Game changers in Ukraine crisis
The Great Turning Point in Ukraine crisis took place on Wednesday, September 21, when Putin announced partial mobilization in Russia and confirmed referendums in four oblasts (regions) under Russian control with the aim to join Russian Federation.
Once again, Western “experts and pundits” were at sea in this case. They turned blind eye on actual facts, failed to see chain of events, contexts and interpreted Putin’s saying wrongly (as usual). In total, the inability to acknowledge realities leads to distorted conclusions.
So, let’s try to clarify, what has happened and what it may mean.
Important speeches and meetings
Putin’s speech, September 21, 2022
In a nationwide address on Wednesday morning, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial military mobilization (up to 300.000 soldiers).
He explained that the Defense Ministry has recommended drawing military reservists into active service, as the country faces a protracted conflict in Ukraine and Donbass. The measure is sensible and necessary under the circumstances, Putin stated, adding that he has already signed an order for the call-up to start immediately. The Armed Forces will draw on military reservists only and those who have completed national service and have combat experience or some special experience.
It is a planned action preceding referendums of four oblast (regions) of former Ukraine to join Russia, most likely by the first four days of October and need troops stationed at the new borders of Russian Federation, while the further roll towards Nikolaev and Odessa commences. Kharkov could be the target too.
Putin accused the West:
“In Washington, London, Brussels, they are directly pushing Kyiv to transfer military operations to our territory. No longer hiding, they say that Russia should be defeated by all means on the battlefield, followed by the deprivation of political, economic, cultural, in general, any sovereignty, with the complete plunder of our country. Nuclear blackmail was also launched.”
Putin made it clear that SMO has entered a new phase, where the US/NATO involvement in Ukrainian military operations has risen at very high level as well as other western aid to the whole Ukrainian society and state. Putin reminded that Russia is not any more in war against Ukraine but “the entire military machine of the collective West.”
The reaction of western political leaders to Putin’s speech was alarming. Most seem to believe that Putin is just bluffing because he is losing. Therefore, they promise to continue sending even more advanced and offensive weaponry to Ukraine. Putin exactly said: “We will without questions use ALL means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people. This is not a bluff. And those who are using nuclear blackmail against us should know that the wind rose (NATO symbol) can turn around.”
Putin’s speech clearly demonstrated that the Russia’s political leadership has finally accepted the fact that Russia is now fighting against NATO and the whole West, not Ukrainian military.
After Putin’s address, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu explained more details of partial mobilization, saying that this covers only about 1% of Russian’s total military reserve. People, who have previously gone through military training, is about 25 million. Mobilization of the Russian military was necessary for achievement of the declared goals of the special military operation in Ukraine. This deployment will balance the factor of numerical superiority of the AFU on the battlefield.
Defense Minister said also that about 70 military and over 200 civilian satellites along with the military apparatus of NATO, who commands the operations of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, are working in Ukraine in the interests of Kiev.
According to Shoigu, the Kiev regime has mobilized almost 300 thousand additional troops during the crisis. This quantitative superiority, together with massive NATO military aid, allows the Ukrainians to launch offensive operations, regardless of massive losses, like during the Ukrainian offensive in the Kherson region. An increase in the number of Russian troops in Ukraine will also allow to strengthen Russian defenses and military supplies.
Based on these two speeches, the stakes are getting higher. Ukraine is becoming a battlefield of the war between Russia and the West and the use of nuclear weapons is not excluded by both warring parties.
SCO summit and Patrushev’s express Beijing visit
I have analyzed these matters before in my articles (here and here) but this chain of events has been left unnoticed by Western experts and western MSM. “Blind eye” seems to be an infectious disease, widely-spread among “experts”.
President Putin returned from the summit of the SCO in Samarkand with a palpable sense of confidence and determination and it does appear that he has obtained reassurances of support from all the key leaders during the event, including China’s Xi Jinping, India’s Narendra Modi, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi and even the new PM of Pakistan, Shehbaz Sharif.
Former adviser sees influence by Chinese President Xi Jinping in Putin’s recent decisions
Former Putin adviser Andrei Illarionov, speaking with DW, said it was likely Chinese President Xi Jinping and not Ukraine’s counteroffensive that pushed the Russian president to make his recent announcements.
