Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared a partial mobilization in his country. The army can therefore call up about 300,000 reservists to fight in Ukraine. But why is Putin doing that? And could this turn the odds on the battlefield? Our Russia expert Carolien van Nunen (VTM Nieuws) answers.
Sep 21. 2022
Read all developments about the war in Ukraine in our file.
Why is Putin doing this?
Carolien van Nunen: “You can clearly see that Putin is desperate. On the ground, the Russian troops are not doing well at all. Putin is actually cornered. He has to do something to come out with a success. Yesterday we had already announced the referendums (in four regions in Ukraine, which want to join Russia in this way, ed.). Today there is the mobilization, which comes because the Russians are currently no match for the Ukrainian troops. It is the first time since World War II that this has happened in Russia. You immediately notice that it is a very difficult balancing act for Putin. On the one hand he needs men, but on the other hand he absolutely wants to prevent the Russian population from turning against him. That is why he opts for a partial mobilization and not a complete one. Sending all Russian men to the front would mean his end.”
Who are the reservists being called up now?
Carolien van Nunen: “Up until now, it mainly concerned young men from poorer areas, who often fight for money in Ukraine. Purely theoretically, according to Russian law, reservists are people between the ages of 18 and 60. That’s a big group. The Russian Defense Ministry has now narrowed it down somewhat: these are men who have served in the Russian army before and who have combat experience or certain military skills. Students are not called up. They are exempt. But you notice that there is a lot of uncertainty among the Russians about who exactly will be sent to Ukraine. That uncertainty weighs heavily.”
How will the mobilization in Russia proceed?
Former Colonel Roger Housen: “It is men between the ages of 20 and 25 who will now be called up. These are people who have served in the army quite recently and who therefore still have sufficient military expertise to be deployed in the relatively short term. Those people are now working elsewhere, as bakers, mechanics or civil servants, for example. They will have to be released from work and then go through a month-long training camp to be readied for deployment again.”
How real is it that Putin will actually use nuclear weapons?
Former Colonel Roger Housen: “I think the risk is still very limited at the moment. There are still many rungs on the escalation ladder that Putin can climb. For example, the Russians can continue the economic war against Ukraine by shelling economic infrastructure. They can also ramp up their cyber-attacks. So there are still a lot of possibilities.”
Will this change the odds on the battlefield?
Carolien van Nunen: “300,000 soldiers is a lot, especially when you consider that so far ‘only’ 200,000 to 250,000 Russian soldiers have been sent to the front. However, this is not going to change much in the short term. Those reservists still need some training to be able to fight. In addition, we have seen in recent months that there was poor organization in the field. You can send extra troops, but you also have to adapt your entire organization to make it a success. And an additional problem is the motivation of the reservists. Until now, mainly people were sent to Ukraine who chose to do so in one way or another, for example because of the money. These reservists are being forced.”
Why aren’t the Russians revolting? Do they support the war?
Carolien van Nunen: “There is protest, we have also seen that today after Putin’s announcement. People have taken to the streets in dozens of cities in Russia. But you also immediately see the police arresting people. So there is also repression. That explains why it is not about mass actions. Thousands of Russians have been jailed in recent months for demonstrating against the invasion.”
“On the other hand, we must not forget that a large part of the population is behind Putin. How come? In part because they watch state television and there they are told day after day that it is all in the interest of Russia and that the West is the devil and Russia needs to be protected. If you hear that every day, you will eventually believe it. For many Russians, moreover, the war has not yet come close. Many big cities like Moscow and Saint Petersburg didn’t really feel it until now. That can now change with the partial mobilization.”
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