About fortchoteau1

I first learned about Eastern Europe and the various nations in the region by watching the Olympics. The 1984 Winter Games in Sarajevo was a formative experience in my life. I hold a B.S. in Political Science and a minor in History with an emphasis on International Affairs. My professional career reconnected me with Eastern Europe when I spent six years guiding tours and developing exhibits at a decommissioned Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missile site. From that point I began to read more widely about Eastern Europe and starting traveling throughout the region. I have now made thirteen trips to Eastern Europe. Much of this blog is the result of those travels.

Beyond All Control – Putin’s Disastrous Decision Making (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #208)

Vladimir Putin threatens the use of nuclear weapons for the umpteenth time, Russian forces continue to retreat. Vladimir Putin announces the annexation of four Ukrainian provinces, Russian forces continue to retreat. Vladimir Putin announces the call up of 300,000 reserves, Russian forces continue to retreat. There is a clear connection between Putin’s threats and proclamations to Russian retreat. As we all know, words are one thing, actions quite another. Putin’s words often cause the opposite of the desired effect. Trying to staunch the tide of Ukrainian forces flowing over and through Russian lines cannot be done by spewing vitriol. That should be clear to Putin at this point, then again maybe not. It is becoming clearer with each Russian defeat that Putin is disconnected from reality. He is caught in an echo chamber where he is the only person doing the talking. Putin continues to act as though he is in control of the situation, rather than the glaringly obvious fact that the situation is controlling him.

Another bad idea – Putin celebrating annexation with puppet leaders of Ukrainian provinces

Shifting Blame – A Litany of Lies
Putin spent the first twenty-two years of his time in power practicing a specific brand of cool and calculated power politics where he forced others to react to his actions. That is not the situation now. The war in Ukraine has caused Putin to become reactive rather than proactive. More so lately as the Russian Army suffers defeats and is forced to retreat. Putin is now at the mercy of events. This is unfamiliar territory for him. That goes some way in explaining his willingness to escalate the war well beyond anything he or anyone else could have imagined. Putin is grasping at all the levers of power to try and regain control of an increasingly dire situation. His decisions reflect desperation, rather than cold calculation. Detachment has been displaced by emotion.

Whereas Putin was once seen as a logical practitioner of realpolitik, he is now irrational and isolated, lost in a maze of his own making. This makes him vulnerable and extremely dangerous. Like those who are guilty of chronically poor decision making, Putin continues to ignore the reality that he created. Putin is caught up in a vicious cycle where he is not so much reacting to the enemy, as to his own disastrous decisions. Putin’s public appearances try to disguise the fact that he bears ultimate responsibility for the Russian debacle in Ukraine. Take for instance his latest speech, a thirty-seven-minute-long litany of lies against the west and specifically the United States. At the Kremlin, in the gilded chamber of St. George’s Hall, Putin stood before a handpicked audience of Russian elites blaming Ukraine and the West for Russia’s current woes.

This act of willful distraction and narcissistic self-deception was a transparent attempt to shift blame onto enemies abroad and rally public sentiment to the cause. In this case, the cause is Russia’s annexation of the occupied areas of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson provinces and by extension the continued prosecution of the war in Ukraine. Putin is trying to mitigate his biggest domestic problem, Russian public opinion of the war. Unfortunately for him, the war is beginning to make demands on the Russian people that could lead to domestic discord. Putin has always been able to rely on his personal popularity to distract from any mistake’s he has made. The failing war effort is causing many to see Putin as a liability.

Worried agreement – Russian elites listen to Vladimir Putin declare annexation of Ukrainian territory

Putin On A Front – Deeper Into The Abyss
During his speech in St. George’s Hall, it was probably not lost on many of those in the audience that Putin’s pronouncements all have their genesis in his original sin, the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24th and the eight-year war in Donbas that preceded it. None of this would be taking place if not for Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine. It is incredible just how bad that decision has turned out for Putin. The invasion of Ukraine has led Russia down a path towards military defeat and potentially much worse. As soon as the war began to go wrong – which is to say right from the start – Putin made further fateful decisions to try and course correct (focus on the Donbas, target civilians, multiple changes of commanders) which only led Russian forces deeper into the abyss.

All the roads Putin has taken Russia down in Ukraine have led to failure. How can his latest decisions lead anywhere else? We should never lose sight of the fact of the one thing Putin struggles to conceal. He is the one constant in all the Russian debacles in Ukraine. While military commanders come and go with astonishing rapidity, while an estimated 59,000 Russian soldiers die on the battlefield, while Russia loses military equipment at an unfathomable rate, while Russian forces lack clear objectives and have no compelling reason to be in Ukraine, none of this happens without Putin. He is the one constant, and thus the one most responsible for Russia’s failing war effort. Until Russians remedy that problem, they can expect further humiliations and quite possibly ultimate defeat. The people around Putin must know this and yet they do nothing other than nod at his pronouncements in worried agreement. Why would they do otherwise? Putin’s power made them. It now threatens to break them.