All the key points in Putin’s speech (partial mobilization, referendums and a veiled threat to use nuclear weapons) were fixed during last few days earlier, in Samarkand (SCO summit) and thereafter (Patrushev’s visit Beijing). It seems that Putin had some conversations there that forced him to make all those decisions. The only meaningful person, who could have such a conversation with Putin is Chairman Xi.
So, Xi seems to have told Putin something that forced Putin to reverse his attitudes towards the war, to radically change his previous plans for “referendums,” for mobilization and for nuclear blackmail.
Illarionov’s guess is that “based on some leaks and on their body language, I would not exclude the possibility that Xi suggested to his junior partner to finish his business against Ukraine as soon as possible — for example, before the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in October — and not with Putin’s defeat. The fact that Russia has been waging war for seven months and has not been victorious is an embarrassment to Xi and makes him look weak before the most important event in his life. But Xi cannot allow himself to look weak.
The referendums in the Donbass (Donetsk and Luhansk), as well as in the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson oblasts (regions) began on September 23 and the voting will last until September 27 inclusive. The residents of the regions will be offered to answer either positively or negatively to the question of whether they would like their regions to become part of Russia. The legal process after referenda may take only a few days until the regions have been accepted and associated to the Russian Federation (obviously by October 1-4).
As of Monday, the referendums in all of the four regions at the issue were declared valid with the cleared 50-percent benchmark of the voters’ turnout. As of Monday night, voters’ turnout stood at 86.89% in the DPR, 83.61% in the LPR, 63.58% in the Kherson Region and 66.43% in the Zaporozhye Region.
According to a phone survey conducted by the Institute of Social Marketing (INSOMAR) on September 19 among 4,000 respondents, around 80% of Zaporozhye and Kherson Region residents, 90% of LPR residents and 91% of DPR residents support accession to Russia.
As soon as the above-mentioned territories become part of Russia, the Constitution of the Russian Federation will apply to them immediately. Possible attacks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) on these territories, if the residents of those territories vote to become part of Russia at referendums, will be regarded as an attack on Russia itself.
Partial mobilization (and other mobilizations)
Russian Army’s partial mobilization, announced by Putin and Shoigu, up to 300.000 soldiers, will be proceeded in several waves/intervals, not in one batch of 300.000, but brigade by brigade, battalion by battalion on continuous base.
Western MSM has widely told and described many problems attached this recruitment, partly true partly biased, partly indicating “normal friction”, when some really wide-range operation is started quickly without carefully-planned program.
However, it appears obvious that within next 8-10 weeks, Russian Army will deploy up to 15-20 new brigades to the Ukrainian battlefields. Formations of new battle groups will continue long to the spring 2023.
It is also important to notice the performance of the private military contractor, Wagner Group, whose leader Yevgeny Prigozhin organized a recruitment campaign in several Russian prisons. He told prisoners about the possibility to be recruited to the Group for six months and get possibility to serve Russia on the Ukrainian frontlines.
He said it clearly that Wagner is going to create “Sturm Gruppen”, which conduct hardest offensive operations on Ukrainian frontlines. Those, who survive this six-months period in frontlines, will be granted a presidential pardon and they can either go back freely to the civil society or continue in the Wagner Group.
It seems quite obvious that this recruitment will deploy up to 20-25 new brigades by the end of 2022. The “total potential” (number of relevant prisoners) for this kind of recruitments amounts up to 230.000 in Russia.
In mid-September, before Putin’s speech, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov called on his regional colleagues to “self-mobilize” 1.000 fighters from each region and send a combined army group to Ukraine. Kadyrov’s mobilization in Checheniahas been already made, up to 10.000 troops is recruited in Chechenia. In his public message, Kadyrov promised “nasty surprises” soon to AFU, when his troops start again operations. In addition to these formations, the 3rd volunteer Army Corps of various militias is already deployed in the southern Ukraine.
When wrapping up new Russian formations by the end of 2022, it appears to be up to 40-50 new brigades (about 125.000 – 140.000 troops), which is significant and, in fact, a crucial addition to firepower of Russian Army.
Game changers on the battlefield
The Russian military has been using suicide drones (loitering munitions), like the locally-made KUB-BLA and Lancet, since the start of the special operation in Ukraine. Now Russian military is using Iranian-made Shahed-136 suicide drone, repainted in Russian colors and rebranded as Geran-2, to target Ukrainian armor and artillery positions in the Kharkiv region.
