Russian partial mobilisation: an act of strength or desperation?

Russian partial mobilisation: an act of strength or desperation?

Russia shocked the world with its invasion of Ukraine in February and Putin cemented his place as one of the most unpredictable and risk-taking leaders in the world. Although initially the Russo-Ukrainian war was in favour of Russia, Ukrainian forces with hundreds of million dollars’ worth of military aid from the US and its other Western allies fought back for months and managed to push Russian troops out of strategic cities and take back control in previously Russian controlled areas.

Partial mobilization of 300,000 troops was announced in Russia by Putin on 21st of September which reverberated around the world. This comes after the newest development in the war where Ukrainian officials had started a counter-offensive in the Kharkiv Oblast on September 6th thus capturing approximately 2,500 square kilometres in the Oblast. Ukrainian forces also managed to recapture the city of Izyum after months of Russian occupation.

Putin is looking for every possibility to increase the chances of winning the war. With the mobilisation effort he is hoping to extend the war throughout winter, if not win it until then, to put pressure on European nations by cutting off or limiting their supply of natural gas and other energy supplies. He is hoping to stave off the support for Ukraine and show his power to the West and NATO countries, as well as domestic critics who are disillusioned with the war lasting longer than predicted. Even the Russian state media call the war as a “prolonged conflict”.

Putin’s desperation is also evident from his discussion of nuclear weapons and possibility of its use – which would be detrimental for both sides of the war. He is willing to use his last trump card, a clear sign of his hopelessness in Russia’s ability to win the war.

The future looks bleak for Russia, as their military operations have gradually been failing, and increasing protests around the country show a lack of support for Putin and his plans in Ukraine. Russian media Channel 1 reports that Russians from all over the country are making their way to the military registration offices to go and “protect their family and their land”. An air of volunteerism is conveyed through Russian media channels; however, this does not seem to be the case in rural areas of Russia, especially in areas like Dagestan and Chechnya. There have been reports that ethnic minorities are unfairly and disproportionally targeted for the mobilisation effort which prompts the risk of internal strife within Russia.

The disillusionment with Russian tactics was also highlighted by Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic, stating that “mistakes were made” after the retreat in Kharkiv. Ethnic minorities in remote regions are disproportionately called into service, a tactic by the government to not let the urban elite feel the impact of the war on the Russian population. However, anti-mobilisation protests are increasing in remote regions of Russia, as well as Moscow. Protests in Chechnya prompted Kadyrov to declare the Chechen people exempt from mobilisation, a sign that Putin’s control of the Republics in Russia is diminishing.

Although people with previous military training and expertise are said to be called in for mobilisation, Russian men are attempting to leave the country en masse with estimates of 260,000 men who have already left the country.

Domestic and international pressure is building up and Putin’s call for partial mobilisation may be the beginning of the end for the Russian role in the war. His plan of dividing Europe has backlashed, leading to a united European response to Russian aggression. Whether his plan of suffocating the European nations’ energy sources will have an impact on the war is yet to be seen.

Russian partial mobilisation effort could play out the way Putin wants it to - extending the war into the winter and giving him the opportunity to cut energy supplies to an ill-prepared Europe. This could help alleviate the economic hardships Russia is currently facing due to the sanctions and give Putin the ability to bargain with the West, thus strengthening his position in the international arena as well as consolidating his domestic role as the strong and strategic leader of Russia who has well thought-out long-term plans as opposed to the irrational image Western media creates of him. As stated by Shoigu, this partial mobilisation effort only includes around 1% of Russia’s total mobilisation capability, thus if military gains are made by Russia in the war, it would also bolster Russian military prestige and may bring Ukraine to the negotiating table – something Putin desperately needs after the recent Russian territorial losses in Ukraine.

On the other hand, this partial mobilisation could mark the beginning of the end for the Russian military in the Russo-Ukrainian war. Widespread protests in Russia and men fleeing the country show a lack of willingness to fight in at least some parts of the society. This could perpetuate itself as the demoralised Russian army against Ukrainian forces who have strong motivation to fight for their survival with widespread military support from their Western allies. If Russian military operations begin before the hardships of winter takes its toll on Ukraine as well as its European allies, Russia may well lose its already diminishing power in the international arena, as well as create disillusionment domestically for the prolonged conflict and Russian losses. This may well be the last nail in the coffin for Putin as the leader who started a war which ended in economic ruin and thousands of deaths for Russia with no clear gains.