Looking ahead – Vladimir Putin

An Ever Worsening War – The Fate of Russia
Until Russia has someone else other than Putin making decisions, nothing will change other than the fact that the situation is bound to get worse. The only thing that would make it better is for Russian soldiers to leave Ukraine. Putin will not allow that to happen until he has something to show for his ill- conceived and poorly executed war. He has no intention of calling off the war. That fact should frighten Russians into action, more likely it will lead them further into servitude. One man is making decisions that destroy the lives of millions. Meanwhile, willing accomplices stand watching and nodding in agreement. Nothing will change until someone in Russia decides to do something about it. And the person who makes that decision cannot be Vladimir Putin. The fate of Russia and perhaps much of Europe, may depend upon it.

Baltic Bubble Bath – Sabotage Of The Nord Stream Pipelines (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #207)  

Every time we think Vladimir Putin is running out of options in his war against Ukraine, he opens up a new front. Putin is desperate, and for good reason. Conventional military operations have proved disastrous for Russia. The Russian Army is now at the point of trying to solidify their gains rather than launch any conventional military campaigns. With the Russian Army either losing ground or locked in a stalemate along multiple fronts, Putin and his inner circle have been searching for other means to turn the war in their favor. This has meant looking farther afield and expanding the war to Ukraine’s western allies. One of Putin’s most powerful levers has been to cut off natural gas supplies to European countries. This has caused energy prices to soar, only adding to existing inflationary pressures that have wreaked economic havoc this year.

Putin’s proxy energy war has sent nations such as Germany scrambling for other sources of energy to power their economy as well as homes. The European Union has done a good job of helping coordinate measures to alleviate potential gas shortages this winter. European countries set a goal of having gas storage units at 80% of capacity by November 1st. They surpassed that figure earlier this month. As it now stands, gas storage is at 88% of capacity. This means that industry should still be able to function without disruption while homes will be heated throughout the coming winter. European coordination has been able to mitigate Putin’s efforts to hold Europe hostage to its reliance upon Russian natural gas.
Nonetheless, Europeans should not underestimate the Putin’s regime’s ability to still cause chaos in the cost and supply of energy. An example of what Europe should expect in the coming months occurred this past week when the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines under the Baltic Sea were damaged in three different places by sabotage.

Bubbling up – Photo showing natural gas of the Baltic Seas surface

Explosive Tendencies – Rising To The Surface
On Monday, September 26th, gas bubbles up to a half mile in width began to surface in the Baltic Sea, not far from a Danish Island known as Bornholm. The bubbles turned out to be the result of natural gas escaping from ruptures in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines. Explosions had been detected earlier that same day.  Suspicions of sabotage were soon raised as European Union members and the United States speculated that this was yet another case of the Putin regime’s malevolent activities. Meanwhile, the Russians blamed the United States. Both sides issued denials. The sense of mystery surrounding the ruptures has failed to abate. Ships cannot get close enough to investigate the ruptures due to leakage of the gas. The sabotaging of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines is now another point of tension between Russia and the west.

Various theories about who is to blame have already surfaced. The Russians were quick to point the finger at the United States, but there is no compelling reason for the Americans to sabotage the pipelines. Only a bit more plausible were theories that one of the Baltic states, Poland or Ukraine attacked the pipelines. These nations have consistently opposed the Nord Stream projects going back to long before the war, but none of them have a history of subterfuge. This leaves the Russians as the most likely candidate. Sowing discord and upending any sense of established norms has been the Putin regime’s go to strategy for decades. The Kremlin’s activities in this regard have only accelerated since the war began.

Gas lines – Map showing ruptures on Nord Stream 1 & 2

Detonations & Disruptions – The Energy War
Explosions detonated by the Russians offer the most plausible explanation of what caused damage to the pipelines. This theory has caused confusion because the question immediately arises of why the Russians would damage pipelines of which Gazprom – the state-owned Russian energy giant – is the majority owner. Until the last few months, Nord Stream 1 had been used to deliver copious amounts of gas to Germany. The Russians then collected large amounts of revenue which helped fund their war in Ukraine. The pipeline was a major source of leverage for the Putin regime. Thus, a Russian attack on the pipeline seems paradoxical. Nonetheless, illogical behavior has been standard operating procedure for the Putin regime since the war in Ukraine started. One commentator characterized the pipeline sabotage as another case of Putin throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks.

A Russian attack on the Nord Stream pipelines does make sense when seen as a signal that Russia is ready to target Europe’s energy infrastructure through hybrid warfare in the coming months. Putin believes energy is the main pressure point that he can use to cause maximum dissent among Europeans and reduce their assistance to Ukraine. Interestingly, the sabotage did nothing to change the energy situation for Europe other than to cause a double-digit percentage rise in the market price for natural gas. This is nothing new. Prices have been driven up repeatedly by Russia cutting off gas supplies through Nord Stream 1 due to “maintenance issues”. Meanwhile, Nord Stream 2 has never gone into use due to the war in Ukraine. Thus, Russia could afford to use these as an example of how they might attack Europe’s energy infrastructure. Because of the damage each pipeline suffered it is doubtful that they can be repaired before the end of winter. Of course, Europe had already planned for such potential supply disruptions.