The Shahed-136 has a range of more than 2,500 kilometers and can be armed with a warhead weighting around 50 kilograms. The drone is guided by a satellite-aided inertial navigation system. According to military analysts, the drone has high resistance to jamming.
HIMARS rocket system and HARM missiles have not been turned out game changers, half of HIMARS units delivered by the US have been destroyed by Russian artillery. At least 15 of those Soviet-built aircrafts (SU-24, SU 27 and MIG-29), which the US technicians re-calibrated to utilize HARM missiles have been shot down either by Russian fighter jets or air defense. Well over half of M777 howitzers delivered by Americans have been destroyed by Russia so far.
Russia’s strikes on civil infrastructure of Ukraine, like electric power plants and power network, dams, railway network, bridges, factories etc. have been so far limited in number but from now on, it appears to be highly likely that more and more strikes will be directed on those targets too.
Those new brigades, described above, will enable Russian Army to start and carry on numerous large-scale and intensive operations on the Ukrainian battlefield, later from mid-October on. Increasing use of Russian air forces will be also an additional feature in near future of this warfare.
Assessing and re-specifying scenarios for the future
The timing of the partial mobilization was due not so much to the recent forced withdrawal of Russian troops from the Kharkiv region in Ukraine, but rather by operational and strategic considerations based on the climate of the region. It will take about 2 months from the moment of the announcement of mobilization to deploy the newly mobilized citizens on the Ukrainian front lines. From October to December, any offensive operations in the region will be complicated by the autumn weather. Accordingly, Ukraine only has a few weeks left to change the situation at the front.
A winter offensive of Russian troops should be expected. Meanwhile, Russian missiles continue striking military and energy infrastructure in Ukraine, where, by winter, a socio-economic collapse is expected. This will lead to difficulties in the administrative management in various regions.
At the same time, the socio-economic situation will continue to deteriorate in the EU. Inflation in the euro zone will intensify and energy problems intensify, which will in turn lead to a further decrease in disposable income of the population. Protests on the streets of European cities are likely to intensify. The current policy of external sustainment of Ukraine will lose popularity among the population.
So, why the rush of quick mobilization?
It could be that Putin and his fellow officials felt pressured by the domestic reaction to the Kharkiv counteroffensive to Do Something and something pretty big. But this would point to a major failure to manage public relations and expectations in Russia. The evidence keeps growing that the Kharkiv counter-offensive at best caught the tail end of a planned Russian retreat. Even so, Russia incurred very few losses and has held the line at the Oskil River. Yet, no one in an official capacity felt compelled to present the Russia version of what happened, even after the troops were out.
A second theory is the Western forces are planning a big, before-mud-season operation and Putin felt he needed to overprepare so as not to be accused of failing to take the gloves off after Kharkiv. Putin can’t well take another high-profile setback.
A third is as reported elsewhere, the various “liberated” territories are pressing for earlier rather than later referenda to join Russia. They were afraid of more terrorist-style attacks against civilians in those areas and Russia. So, the muscling up could also be to provide more protection in the major cities in those areas.
A fourth reason could be that Russia assessed how many mercenaries the West might round up to increase Ukraine forces and decided they needed more manpower to prosecute a winter offensive, particularly since the most likely target, Odessa, would result in Russia having to defend an even longer front line than now.
Finally, perhaps the clue may lie, as said many times before, in the context of SCO summit & Patrushev’s express visit in Beijing. I have studied this clue in my previous articles, here and here.
Nevertheless, even though a move along these lines may have been inevitable, Ukraine forces and Europe’s economies were weakening later in the autumn and winter. Perhaps we’ll get later some factual clues as to what caused the rush.
AFU’s new counteroffensives
After the announcement of the partial mobilization in Russia and the ongoing deterioration of weather conditions, which complicates any offensive operations, Kiev has only a couple of weeks to attempt to change the situation on the front lines.
Therefore, the current heavy Ukrainian attack continues on Kharkiv frontline. It seems that AFU has put all possible troops and equipment available and all possible efforts on this frontline without counting any losses. Russian ground forces try to keep their positions and resist the Ukrainian offensive but slowly retreating, mainly using artillery, rocket forces and aircrafts to slow down AFU offensive and inflicting massive losses on the enemy forces.
