Get Ready For A 'Special Mobilization'
Defining victory down
As Vladimir Putin’s 9 May deadline for victory looms, the Kremlin is in a tight propaganda spot. They have downplayed the possibility of a formal declaration of war and a national mobilization, but Ukraine is not cooperating with efforts to salvage a victory out of the battles already in progress. Consider some indicators:
Counterattacks out of Kharkiv in the north are spoiling the Russian offensives at Severodonsk and Izyum, which were already a week behind schedule. Russian tube artillery has been pushed out of range from the city center. Western artillery, counterbattery radar, and other advanced weapons are changing the complexion of the battlefield
Last week, Ukrainian Navy drone strikes eliminated Russian antiaircraft weapons on Snake Island, allowing the Ukrainian Air Force to destroy every remaining target there. Baraktyar TB2 drones also destroyed the smaller surface craft used to resupply Snake Island, potentially forcing withdrawal of the garrison
It appears that no Russian frigate was actually sunk in Black Sea fighting last week. However, the Admiral Makarov apparently did respond to the Ukrainian attacks on Snake Island and then retreat to Sevastopol under a protective barrage of radar jamming, possibly damaged. The Ukrainian missile and drone campaign is in fact making the Gulf of Odessa increasingly unsafe for Russian surface ships
Putin had wanted to avoid storming the Azofstal factory in Mariupol, but his army just spent three fruitless days trying to secure the factory over the tunnel complex. This reversal has all the operational acuity of a small child — the sort that polite adults describe as “special” — shoving his fingers into a fire ant nest
Rumors of Ukrainian spoiling action abound. Will they destroy the Kerch Strait bridge connecting Crimea to the Russian mainland? Will they launch a major offensive somewhere? That such speculations are even possible underscores that Russia has lost the strategic initiative
Ukrainian deep operations, mainly sabotage, are hitting critical infrastructure and logistical targets in Russia, whereas responsive Russian long-range missile strikes and air strikes on Ukrainian rail stations, marshalling yards, etc. have been inaccurate or ineffective
Despite Kremlin denials, given all the data points above some sort of third effort must take shape. We only await the announcement of what it will be called. Terminology is always fungible.
Perhaps Putin will announce the formation of a new army — a ‘Special Army,’ to defend Russia from Ukraine, in a ‘Special War’ or a ‘Special Conflict’ or my favorite sequel title, ‘Special Operation II: Electric Warfare Boogaloo.’
The serious point here is that Putin actually does need a new army to defend Russia from Ukraine. That is no longer an exaggeration of Russian propaganda.
Putin cannot admit defeat and stay in power. He also cannot stay in power after a pretend-victory over Ukraine without an army to intimidate the rest of his enemies, anyway. The Moscow Times reports that ads for jobs for “mobilization and wartime experts” are already published in Russia. A regular conscription cycle was already underway.
This is how the Putin clique loses a war to Ukraine and remains in power: by hyping the Ukrainian threat in order to militarize society and the state without invoking the wartime measures of real conscription and economic centralization.
It will not be the first time, either. Remember, Putin restarted the invasion of Ukraine after an eight-year pause with a bizarre story that Ukraine had to be stopped before they developed a secret magic Nazi bomb in a physics research laboratory at Kharkiv and blew up Moscow with it.
That all seemed very silly at the time, and it will look very silly now to everyone who does not live in Russia, but simple variations on this theme will justify the special needs of Vladimir Putin for as long as required.
If defeat is impossible, victory can always be redefined in an autocracy. Winning shall now be defined down again. The courageous sacrifice of the Russian Army as it exists today, to be replaced by some sort of new army, so that Russia can be safe from Ukraine, looms as the new shape of “success.”
Still, as of now, Vladimir Putin's regime is a hostage to its own propaganda. Even in an autocratic regime such as this, there is only so much contradiction between truth and fiction a society can handle if it is to still function (somewhat).
I'm saying this under the premise that in Russia, everyone knows the government is lying, and the government knows that everyone knows it is lying.
In order to justify the scale of mobilization needed to turn this war around, the propaganda will have to change drastically and what you have outlined will not achieve this job by far. Also, we shouldn't forget that even with functioning propaganda that would allow for large scale mobilisation, Russia would have a serious manpower problem over the next few months at least.
According to publicly availabe info, conscription only gets around 130- 150.000 men drafted each year. The number of young men in the corresponding birth years ranges between roughly 950.000 to a million. To my knowledge, there is no alternative service in Russia for conscientous objectors, so this number is surprisingly low. It of course leads to very small manpower reserves for an army built around conscription.
Feel free to correct me any time - you are the military expert, not me - but this would mean that it would take at least months to mobilize the several hundred thousands of soldiers Russia would need to win this war. You can only go back so many years in mobilizing reservists lest you want to have to start their military training completely anew, and many of those you want to mobilize will have jobs in which their are indispensable or hard to replace.
I'm glad I'm neither part of the Russian government nor do I want to even fight this war, let alone win it. But it's gonna be fun how they will try and work out how to retune their propaganda from the start AND mobilize their reserves AND at the same time.