Headed in the wrong direction – Nord Stream pipelines

Measured Responses – Resisting Russian Sabotage
The biggest danger from such acts of sabotage is that they bring Russia and NATO members closer to a direct conflict. Attacks, even surreptitious ones, on energy infrastructure that might affect NATO members could end up leading to a shooting war between the two sides. This is probably not what Putin wants, but he would like Europeans to believe that a war with NATO is possible. Concern about the potential for the Ukraine-Russia conflict to expand into World War III is real. European countries need to be measured in their responses to any acts of Russian sabotage. Penalizing Putin and his regime with ever greater sanctions while continuing to offer military and financial support to Ukraine is the proper response. This will lead to eventual defeat of Russia and perhaps the end of Putin’s regime.

Click here for: Beyond All Control – Putin’s Disastrous Decision Making (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #208)

Forever & One Day – Ukrainian Forces Get Territorial In Lyman (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #206)

Adolf Hitler envisioned a Nazi German Empire in perpetuity, but his Thousand-Year Reich only lasted for twelve.  Instead, Nazi Germany died while still in adolescence. Hitler’s hubristic delusions did not stand a chance when confronted by reality in the form of Allies forces that put an end to it. The weight of the allied world was more than the Third Reich could bear. Along the same lines, albeit on a much smaller scale, Vladimir Putin announced the annexation of four Ukrainian provinces last week. According to Putin they would be part of Russia “forever”. Anyone who thought otherwise was in for a rude awakening according to the Russian president. The Kremlin would use all the weapons at their disposal to defend this newly incorporated territory. While making the announcement, Putin ignored the fact that only one of the four provinces (Luhansk) was completely occupied by Russian forces. The other three (Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson) all have large areas that are Ukrainian controlled. And that control is expanding despite Putin’s pronouncements to the contrary. 

Getting booted – Ukrainian soldier stands atop a newspaper image of Vladimir Putin in Lyman

On The Run – Putin’s Ridiculous Annexation
One of the provinces Russia is attempting to annex is Donetsk. At the time of Putin’s announcement, Russian forces were barely holding on in the small city of Lyman located in the northern portion of the province. While Putin was clasping hands with the four leaders of the puppet provinces and chanting “Russia, Russia, Russia” before an audience of handpicked Kremlin cronies, the Ukrainian Army was already closing in on Lyman from three sides. A siege or sudden Russian surrender was inevitable. Nothing could turn the tide of military affairs at Lyman back in Russia’s favor, not even a Putin pumped up on pro-annexation propaganda and a litany of angry grievances against Ukraine and the west. According to the annexation, Lyman was now Russian territory. A day later it was not. To paraphrase T.S Eliot, “this is the way annexation ends, not with a bang, but a surrender.” Russian hopes of capturing all the Donbas were dealt another devastating blow with the loss of Lyman.

Putin’s plan to preside over a greater Russia looks ever more ridiculous with each defeat. He is in a race to the bottom with demagogues such as Hitler. I always thought the idea of a Thousand-Year Reich that managed to last only twelve years was a historical absurdity. Now Putin has managed a feat even Hitler in his more outlandish moments could not conceive. Putin’s proclamation of annexed territory becoming part of Russia “forever” lasted for a single day in Lyman. If this is Putin’s definition of annexation in Ukraine, then he is going to have a hard time selling this domestically. Russian forces in Lyman could not hold out for President Putin more than a day. When given a choice between a siege or retreat, Russian forces took the latter option. Leaving Lyman as fast as they could, Russian forces recreated a scene all too familiar for them since September. They went on the run and have yet to stop. Hot on their heels are Ukrainian forces now closing in on Kremina, yet another small city that is ripe for recapture.  

Running on empty – An abandoned Russian vehicle in Lyman

Nightmare Scenario – The Fight For Survival
The Russian retreat which started in Kharkiv Province has now made its way into the Donbass. Russian forces are finding it extremely difficult to hold their lines. Those that stand and fight are doing so to save themselves. They do not have time to consider the complexities of annexation or abstract notions of a Greater Russia. Whatever Putin says does not matter on the battlefield. Whatever law Putin wants passed and gets rubber stamped by parliament does nothing to change the situation as it now exists on the front lines. The Russian soldiers are staring reality right in the face as they deal with a nightmare scenario. The Ukrainians continue to hammer away at their logistics and communications capabilities. This has made what was already a chaotic Russian war effort even more so. The only strategy for Russian soldiers right now is survival. That is the battle they are being forced to fight. Nothing else really matters. The is a disconnect between the Kremlin and Russian forces in the field.

