Putin needs more soldiers to stabilize the situation in the annexed areas.
Robin BaniRingier journalism student
In Russian military doctrine, the soldier is seen primarily not as a person, but as a resource – supplies for the meat grinder of merciless warfare. If Vladimir Putin really wants to launch the expected major offensive in the coming weeks, stabilize the situation in the annexed Donbass and insist on overthrowing Volodymyr Zelensky’s government, he would need significantly more troops. Rumors are therefore circulating in Russia about an imminent second wave of mobilization. There is even talk of general mobilization.
Pictures from the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut show how harshly the war is being waged: shredded trees tower into the sky, lifeless bodies lie around. Forests have become a crater landscape, residential areas a dead zone. For weeks, Russian soldiers have been storming and dying in attacks on Ukrainian positions. According to Russia, with the strong participation of mercenaries, the nearby town of Soledar is said to have been conquered. Ukraine denied.
Thousands of dead and hardly any land gains
If the allegations from Moscow are correct, that would be a tactical success, as the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in Washington has established – but ultimately a Pyrrhic victory: the next Ukrainian defensive walls are already a few kilometers to the west. In the midst of the war, casualty figures cannot be verified, but the toll on both sides is likely to be enormous. Preliminary balance: thousands dead and hardly any land gains.
On New Year’s Day, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Resnikov addressed the Russian people directly: “I know for sure that you still have a week.” Then the next mobilization will begin. The deadline was January 5, but the Kremlin did not react. January 15 is now circulating as a possible date, i.e. today.
But observers consider it unlikely that Putin will publicly confirm this. By doing so, he would confirm the prediction from Kyiv and strengthen Reznikov’s authority. The Ukrainian defense minister, on the other hand, is less interested in specifying a precise date than in unsettling the enemy. It was no coincidence that his speech was published on the YouTube platform, which is not blocked in Russia. Resnikov must be aware that only Putin decides whether and when he will announce further mobilization.
Putin is in a dilemma
From a military point of view, however, it is high time, as the bitter defeats in Kharkiv and Cherson have shown. The anniversary of the start of the invasion will soon be upon us, and Putin needs verifiable successes with increasing urgency. Taking Soledar would be too insignificant in terms of military tactics.
The Russians are struggling with many things, from a lack of equipment to dwindling ammunition stocks. In theory, only soldiers would have enough of them. The Ukrainians can mobilize about a million reservists – Russia would have 30 times as many available. For Ulrich Schmid, Professor of Russian Culture and Society at the University of St. Gallen, it seems clear that Putin is in a dilemma. “He needs more military personnel, but cannot recruit them openly.” The mass flight after the mobilization on September 21 showed: “Many are not ready to die for Russia.” Putin must avoid further antagonizing society.
At the beginning of the invasion, the Kremlin claimed that Russian mothers did not have to fear for their sons’ lives: “Only professionals fight in Ukraine.” After the partial mobilization in the fall, it was said that the reservists who had been drafted were sufficient. Schmid says: “For further mobilization or even general mobilization, Putin would have to admit an impending defeat. And he fears it like the devil fears holy water.”
Men brutally arrested in the street
But under the mobilization decree of September 21, Russia’s military can continue to covertly draft in reservists. The corresponding decree is not limited in time and can only be repealed by another decree – which Putin did not issue. The authorities, meanwhile, announced only a pause in the mobilization process to handle conscript recruitment between October 1 and December 31. The mobilization centers were unable to manage both processes at the same time.
Maria Kuznetsowa, spokeswoman for the human rights organization OVD-Info: “Now nothing stands in the way of a complete resumption of mobilization.” The so-called “second mobilization” will be expressed in rapidly increasing numbers. In principle, Kuznetsova continues, reservists have been drafted continuously since the beginning of the first wave: “We know of a few cases, especially in December, when men were brutally arrested on the street and taken to mobilization centers – even in Moscow.”
The ruler in the Kremlin is aware that there is no independent way of checking whether – as announced – 300,000 reservists or ultimately 600,000 have been drafted. He urgently needs more soldiers. But he will not announce a second wave of mobilization, but simply carry it out.