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.”