Each Russian defeat and loss of territory that follows annexation, will make Putin look more inept, more delusional and most importantly, more vulnerable. Victories for the Russian Army in Ukraine have been few. Russia’s most successful campaign was in the Donbas, bit was achieved at an exorbitant cost in men, material and prestige. It is the latter which concerns Putin the most. His political persona of a master strategist/strongman projecting Russian strength is in tatters. Putin now exudes arrogance as a substitute for confidence. The Kremlin is clueless when it comes to managing the war. Keeping Putin in power trumps all other strategic considerations. The military is subverted to the political, nowhere is this clearer than with the annexation of Ukrainian territory.

Standing tall – Ukrainian soldier standing atop the ruins of a destroyed Russian armored vehicle in Lyman

Alternate Reality – A Successful Failure
Annexation is Putin’s proposed solution to the Russian Army’s increasingly tenuous hold on the occupied regions. It is also his way of showing the war has been successful. This is nonsense. Sham referendums and overblown ceremonies will do nothing at this point to stop the Ukrainian Army’s momentum. To salvage the situation, the Russian forces need realistic leadership that figures out an exit strategy from the war. That will not come from Putin who has shown himself incapable of understanding the situation on the frontlines. The annexation debacle follows on the partial mobilization debacle which follows on the Kharkiv sector debacle. Every one of these is a direct result of failed leadership at the highest level.

Only a leader as out of touch and confined to his own alternate reality as Putin would pursue an annexation in areas that Russian forces do not occupy or areas from which they will be forced to retreat. This is how a place such as Lyman is deemed part of Russian territory forever and a day later it is back in Ukraine. No one, except for Putin, his shrinking inner circle and those nationalist firebrands still baying for blood, think that annexation is anything other than a desperate attempt to claim success from what has been a colossal failure. That failure is looking more and more like Vladimir Putin’s legacy. It is one thing that really could last forever.

Click here for: Baltic Bubble Bath – Sabotage Of The Nord Stream Pipelines (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #207)  

Fantasy & Reality – Putin’s Annexation & The Russian Army’s Situation (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #205)

*Please note: Lyman was captured by Ukrainian forces the day after this post was written.

The difference between fantasy and reality in the Ukraine-Russia War was on full display this past Friday as Russian President Vladimir Putin stood in St. George’s Hall in the Kremlin to announce the annexation of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson Provinces after sham referendums returned majorities of 87 to 99% in favor of joining Russia. The Putin regime is trying to turn a self-fulfilling fantasy into reality. They are moving as fast as possible to annex Russian occupied territory in Ukraine. The idea is to lock in territorial gains and pre-empt further Ukrainian counteroffensives that are threatening Russian control of territory in the soon to be annexed areas. The Russian military seems unable to stop the Ukrainian Army, Putin is hoping that referendums and annexation will halt their progress. While Putin was in full ceremonial mode as he made the announcement in Moscow, the situation for the Russian Army on the frontlines in Ukraine was the opposite of celebratory.

A surreal spectacle – Vladimir Putin announces annexation of Ukrainian territory

Losing Lyman – The Past Recaptured
For several weeks, Ukrainian forces have been making progress towards recapturing Lyman*, a small city in the northern part of Donetsk Province which acts as a regional transport center. Recapturing the city would sever a crucial logistics and communications hub for Russian forces. This would further imperil their control over sections of the Donbas. By the last week of September, Ukrainian forces held the northern, southern and western approaches to the city. Then on the final day of the month there were credible reports that Lyman was surrounded except for a single road the Russian Army might be able to use for a retreat. Choosing to do so would be costly because the road is well within range of Ukrainian artillery. Military analysts believe it is just a matter of time before Ukrainian forces make their final push into Lyman. Russian forces will then have one of two choices, either retreat or try to withstand a siege that would almost certainly end with their surrender. Coming on the heels of Putin’s annexation announcement, defeat in Lyman would be a huge embarrassment.

The potential loss of Lyman is extremely worrisome for both the Russian Army and Vladimir Putin. For the army, it would mean losing more men and a strategic hub. The latter is the most worrisome aspect of those two outcomes. If the Ukrainians capture Lyman, they can then move towards areas of northern Donetsk and western Luhansk which will make the sister cities of Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk vulnerable. The capture of those cities by Russian forces occurred after weeks of difficult fighting in the spring and early summer. Their fall heralded the complete Russian occupation of Luhansk. That was also the last time the Russians enjoyed any real success in the war. While losing Lyman would be a disaster, losing Sivierodonetsk and Lysychansk would be catastrophic for Russian hopes of taking the entire Donbas region.

