Western experts predicted on Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s new mobilization of troops would prolong the war without changing the balance on the ground, and warned against downplaying his new nuclear threat.
Putin announced the call for 300,000 reservists – more than the nearly 200,000 he called up for the invasion of Ukraine in February – after his forces lost most of the territory they captured early in the war.
Earlier, Moscow expressed its determination to retain occupied territories in eastern and southern Ukraine by holding local referendums to absorb it into Russia.
But analysts said it was a politically risky move for Russia’s leaders as domestic resistance to war has grown and the structure of military mobilization has shrunk over the past decade.
“They won’t be able to do this well,” said Dara Massicot, a Russian defense expert at the RAND Corporation who studies the mobilization process.
“They’re going to piece people together and send them to the front lines with outdated training, poor leadership, and less equipment than the active force, sending them piecemeal because they don’t have time to wait.”
Michael Coffman, a defense expert at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based think tank, cautioned against ignoring the effort.
It will help Moscow consolidate current fronts under intense pressure from Ukrainian fighters backed by Western weapons.
“It’s clear that the Russian military is very vulnerable heading into winter, and going into 2023 actually looks worse,” Coffman said Wednesday.
“So what it does is it might expand Russia’s ability to sustain this war, but it doesn’t change the overall trajectory and outcome.”
But the challenge for Putin is to build a well-trained, well-equipped, leadership and motivated replacement force.
“If you train these reservists … there’s still not that much. The quality of the training is still questionable. Who’s going to lead them? All these other things are still open questions,” said Rob Lee, a senior fellow in Foreign Policy. graduate School.
“This war will increasingly be fought by volunteers on the Ukrainian side who are motivated … and on the Russian side we will see more people who don’t want to be there,” he said.
Retired Australian general and defence analyst Mick Ryan said Putin still wanted to “extend the war and outsmart the West”.
“Given the drop in combat performance from the 3-4 four month mark, this is an exhausted unit that needs to be rotated,” he tweeted.
“The number of people being called up is not enough to make any decisive contribution or change the outcome of the war … it’s more about rotations and replacements,” he said.
Even more worrying is Putin’s threat to use nuclear force against any threat to Russia’s “territorial integrity.”
“We will definitely use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people. This is not bluff,” Putin said, adding: “Those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the wind can turn. “Their direction. “
White House national security spokesman John Kirby called Putin’s remarks “irresponsible remarks,” saying, “We take it very seriously.”
While some analysts saw Putin’s remarks as a repeated rant, others said Putin appeared to have changed Russia’s established policy on the use of nuclear weapons, including if it applied to occupied Ukrainian territory that Moscow wanted to annex, which went unanswered .
Hans Christensen, a nuclear policy expert at the Federation of American Scientists, tweeted: “Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons goes beyond Russia’s declared policy and shows his desperation for the defeat of the war in Ukraine.”
“It sounds like another round of chest tightness, but it’s clearly the clearest nuclear threat Putin has ever made,” he said.
“It is critical that NATO does not take the bait and fuel his false narrative by explicitly threatening nuclear retaliation.”
Andrei Baklitsky of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research said Putin’s statement “goes beyond Russia’s nuclear doctrine, which simply implies that Russia is the first to use nuclear weapons in conventional warfare when its national existence is threatened”.
“From someone with sole decision-making authority over Russian nuclear weapons, this has to be taken seriously,” he said.