From the point of view of military strategy, it appears that current AFU counteroffensive in Kharkiv area will turn out finally as a catastrophe, as a beginning of the end. So massive losses AFU has taken but this analysis will be released in a coming update article.
Putin’s administration seems to believe that the Ukraine is also preparing for a new all-out offensive, mobilizing and preparing new units from inside Ukraine and from further west for one big push against the Russian and its allied forces. It will take a few months to prepare for this. AFU has yet to get all the material and equipment as well as train all new troops. It is likely to start the new large-scale offensive only in next spring 2023.
The call up Russia announced now may have the intent to draw Kiev into a premature launch of its new counteroffensive. The mobilized Russian troops will take about two – three months to be ready for war. Russia could thus launch its own offensive during the winter season. In the meantime, constant defensive work will continue to severely degrade the Ukrainian units, which are currently on or near the frontlines.
With a force of an additional 300.000 troops, far beyond the 100.000 to 150.000 engaged now in the war, the Russia forces could change their tactics from the slow grind that is happening now into a larger scale maneuver war with heavy strikes into the operational depth of the Ukrainian army.
Russia is ready to shift gears
Now, the leadership of Russia is preparing to shift gears in Ukraine. Public referendums were held between 23 and 27 September. This move will have a great impact and remove any legal strictures the Russian leadership observed by waging war in foreign territory. Soon, this could become Russian territory and any attacks on Kherson, Donetsk, Lugansk or Zaporozhye will be regarded as attacks on Russia property.
This prospect has triggered a consternation in Washington, London and Brussels, where political and military leaderships are sure to reject any such changes. American Secretary of State Antony Blinken wasted no time to declare that, “Any Russian sham ‘referenda’ in Ukraine would be illegitimate.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made it explicitly clear that “The time has come when we are at war with NATO and the collective West.” Apparently, Russia is now preparing to mobilize 300,000 reservists and that such a force is not required in Ukraine alone. It appears that we are at the precipice of a major escalation.
It is important to recall that only a few months ago Henry Kissinger warned the collective west to stand down and avoid this conflict even at the price of ceding Ukraine’s territory but his warnings fell on deaf ears. That was in late May. In fact, in April negotiated settlement of the Ukraine crisis was being seriously discussed between Kiev and Moscow but Boris Johnson intervened to torpedo the negotiations and abruptly flew to Kiev to persuade Ukraine’s President Zelensky to end the talks.
When the history of this conflict is being written in the future, it will have to answer, how it was possible for one deeply unpopular leader like “Bojo” and why he acted as he did and on whose behalf he did so. What is certain is that his actions benefited neither the British nor the Ukrainian people.
Putin’s decision to declare a partial mobilization was not precipitated by a significant attrition in the existing force. So far, the militias of Donetsk and Luhansk represent the majority of the Russian allied forces doing the fighting in the Donbas. The militias are reinforced by contract soldiers from the Wagner Group and the Chechens. This explains why Russia has less than 5,800 kia since February 24–Russians are not the primary force on the frontlines of the battles. The number of Russians fighting in Ukraine is now going to change dramatically.
The referenda are a watershed and the special military operation will be replaced by Russia going on a war footing. The west will be well advised to acknowledge this fact rather than pretend that Russia is on the verge of collapse.
What to expect from Putin’s Address to Federal Assembly on September 30?
Putin’s Annual Address to the Federal Assembly is scheduled for September 30. Kremlin sources say it will become even more historic and globally important than the 2014 address for the return of Crimea. There are a number of speculations and different suggestions:
- summing up the results of the referendums,
- announcement of full or partial martial law,
- ultimatum to Ukraine and the West,
- announcement of Union-2.0 with Belarus and new regions,
- declaring state of war in Russia
- announcing the need to switch the country to military economic and political footing.
By September 30, the results of referendums in the Donbas, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions will be summed up. The administrations of the new territories and Russia will then work on the legal registration of the procedure for making these states become part of Russia as was previously the case of Crimea.
The only difference is that Crimea had clearly defined borders before and after the referendum, whereas the current candidates for the status of a subject of the Russian Federation do not have full control of their former administrative borders. In addition, the issue of Russia’s new borders is also important.
President Putin, the Russia administration and the whole Russia are now at crossroads, either escalation or compromise with the West and Ukraine.It remains to be seen, which way will be adopted. More analyzes in the next update article in the near future.
Military phases of Ukrainian crisis
“They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.”