Imminent defeat – Map showing Ukrainian forces encircling Lyman

Under Pressure – The Politics of War
Holding on in the Donbas is about the best Russian forces can do at this time. They are under immense pressure not only from Ukrainian forces, but also from the Kremlin to hold occupied territory. The reality is that the military situation has become tenuous for Russian forces, but that has done nothing to dissuade Vladimir Putin from persisting in his fantasy that his military will eventually capture the entire Donbas. When Putin announced annexation of the occupied areas in Ukraine, he was willfully ignoring reality. Russian Forces have failed to capture whole swathes of the provinces they are now claiming as Russian territory. There is nothing that has happened in the first seven months of the war and in particular the past month, to make anyone believe that Russian forces can defeat Ukrainian ones on the battlefield. This is the uncomfortable truth that Putin refuses to acknowledge.

Just because Putin will not acknowledge Russian military failure, does not make it less real. The Russian forces are desperately trying to hold on until winter arrives and campaigning becomes more difficult for both sides. Only then can the Russians hope to replenish their depleted forces with additional manpower from their recently announced partial mobilization of 300,000 reserves. How well these reserves will acclimatize to spending much of the winter outdoors is anyone’s guess. They will probably only have the bare minimum of training. Quantity does not equal quality, but the Russians are in no position to be choosy about who defends the frontlines in Ukraine. They need more soldiers to defend occupied areas from future Ukrainian counteroffensives. Until large amounts of reserves arrive at the front, Russian forces will try to make it through the autumn without suffering more defeats.

Lyman looks increasingly like a lost cause that cannot be saved. The problem for the Russians is that losing Lyman could trigger the start of another retreat where they lose larger portions of the Donbas. While the Kremlin pushes forward with annexation, the territory Russian forces occupy continues to recede. The gulf between Kremlin fantasy and frontline reality is vast and grows ever greater by the day. The Kremlin’s political goals carry more weight than the Russian military’s defense of the annexed territory. Without military might to bolster their occupation, Putin’s pronouncements of annexation look absurd, if not downright delusional.

Going on a retreat – Aerial image of Russian military vehicles leaving Lyman

Defying Reality – A Surreal Spectacle
In an angry, volatile thirty-seven-minute speech announcing annexation, Putin said that the occupied territory will be part of Russia forever. At the same time Putin was speaking, Russian forces were fighting for their lives in Lyman. For them, there was no time for any celebration. They must somehow find a way to extricate themselves from Lyman. Meanwhile, Putin ignores the obvious and focuses on the fantastical. What is another Russian military defeat in Ukraine compared to Putin’s declaration of Russian greatness? Putin inhabits a world that becomes more surreal by the day. Losses become victories, Ukrainian territory becomes Russian land and. None of this bear any resemblance to reality, but the point of fantasies is to defy reality. And that is the only thing Vladimir Putin has gotten right in the war.   

Click here for: Forever & One Day – Ukrainian Forces Get Territorial In Lyman (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #206)

The Rule of Law or The Rule of Referendums – Russia’s Land Grab In Ukraine (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #204)

If you can’t beat them, annex them. That is the Putin regime’s philosophy with the sham referendums held in the Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson Provinces of Ukraine. With Russian forces being overrun in Kharkiv Province and pushed back in several other areas along the thousand-mile front of the Ukraine-Russia War, Vladimir Putin decided that Russia should annex the territory it now occupies in eastern and southern Ukraine. Russia only occupies part of the territory in each one of those provinces except for Luhansk. And now Russian forces are under threat of losing territory that just voted in the referendums. Facts on the ground do not matter as much as political goals for the Kremlin. Mendacious ambition is a much more powerful force than logic in the mind of Vladimir Putin.

Complete transparency – A ballot box used in the sham referendums

Getting Out The Vote – Gun Barrels & Ballot Boxes
The Russians organized referendums in occupied areas to ensure that the outcome was never in doubt. How could it be otherwise? Reports from the areas under Russian occupation were alarming and predictable. To give but one example, police stations were used for voting. Locals could cast their ballots under the watchful eyes of pro-Russian authorities. For some Ukrainians the only way to avoid voting was to lock the doors, cut off the lights and hide in their homes. A vote against Russian annexation could result in dire consequences. Few were brave enough to resist. Besides separatist zealots and collaborators, Ukrainians had to be coerced into voting. The choices on the ballot may have been yes or no, but the referendums were passed at the point of a gun barrel, both figuratively and literally.

The voting results were no surprise to anyone. In Donetsk, the Russians control about half the province, but 99% of the votes were supposedly in support of annexation by Russia. In Luhansk, the tally was 98%. A precipitate drop in yes votes occurred in Zaporizhzhia with 93% and Kherson where “only” 87% voted for annexation. Wasting no time in responding to the votes, Vladimir Putin signed a decree calling for annexation. This land grab is a way for the Russians to try and hold onto their ill-gotten gains. This is one of several reasons the Kremlin wants to annex the occupied areas as soon as possible.

Once the annexed territories “officially” become part of the Russian Federation, The Kremlin might use them to potentially justify the use of nuclear weapons. They would do this by saying Russian territory was being attacked by not only Ukraine, but also with the weapons of its western allies. Never mind the fact that Russia’s nuclear doctrine only calls for the use of nuclear weapons when the existence of the Russian state is threatened. The war is nowhere near that point. The only thing under threat for Russia is the Putin regime.

