Kiev and its NATO allies can either accept the emerging geopolitical reality that President Putin envisions in order to refocus their efforts on the home front ahead of the coming winter’s expected socio-political and economic crises or militarily push back against it at the risk of provoking Russia to fully defend what it would consider to be its territory.
Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed his compatriots on Wednesday to announce the partial mobilization of their reserves. He said that this was in response to a combination of cross-border attacks by NATO-backed Ukrainian forces as well as the massive military support that this anti-Russian alliance is providing that former Soviet Republic. Furthermore, the Russian leader reiterated his previous allegations that the US-led West is plotting to dismember his country, vowing that they’ll fail.
Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu immediately followed up by explaining that Russia is indeed fighting against the Collective West in Ukraine. He accused them of providing intelligence and cutting-edge weaponry for facilitating Ukraine’s cross-border attacks, not to mention what he described as its campaign of genocide and terrorism. Shoigu also announced that the partial mobilization will comprise around 300,000 troops, which he said is only around 1% of its total capability.
The larger context within which these announcements took place involves the shifting military-strategic dynamics of the Ukrainian Conflict. The Russian Armed Forces just experienced a setback in Kharkov Region, after which four other Ukrainian Regions – Donetsk, Kherson, Lugansk, and Zaporozhye – declared that they’ll hold referenda on joining the Russian Federation. Kiev and its Western allies denounced those votes as shams and promised to reestablish full control.
In between those two developments, President Putin met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of last week’s SCO Summit in the ancient Uzbek city of Samarkand. President Erdogan then told PBS in an interview on Monday that President Putin allegedly showed “that he’s willing to end this as soon as possible”, adding that “I think a significant step will be taken forward.” Subsequent events confirmed that the referenda and partial mobilization were what President Putin had in mind.
The Mainstream Media is spinning both of them as desperate escalations that are supposedly being done out of a position of growing military weakness. US President Joe Biden earlier warned his Russian counterpart against using nuclear weapons if the situation gets even worse for his side, which follows the trend of Western fearmongering since the latest phase of the Ukrainian Conflict began in late February. Russia however, denied any such intent but reaffirmed that it’ll always defend itself.
President Putin echoed that stance in Wednesday’s address, promising that his country will use “all means at our disposal” to defend “Russia and our people.” He also warned the West against engaging in what he described as nuclear blackmail. This can be interpreted as a hint that it’s actually the US that might be considering using such weapons or at the very least placing Russia in a militarily-strategically disadvantageous situation where Washington could one day have the edge in a theoretical nuclear war.
Observers might therefore understandably interpret the latest developments of referenda in the Russian-controlled areas of those four Ukrainian regions and Moscow’s partial mobilization as escalations, but the reality is that both are actually aimed at de-escalating the conflict. To explain, in the event that those regions vote to join the Russian Federation like many predict, they’d then be considered by Moscow to be its own territory on par with the capital itself.
Ukraine and its NATO patrons would therefore have to consider whether it’s worth directly attacking territory that Russia vowed to legally treat as its own since doing so would certainly entail major consequences. It’s unclear what they’d do that in that scenario, but the Kremlin evidently isn’t taking any chances, hence its partial mobilization that President Putin said is supposed to stabilize the front lines that might very soon be considered by Moscow to be the new extent of its international borders.
It could have been with this in mind that the Russian leader said during his press conference in Samarkand after the SCO Summit there that “If the situation continues like that (with cross-border and terrorist attacks), our response will be more impactful.” Thus far, he explained, “We were quite restrained in our response, but that will not last forever.” This confirms that Russia has been militarily holding back this entire time, though the shifting dynamics are compelling it to reconsider if need be.
Considering these calculations from President Putin’s perspective, his latest intentions clearly seem to be aimed at de-escalating the Ukrainian Conflict by either freezing the line of control or perhaps slightly expanding it to the borders of those four Ukrainian Regions that might vote to join Russia. Since Moscow would regard those frontiers as its own new international ones in that scenario, it makes sense why it’s partially mobilizing in order to defend them from NATO-backed Ukrainian forces.
Therefore, the prerogative for escalating the Ukrainian Conflict rests with Kiev and its NATO allies. They can either accept this emerging reality as President Putin envisions it in order to refocus their efforts on the home front ahead of the coming winter’s expected socio-political and economic crises or militarily push back against it at the risk of provoking Russia to fully defend what it would consider to be its territory. Hopefully the coolest heads will prevail after appreciating Russia’s de-escalation moves.