish his exhausted forces in Ukraine. According to reports, Russia has already done so booted its offensive in eastern Ukraine ahead of Victory Day.

“I think he’s going to have to declare war so he can call up the reserves and more conscripts,” said Mick Mulroy, a former senior Pentagon official and retired CIA paramilitary officer and US Marine. “If he doesn’t, that could mean he knows he can’t win. If he does, things could get worse.”

Ahead of the holidays, Biden on Friday approved a new $150 million aid package that will provide Ukraine with additional artillery ammunition, radars and other essential equipment.

“Today, the United States continues its strong support for the brave people of Ukraine who are defending their country against continued Russian aggression,” Biden said Friday.

In another sign of his commitment to Kyiv, Biden met virtually with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other Group of Seven leaders Sunday morning to coordinate another round of sanctions against Russian companies.

On Sunday, the government announced it would impose visa restrictions on over 2,600 Russian and Belarusian military officials and 35 bank managers; Advertising ban for technical support and US companies on the country’s three main television networks; and the ban on providing accounting and management consulting services to Russian companies.

Additional measures include further export controls and sanctions to weaken Russia’s war effort and place restrictions on a wide range of commercial products such as industrial engines, motors and bulldozers.

“These new controls will further limit Russia’s access to components it needs to pad and ramp up its military capabilities,” a senior US administration official said.

Western officials have been preparing for a possible formal declaration of war for over a week. British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said late last month he expected Putin to declare on May 9 that “we are now at war with the Nazis of the world,” a nod to the Russian president’s claim that he had the invasion ordered to denazify Ukraine.

“I think he’s going to try and get away from his ‘special ops’,” Wallace told a UK radio station. “He got the ball rolling and set the stage for him to be able to say, ‘Look, this is a war against the Nazis now, and what I need is more people. I need more Russian cannon fodder.’”

Alternatively, Putin could choose a “horizontal escalation” to distract the West and Ukraine from the main battle and put pressure on NATO, said retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges. This could be a strike at a logistics center in one of the NATO countries, a threat of a nuclear strike in Ukraine, or a demonstration of nuclear capabilities in a remote area, Hodges said.

However, Hodges expressed skepticism that Russia could successfully mobilize a “significant amount” of Russian reserves.

“To do so would actually backfire and manifest the level of corruption within the Department of Defense and years of neglect … and it would pose a problem for the government with its own people,” Hodges said. “Why do reserves have to be mobilized for this special technical operation?”

Rather, Hodges expects the Kremlin to announce a more limited victory and “wait for us to lose interest”.

The latest approval, the ninth removal of equipment from MoD stockpiles for Ukraine since August 2021, sends another signal of continued Western support. It includes 25,000 155mm artillery shells; three AN/TPQ-36 anti-artillery radars; electronic jamming devices; and field equipment and spare parts, the Pentagon said Friday.

“The capabilities in this package are tailored to Ukraine’s critical needs for today’s battle as Russian forces continue their offensive in eastern Ukraine,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

The new package brings the US pledge to $4.5 billion in security aid to Ukraine since the Biden administration began, including $3.8 billion since the invasion.

But Biden’s announcement also underscored the urgent need for Congress to approve more aid. The president’s $33 billion request for new funds and agencies for Ukraine was still being written into the law as of Friday, according to a congressional aide.

In his statement, Biden said he has “nearly exhausted” a key fund known as the President’s Drawdown Authority, which allows him to replenish US arms inventories. Congress’ first aid package in March included a $3 billion draw fund; Biden’s latest request is for $6 billion.

Meanwhile, it’s unclear how quickly lawmakers could send the new funds to Biden’s desk. Democratic leaders are considering whether to combine the relief package with Biden’s separate request for Covid-related funding. Republicans have threatened to block such a move and are pushing for a stand-alone vote on the Ukraine package.

Andrew Desiderio and Ben Pauker contributed to this report. The Biden administration is preparing for Putin’s surprise on Victory Day

Fry Electronics Team

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