Falsifying data – Results of sham referendums held in Russian occupied Ukrainian provinces

Military Adventures – The Road To Annexation
The illegally annexed territories also will supply a pool of soldiers for conscription. Putin’s call for “partial mobilization” has not gone well. Astonishingly, more Russian men left the country than were drafted. The only ones safe from the clutches of the Kremlin’s conscription are those who head abroad. In a paradoxical gesture, Russian occupation authorities allowed Ukrainians to leave the occupied areas during the latter part of the referendums. Those who made it through to Ukrainian controlled territory are now safe from being forced to fight at the front. Those who stayed behind will have no such luck. They will be little more than cannon fodder while fighting for Russia in Putin’s War. As citizens of Ukraine, those from annexed areas will likely be treated with discriminatory intent. The Russian Army needs soldiers no matter where they come from even if they are unwilling conscripts forced to fight against their own country. These unfortunates will have a choice of death, dishonor or despair. Perhaps all three.

The referendums are not being recognized by most nations. Even those who have pro-Russian sympathies and are historically inclined towards the Kremlin such as Serbia, are refusing to recognize the results as binding. The referendums are a throwback to the successful Kremlin annexation of Crimea in 2014. That same year was also when Russia’s war in Ukraine began as they provided military support to separatists in the Donbas. In retrospect, the tepid western response to Crimea’s annexation led Putin to try further military adventures which led to the current war. The western response has been different this time. There has been widespread condemnation of the referendums.

The only aspect of the referendums that European Union member states and those nations closely aligned with them will recognize are their illegality. The Kremlin will say the occupied areas are now part of Russia, but facts on the ground dispute this. The frontlines are fluid in many areas and open to change depending upon the success of further Ukrainian counteroffensives. The Kremlin wants to bring the situation back to stalemate, but the referendums may serve to exacerbate their military problems. The United States and Great Britain continue to up their support for the Ukrainian military. Other nations, particularly the Baltic states and Poland continue to offer wholehearted support as well. Most member states in the European Union are choosing to stand with Ukraine.

Ballots and bullets – Russian soldier at a polling station

Neo-Imperialism – Trying To Turn Back The Clock
The nations supporting Ukraine understand that Putin’s rapacious appetite for Ukrainian territory will not be sated by the referendums. The only way to stop him is to decisively defeat the Russian military. The illegal occupation and annexation of Ukrainian territory that has resulted from Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine is an ominous portent of worse to come if Putin’s neo-imperialist designs are not stopped. Coveting another nation’s territory was one of the core issues that led directly to the Second World War. One needs to look no further than the carving up of Poland by Hitler and Stalin in September 1939 or Hungary’s irredentist designs on southern Slovakia and Transylvania to see how dangerous land grabs can be. Putin is trying to turn back the clock on European history by using invasions, occupations, referendums and annexations to take territory that he declares as Russian. It is up to Ukraine and its allies not to let this happen. Europe’s peace and prosperity depends on the rule of law, not the rule of referendums.

Click here for: Fantasy & Reality – Putin’s Annexation & The Russian Army’s Situation (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #205)

Winner Takes It All – The Battle For Kherson (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #203)

With all the ink spilled over the Ukrainian Army’s breakthrough in Kharkiv Province, it is easy to forget about their counteroffensive in Kherson Province which began at the end of August. While the Ukrainians are making slow, but steady progress in Kherson, there has been a lack of spectacular breakthroughs or riveting news from this front. This is for good reason. The Ukrainian high command has decided on a strategy of precision strikes and cautious offensive movements to wear Russian forces down. They want to limit the kinds of casualties they suffered in the Donbas during the spring and early summer. The Russian troops defending Kherson are much more formidable than those the Ukrainians managed to expel from Kharkiv Province. The Russians moved their best forces from the Kharkiv and Donbas sectors to ensure they could adequately defend Kherson. While this led to their defeat in Kharkiv Province, they still hold Kherson which is of much greater strategic and symbolic importance to war’s outcome.

Showing the way – Ukrainian flag at recently liberated village in Kherson Province

The Final Foothold – Fighting For Kherson
The importance of Kherson has only been enhanced by Russian failures on other fronts. Both Kherson Province and the city of that same name are critical for Russia to have any chance of selling the war back home as a success. Kherson city remains the only provincial capital that Russia has taken in Ukraine. It fell to Russian forces during the first week of the war with hardly a fight. Now they are being forced to desperately defend it. The continued viability of the Russian war effort is reliant on holding Kherson city. Its strategic importance cannot be overstated. The city remains the Russian’s lone foothold on the right (western) bank of the Dnipro River. Losing Kherson would make it highly improbable for Russian forces to ever get west of the Dnipro again.

