June 10, 2023

  • Putin announced on Wednesday that he was calling up the reserves, prompting protests in Russia.
  • Experts said Putin wanted to avoid the move, but also to strengthen his army.
  • The move could weaken support for Putin’s regime as Russians exposed the realities of war.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of a partial military mobilization was criticized by some as too little too late, but that may have been because he was desperate to avoid that outcome and thought he could succeed in Ukraine without it, experts said.

Putin said on Wednesday he had called up 300,000 reservists and threatened a nuclear option after major breakthroughs by Ukraine’s military in recent weeks. The Russian president found his forces undermanned, while Ukraine ordered a full military deployment within days of the February invasion.

“He’s a master procrastinator,” said Michael Kaufman, a military analyst who studies Russia at the Center for Naval Analyses. Puck’s Julie Ioff This week. “He delayed and delayed until the options went from bad to worse.”

Experts told Insider that Russia’s partial mobilization could take weeks or months to bear fruit, as reservists need to be trained, equipped and deployed. They also said that taking such a step at this stage of the war shows that things are going so badly for Russia that Putin is anxious for something that could turn the tide.

“Absolutely, he should have done it sooner. Absolutely,” Robert English, a professor at the University of Southern California who studies Russia, the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, told Insider. Seemed so desperate.

But, he said, Putin thought he could succeed in Ukraine without taking that step, which risks an inflammatory backlash among the Russian public.

“It was something he wanted to avoid at almost any cost. Because up until now, the war had been like a televised war for the Russians,” English said, adding that mostly well-to-do people in cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg have largely been able to weather the war and lead normal lives.

“But when you organize conservatives — even if you target the poor, the rural, the provincial, the minorities and still avoid the upper middle class in the big cities — it will still touch them more directly,” he continued. “The fact that he resorted to it shows a certain desperation that they fear another major Ukrainian breakthrough that could come in a week or two.”

If Putin feared a fallout from calling in the conservatives, this seems to have been warranted. Since the announcement, Russians have flooded the streets in protest chanting “no war”, an unusual sight in the country. About 500 people have been arrested as of Wednesday evening, according to OVD-DataAn independent monitoring group.

Amassing troops could threaten support for Putin’s regime

According to Simon Miles, an assistant professor at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy and a historian of the Soviet Union and US-Soviet relations, the outcry could ultimately threaten Putin’s place as Russia’s longtime leader.

“One of the things he had going for him, so to speak, was that the war wasn’t actually visited by most Russians,” Miles told Insider, adding that Putin and his “huge state media apparatus were able to present a very” sanitized, war. Different versions”.

For one thing, Putin and the Russian media didn’t even call it a war, instead using what the president described as a “special military operation.”

But even before the mobilization — and after the successful breakthrough in Ukraine — Russian media have recently begun to shift away from consistently positive coverage of the war and express criticism of military failures and leadership failures, Miles said.

Now, people who don’t want to risk even weaker support for Putin’s regime are being called to fight back.

Daniel Treisman, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, whose work focuses on Russian politics and economics, agreed that Putin wanted to avoid a military mobilization because of how unpopular it would be, noting that the protests show that Russians hate the development. .

“That Putin would do this shows how badly he feels the need to change the momentum right now, which was all in favor of Ukraine,” Treisman told Insider in an email, noting that the new units would take weeks to deploy.

Treisman also noted that in addition to announcing the draft, Putin introduced harsh penalties for draft evasion, suggesting he was prepared for public resistance.

“There is a danger that the draft will be seen as a failure and further weaken the idea that Putin is in control,” he said.

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