In a dangerous escalation of military clashes in Ukraine since February 2022, and in a move that is the first of its kind since the end of World War II, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced partial military mobilization during a televised speech on September 21, 2022, warning that Russia is ready to use all its defense "means"—including nuclear weapons—to "protect itself." Describing this as "not just a hoax," he accused the West of crossing every red line in dealing with Russia, stating that the West is seeking to "destroy" his country and that Ukraine is escalating militarily on the direct orders of Western leaders.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu later added that Russia would call in 300,000 reservists, representing about 1.1 percent of the estimated 25 million people enrolled in its military reserve.
Putin's announcement on partial military mobilization was accompanied by his support for a referendum plan to annex some areas controlled by the Russian military in eastern Ukraine. It is a sign of a Russian orientation towards multi-element escalation in what can be described as a comprehensive escalation in the coming period.
Five Significant Indications
First, the steps taken by the Russian president indicate that he is determined to continue military operations inside Ukraine, until he achieves the goals he wants. It also signals that Putin is not ready to accept the remarks, criticism, or advice of some Asian powers close to his country, such as China and India, which expressed their opposing positions in Putin’s presence during the recent Shanghai Summit held in Uzbekistan.
Second, Putin seems unwilling to accept any retreat or defeat in Ukraine, especially after the remarkable military progress made by Ukrainian forces that put Russia in a compromising position. This refers to what CIA Director William Burns, an expert on Russia, meant when he noted that the Russian president is "in a state of mind from which he cannot think of defeat."
Third, Putin's announcement of a partial military mobilization is an official and public recognition of the military difficulties faced by the Russian army in Ukraine. It is also considered to be a necessary step to review the Russian military plans after it has been proven that it is unable to resolve the conflict or to preserve the military gains it had made. This is an implicit acknowledgement by Putin that the situation might deteriorate even further if the current military plans remain in place, which is why he took such drastic steps that could provoke anger at the domestic level. According to international media, large numbers of Russians have already rushed to flee the country.
Fourth, it is not only related to the problems on the ground in Ukraine, but it extends to reveal problems in the ability of Russian military industries to continue supplying the army with the required ammunition and weapons. This explains Putin's call on the government to provide support to military factories, indicating that reports on Russia’s dependence on weapons from North Korea and drones from Iran were true.
Fifth, the past months have been characterized by a psychological warfare, a war of narratives waged by the United States and the West against Russia, whether on the course of military operations or their justifications. This can most clearly be seen in the clash between a Western party that talks about Russian military setbacks and another party that refutes these so-called "allegations." Neither the Kremlin nor the West , was able to impose upon the world opinion, both popular and professional, an acceptance of its narrative.
However, Putin's recent speech was a major blow to the credibility of the Russian narrative, giving much credibility to the Western narrative about Russia's weakness and the problems it is facing in addition to its inability to achieve military victory.
In the recent steps he took, Putin is betting on many issues.
First, circumventing the military setbacks suffered by the Russian army in Ukraine compromised the Russian army at home by readapting the "special military operation" to become a "confrontation with the West." Putin clearly pointed out that his country faces the United States and the West, not Ukraine. Shoigu, His Defense minister also stressed, "We are at war, not with Ukraine, as much as we are at war with the West".
Second, a major military escalation against the West, including the direct threat of nuclear weapons, could convince Western countries to stop supplying Ukraine with advanced weapons, especially since Russian intelligence reports indicate an increase in the volume and quality of Western weapons supplied to Kiev, which poses a serious threat to Russian national security.
Third, Europe is on the verge of entering winter with major problems in its energy supplies due to the cessation of the export of Russian gas. This places heavy pressure on European leaders. No doubt Putin is betting that these pressures will prompt European leaders to rethink their positions and try to appease Russia by pushing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to stop military escalation. Putin is also betting that Europe can exert pressure on the United States to stop supplying Ukraine with weapons.
Fourth, the November 2022 congressional and gubernatorial elections, which includes gubernatorial elections, puts U.S. President Joe Biden under strong political pressure, which might prevent him from taking tough steps against Russia.
Why Putin Will Lose His Bet
First, it is evident that Western considerations at the military, media, and official levels are based on the same conclusion: Putin’s escalation expresses not so much strength but weakness. This may push the West to further confrontation and escalation in the coming period, not less.
In this context, it should be noted that Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte described Putin's military mobilization order as "a sign of the panic that is engulfing the Kremlin, it should not be seen as a direct threat of all-out war with the West." German Chancellor Olaf Schultz took it a step further and declared Moscow's attack on Ukraine unsuccessful.
Second, the European reactions to President Putin's decision have been escalatory and confrontational, not the contrary. Perhaps British Foreign Secretary Gillian Keegan expressed it best when she said, "The speech of the Russian president represents a worrying escalation and the threats he made in it must be taken seriously."
Third, President Putin's threats of nuclear war and his partial mobilization of the army sent a message of peril to European countries and the United States, which became even more unified in taking a strong position in the face of this threat Putin has come to represent. Therefore, contrary to the Russian president’s intent, this transatlantic alliance will become even more significantly strengthened in the coming period.
Fourth, Putin's threats may enhance the support of Western people in for their governments’ actions against Russia, not weaken it. These threats serve to affirm the anti-Putin narrative of Western governments that remind their citizens of the danger of ignoring Hitler’s aggressions before World War II. Retreating from Putin’s threat, they warn, will only repeat history. In addition, they add, defending freedom, peace, and democracy is worth suffering from energy shortages.
Fifth, Putin's move could bring him criticism from China, which has been neutral in recent months. China, concerned with expanding international commerce, is not interested in a military escalation that will harm security and peace in the world, especially if it brings the possibility of a third world war that includes nuclear weapons.
In general, Russian President Vladimir Putin's speech clearly indicates that military operations in Ukraine will be prolonged and take on more serious escalatory dimensions. As a result, the West and the United States have become open to almost all scenarios.
The opinions expressed in this study are those of the author. Strategiecs shall bear no responsibility for the views and/or opinion of its author on security, economic, social, and other issues, as they do not necessarily represent the views of the Think Tank.