The loss of Kherson would also mean that the Russian goal of eventually cutting off Ukraine from access to its Black Sea coastline would no longer be possible. The dream of Russia eventually conquering the crucial port city of Odessa would no longer be viable. Russian loss of Kherson would also mean that the Ukrainian economy had survived a near death experience. While militarily the Russians have failed to achieve their objectives, from an economic standpoint they have done grave damage to the Ukrainian economy which has fallen by forty percent since the war started. Cutting off Ukraine’s access to the Black Sea would have been a near fatal economic blow. As it stands today, Russian attempts to take the Black Sea coastline are barely feasible. Loss of Kherson would make them impossible.

Situation critical – The Kherson front

Turning Point – A Symbolic City
Symbolically, Kherson exercises a grip on both the Russian and Ukrainian imagination that is difficult to overstate. If Russia were to lose Kherson after the debacle in Kharkiv Province, it would be a sign that for Russia the war is not only unwinnable, but it is lost. All the other military successes Russia has had so far in Ukraine have been pyrrhic victories. Taking Lysychansk, Sievierodonetsk and Mariupol meant reducing these and other smaller cities to rubble. The reconstruction costs for any of them will be prohibitive, especially for a nation under heavy sanctions. On the other hand, Kherson was taken intact. It is located close to the meeting point of the Dnipro and Black Sea. As a symbol, Kherson is the one intact success remaining from Russia’s earlier campaigns. The city’s location means that Russian control of it could eventually lead to economic development. Kherson is well worth the focus given to it by both Russian and Ukrainian forces. The same cannot be said of the other cities and villages Russia has destroyed.

Kherson is just as important for Ukrainians as it is for Russians. Ukrainians have come to see it as a goal that if attained would confirm their ability to win the war. If Kharkiv made the possibility of victory conceivable, then Kherson would solidify it. Recovering Kherson city and the surrounding province would be the Ukrainian Army’s second consecutive major victory. Nothing creates confidence like stringing successes together. Unlike Kharkiv, victory in Kherson would be less a surprise and more a confirmation. The Russian military have known for over a month that the Ukrainian forces are going to do everything possible to take Kherson. If the Ukrainians can successfully execute a counteroffensive that the Russians knew was coming, then they will feel that their army is unstoppable. The successful conquest of Kherson would also send a message to Ukraine’s allies that given enough support, Ukrainian forces can win the war.

Up in smoke -The fighting goes in Kherson

Choke Point – Settling In For A Siege
Another aspect of the Kherson campaign must also be taken into consideration. As it stands now, there are an estimated 20,000 – 25,000 Russian troops defending the province and city. The Ukrainians have rendered all bridges across the Dnipro unusable. They have had very limited success replacing these with pontoon bridges. The upshot is that Russian troops are not getting resupplied with any regularity. Slowly, inexorably, the Ukrainians are working their way around the Russian lines, probing for a breakthrough. If they succeed, then Russian forces will be stranded. In any major war, sieges are a dreadful prospect for the defense. Transformational battles such as Stalingrad and Dien Bien Phu during show what can happen to armies that get surrounded on enemy territory. Sieges rarely end well for the defenders, even for those with high morale.

One needs to look no further than the battle for Mariupol earlier in the war for an example of what happens to a besieged force. Despite the Ukrainian’s valiant fight to the bitter end, the Russians prevailed. At Kherson, the tables have turned. The Ukrainians are on the offensive while the Russians are fighting to hold the city. Both sides realize the outsized importance of Kherson. Look no further than Vladimir Putin as evidence. Russian commanders in the Kherson sector reportedly requested to retreat across the Dnipro rather than risk a total defeat. Putin is said to have given specific orders to his commanders rejecting any retreat from Kherson. Russian forces must either fight to the death or surrender. Their position is growing increasingly untenable as Ukrainian forces creep ever closer to the city. The most important battle of the war is now being fought. Whichever side wins will have a strategic and symbolic advantage going into the winter.

Click here for: The Rule of Law or The Rule of Referendums – Russia’s Land Grab In Ukraine (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #204)

Dictatorial Drama – The Putin/Lukashenko Meeting at Sochi (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #202)

Vladimir Putin may still be the Russian President, but his prestige on the international stage is at an all-time low. This most visibly illustrated by his allies or the lack thereof. Prior to Putin’s fateful decision to invade Ukraine, Putin met with Chinese Premier Xi Jinping. The two men declared “a friendship without limits.” That friendship has turned out to be quite limited. Two weeks ago, Putin reportedly spent time behind closed doors meeting with Xi at the Shanghai Cooperation Council in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Putin was forced to answer “questions and concerns” the Chinese leader had about Russia’s war in Ukraine which has upended the world economy. Chinese assistance for Russia since the war began has been slim to none. Other than tepid rhetorical support, Xi has increasingly distanced himself from Putin.