Now, for roughly seven months long crisis, could be broken down into some distinct phases.
The first was a blitzkrieg-style effort by Russian army, designed to shock the Ukrainian military and government into submission. Failing that, it was meant to shape the battlefield in a manner that isolated the Ukrainian forces assembled near the Donbass region prior to their decisive engagement by the Russian military in the second phase, later in March.
Phase two of the Russian military operation (SMO), the “battle for the Donbass,” unfolded through April, May, June and July and involved brutal, meat-grinding style warfare in urban terrain and among defensive fortifications that had been prepared by Ukrainian forces (with the support of NATO) over the course of the past eight years.
Russia made slow gains, in a war of attrition, which saw Russia inflict horrific losses on the Ukrainian armed forces. Normally, when assessing casualty figures of this magnitude, any professional military analyst would be right to conclude that Russia had, in effect, accomplished its goal of demilitarization, which logically should have been followed by the surrender of the Ukrainian government on terms which would have resulted in the kinds of fundamental political change necessary to implement the Russian goal of denazification and, with it, securing Ukrainian neutrality.
But the new phase emerged in August, in the forms of AFU counteroffensives, which were fully supported and conducted by the Western military forces by pouring in tens of billions of dollars of military aid (exceeding, in a manner of months, the entire annual defense budget of Russia) designed not only to promote a Ukrainian victory but rather hasten a strategic Russian defeat.
It was not only the question of massive foreign military aid but also practical foreign involvement in battle operations. As Shoigu said in his speech: “We mean not only the weapons that are supplied in huge quantities. We have in mind the Western systems that there exist: communication systems, information processing systems, reconnaissance systems, and satellite intelligence systems.” I have already analyzed this feature in my previous article, here.
The provision of military aid by the West on this scale was a game changer, one which the Russian military forces responsible for implementing the SMO were not able to overcome. This new reality manifested itself in the first half of September, when Ukraine launched major counteroffensives, which succeeded in evicting Russian forces from the territory of the Kharkov region that had been occupied since the SMO began.
While Russia was able to stabilize its defenses and ultimately halt the Ukrainian offensive, inflicting huge numbers of casualties on the attacking force, the reality that Russia was facing a new threat paradigm in Ukraine, one which saw the Russian military fighting a reconstituted Ukrainian military that had become a de facto proxy of the US-led NATO alliance.
Putin’s decision to order a partial mobilization of the Russian military, when combined with the decision to conduct the referendums in the Donbass and occupied Ukraine, radically transforms the SMO from a limited-scope operation to one linked to the existential survival of Russia. In other words, this Russia’s reply to a new threat paradigm by the West was in turn Russia’s game changer.
Once the referenda are conducted, and the results forwarded to the Russian parliament, what is now the territory of Ukraine will become part of the Russian Federation — the Russian homeland. All Ukrainian forces that are on the territory of the regions to be incorporated into Russia will be viewed as occupiers and Ukrainian shelling of this territory will be treated as an attack on Russia, triggering a Russian response.
US & NATO face right now a decisive decision. The US and NATO, having committed to a program designed to defeat Russia via proxy, must now decide, whether they continue to follow through with their political and material support for Ukraine and, if so, to what extent. Does the goal remain the “strategic defeat” of Russia, or will the aid be tailored simply to assist Ukraine in defending itself?
From this on, there appears to be different ways and goals to proceed.
Ukraine and the West may continue attrition warfare in order to deplete strategically Russian Forces or they try to evict Russia from the Donbass, occupied Ukraine and Crimea. This means attacking Mother Russia, which means war with Russia.
For its part, Russia considers itself already to be in a war with the West. “We are really at war with…NATO and with the collective West,” Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in a statement that followed Putin’s announcement regarding partial mobilization.
In this context, the Russian partial mobilization was not designed to defeat the Ukrainian military, but to defeat the forces of NATO and the “collective West” that have been assembled in Ukraine. If these NATO resources are configured in a way that is deemed by Russia as constituting a threat to the Russian homeland, then according to Putin “we will use all means at our disposal to defend Russia and our people”, a direct reference to Russia’s nuclear arsenal. “This is not a bluff,” Putin emphasized.
War hysteria has taken over the whole Europe and the US. Nobody talks anything about peace, diplomacy and peace proposals. The doomsday clock is literally one second to midnight and we all have only ourselves to blame.