May 9 is Victory Day in Russia, just like it was in Russia’s predecessor state, the USSR. This year is a peculiar one for Vladimir Putin’s Russia because he has led Russia into what amounts to a full-bore war with NATO and the EU, plus Australia, South Korea, and Japan. Making matters more problematic is, despite the claims of his fan club, there is no visible path forward that will result in him achieving any of the goals he set out in his speech announcing his “special military operation.”
A month ago, our Intelligence Community claimed that Putin wanted to deliver something big for May 9 (Intelligence Claims Putin Wants a Big Victory in Ukraine Before May 9). For a while, it seemed like that “something big” would be a victory in Donbas. Russian troops were withdrawn from around Kiev, semi-rebuilt, and pushed into battle in the western part of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. Rumors circulated that all of Ukraine, from Donetsk to Crimea, would be annexed or made into another puppet regime like the two that exist (Russia Is Creating Facts on the Ground to Support Annexing Eastern Ukraine; 10 Days Into Putin’s ‘New Phase’ of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine, There Are Minor Advances but the Clock Is Ticking). More rumors put the new objective of taking Odesa and all of Ukraine’s seacoast and linking up with the treasonous Moldovan province of Transnistria (Putin Decides to Widen the War With Ukraine to Achieve His Objectives).
The facts on the ground indicate that absent the personal intervention of the Great Jehovah, Russia would have nothing remotely resembling a victory to celebrate. While we are all certain that Putin could kick Ukrainian ass and finish this off any moment he wished, for his own inscrutable reasons, he’s decided to sacrifice at least 20,000 Russian soldiers KIA, three times that number wounded, over a thousand front line military vehicles, and the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet (BREAKING. Russian Flagship Sinks While Being Towed to Port). The Donbas offensive has been sluggish. The very idea that Russia could snap up Odesa and Transnistria is laughable.
So how does tomorrow play out?
It seems to me he has four major options and perhaps some blends of those options.
Acknowledge the war, promise better days, and move on.
The war in Ukraine is the 800-lb trans-gorilla in the room. Casualty announcements are mounting. There have been attacks on draft offices. By now, deserters are beginning to reappear back on “the block.” The war can’t be totally ignored, but it can be spun as an ongoing process to rid historically Russian lands of nazis. Putin sort of went that way today.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday vowed that “as in 1945, victory will be ours” as he congratulated former Soviet nations on the 77th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s defeat in World War II.
“Today, our soldiers, as their ancestors, are fighting side by side to liberate their native land from the Nazi filth with the confidence that, as in 1945, victory will be ours,” said Putin, who sent Russian troops into Ukraine in February.
“Today, it is our common duty to prevent the rebirth of Nazism which caused so much suffering to the peoples of different countries,” said Putin. He added he hoped “new generations may be worthy of the memory of their fathers and grandfathers.”
Putin also made multiple references not just to soldiers but also civilians on the “home front… who smashed Nazism at the cost of countless sacrifices.”
“Sadly, today, Nazism is rearing its head once more,” charged Putin who has insisted that Ukraine is in the grip of fascism and a threat to Russia and the Russian-speaking minority in Ukraine’s east which Moscow claims to be “liberating.”
I would expect this option to include “I got nukes” bluster, but that would mean it is a day ending in “y.”
Russia plans to fly airborne command plane during its annual “Victory Day” March.https://t.co/7kq3p75TLp
— Newsweek (@Newsweek) May 7, 2022
There may even be a bit of a flashback to the World War II tradition of marching German prisoners of war through Red Square. The Ukrainians are nazis, or so we’re told.
Prisoners of war could be ‘forced to march through Red Square’ during Putin’s Victory Day https://t.co/Xa00MJdasM
— Daily Mail Online (@MailOnline) May 3, 2022
But the message would be, “we are fighting, and we are winning.”
Our work demolishing nazism is done.
In this scenario, Putin announces the annexation of all currently occupied territory, declares the war over, and blames Ukraine for attacking Russia when it doesn’t stop. This could be an interesting attempt at a judo shoulder throw that could end up as a belly flop. By ending the war, Putin would retain some degree of legitimacy with his fanbois. His claim that Ukraine attacked Russia would be fatuous to everyone but the people who rely on TASS, Pravda, and RIA Novosti for news. It would definitely make either of the next two options much less risky.
Putin can solve some of his existing personnel problems with a declaration of war. Contract soldiers would no longer be able to quit when they desired, and conscripts could legally be herded off to the front (see The Russian Army Wasn’t Designed for War and Putin’s War in Ukraine Is Proving It). While part of the problem is solved, a larger one is created. Right now, the number of Russian families affected by Putin’s War is minimal. The draft hits heavily at the underclasses and the powerless. A kid from a decent family can avoid being drafted if he wants to. If you look at the distribution of casualties, the lion’s share comes from the outer reaches of the new Russian Empire. No one in Moscow or St. Petersburg cares because it is a “not my circus, not my monkey” situation. A declaration of war changes all of that. All those kids in college or with some other bullsh** excuse to avoid the draft will be out of luck. The next truckloads of bodybags will visit the core of Putin’s power. What is the pain tolerance of Russian citizens and the elites when young Ivan, who was going to be a doctor, gets shredded by Ukrainian artillery? I suspect it will be a lot different from 20,000 orphans and street kids and kids from the Mongolian steppes getting killed.
Declare partial or full mobilization.
The mobilization scenario may or may not be implemented with a declaration of war. Mobilization means that men, potentially up to the age of 65, would be swept up and put in the Russian armed forces. Don’t laugh. This has been done in Donbas, where men from 18 to 60 are required to serve in the separatist army. They aren’t very well trained, but they do reduce the number of Russian soldiers killed.
The Kremlin seems to be signaling that mobilization is not on the table.
Senior military expert on Russian state TV argued that mobilization wouldn’t accomplish a whole lot, since outdated weaponry can’t easily compete with NATO-supplied weapons and equipment in Ukraine’s hands and replenishing Russia’s military arsenal will be neither fast nor easy. pic.twitter.com/jzkU7RiZFz
— Julia Davis (@JuliaDavisNews) May 7, 2022
Does mobilization work?
In 1978, the Department of Defense carried out a nationwide mobilization exercise called Nifty Nugget. The exercise involved the military and government agencies from federal to state to test America’s mobilization plans in case of a war with the Warsaw Pact. The motto might have been, “I’ve been to two goat ropes and a county fair, and I ain’t never seen sh** like this before.” The same aircraft were used in the mobilization plans of multiple organizations. Federal agencies didn’t know which of their staff were reservists or had plans for filling their positions. Rail lines critical to moving troops and equipment had been ripped up. Some installations designated as mobilization centers no longer existed. The capability to clothe, arm, and feed the mobilized men was challenged. The officers and noncommissioned officers needed to train and staff the new units did not exist. In short, even as a paper-only exercise, it was a disaster.
I can’t imagine it working much better in Russia. In fact, I can see it working a lot worse. There are unconfirmed reports of some conscripts in Donbas being issued M1891 Mosin-Nagant bolt-action rifles. Many Donbas conscripts wear a mixture of civilian clothes and uniform items. In my judgment, flooding their training base with men who don’t want to be there and who are inadequately clothed, housed, and fed is not a great choice. But, then again, invading Ukraine wasn’t a stroke of genius.
What happens? On February 23, I would have bet good money that the whole “I’m gonna invade Ukraine” thing was a put-on. I got nothing.