Dictating war – Vladimir Putin & Alexander Lukashenko

Beleaguered Allies – The Rogue’s Gallery
If Putin’s private meeting with Xi was fraught with uncertainty, his exchanges in public with Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India were just as worrisome. Modi upped Xi by calling out Putin in public. He told Putin that “now is not the time for war” and then added insult to injury by reminding Putin that he had given him the exact same message in a phone conversation. The support Putin was hoping to gain in Samarkand from China and India was nowhere to be found. This has left Putin, and by extension Russia, with a rogue’s gallery of allies. Suddenly, closer ties with North Korea are being professed. Syria’s Bashar Assad, who has blood all over his hands from a decade long civil war, enjoys close relations with Putin. Then there are the Iranians who are providing drones to Russia now being used against Ukraine. Unfortunately for Putin, Iran is beset by the worst public protests in a decade over the morality police beating a woman to death for improperly wearing a hijab. The Iranian regime’s focus is on trying to quell an incipient revolt rather than providing military assistance to a beleaguered ally.

Putin’s staunchest ally is Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian President who has long been known as “Europe’s Last Dictator” due to his iron fisted rule over the country. Lukashenko has been the only European leader to profess unbridled support for Putin’s “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine. During the war’s early months there was a great deal of speculation on whether Belarus would invade Ukraine. That did not happen for among other reasons, the fact that Lukashenko’s reign was severely threatened by protests following the 2020 presidential election he almost certainly lost. Asking a Belarusian population where a significant proportion loathes the ruling regime to fight in a war is a step too far. Especially when that war was started by Putin who has ensured Lukashenko’s continuing dictatorship over Belarus.

Mobilizing abroad – Russian men at the border with Georgia

Staying Alive – The Search For Support
Instead of Belarus joining the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Lukashenko regime allowed Putin to marshal forces on Belarusian territory and use it as an avenue of advance for the invasion of northern Ukraine at the beginning of the war. Once the Russians were forced to retreat after their failure in the Battle of Kyiv, Lukashenko allowed Russia to launch missile strikes from Belarusian territory at Ukrainian targets. This was a way for Lukashenko to satisfy Putin’s demands without committing the Belarusian military to an invasion. Truth be told, there were doubts whether Belarusian soldiers would fight or turn on their officers. Lukashenko knows his situation is tenuous. His goal is staying in power at all costs. That is something he and Vladimir Putin have always had in common. More so now, than ever before.

Putin is in trouble. Russia’s war in Ukraine is a disaster and the blame is beginning to fall on him. Putin needs all the allies he can get. The problem for Putin is finding support. A few days after Putin announced Russia’s controversial “partial mobilization”, Lukashenko stated that there would be no mobilization from Belarus. This decision was predictable since Lukashenko does not dare ask Belarusians to fight a war against a well-armed and highly motivated opponent. The Belarusian people are as likely to use a mobilization to attack their own government as they would be to support Russia’s war in Ukraine. Lukashenko’s statement against mobilization was sure to upset Putin. It is another in a series of setbacks for the Russian President as he tries to figure out a way to extricate his regime from a mess of his own making. It was probably not a coincidence that a couple of days after Lukashenko refused to countenance a Belarusian military mobilization, he was traveling to Sochi for a meeting with Putin at the latter’s seaside retreat.

Military state – Alexander Lukashenko with Belarusian soldiers

In Rare Form – Lukashenko Rambles & Rants
Lukashenko turned out to be in rare form when he and Putin faced the television cameras. While Putin looked on in what will either be interpreted as disbelief or discomfort, Lukashenko went on a rant about the hundreds of thousands of Russians who have fled the country since Putin announced mobilization. He said that if the same thing happened in Minsk, there would be questions about whether these were still his people. Lukashenko then consoled Putin by stating that those Russians who have fled due to mobilization would eventually return. He said when the same thing happened during protests after the fixed presidential election in 2020, he was not worried. Meanwhile, Putin had a look of confusion on his face. He was probably wondering why Lukashenko picked this moment to offer such a bizarre act of support.

Despite Lukashenko’s strangely verbose ramblings, the scene of the two men together was a useful piece of public relations for Putin. This appearance in public will put a stop to rumors that Putin was in hiding since he announced mobilization last week. Other than that, nothing was gained from the meeting. Putin and Lukashenko’s symbiotic relationship continues. Europe’s Last Dictator knows his rule over Belarus is contingent upon Putin staying in power. If Putin were to fall, Lukashenko would be left alone to fend for himself. Without the threat of Russian intervention, it is doubtful that Lukashenko could survive the kind of mass protests that threatened to upend his rule in 2020. As for Putin, he wants to keep Lukashenko close to him. While Belarus cannot offer anything other than superficial support, Putin can sell this back home as a show of unity in the Russophile world. Whether Russians find this inspiring remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, the meeting of Putin and Lukashenko changed nothing about the war in Ukraine.

Click here for: Winner Takes It All – The Battle For Kherson (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #203)

Own Worst Enemy – The Putin Paradox & Russia’s Failing War Effort (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #201)

A running theme throughout the Ukraine-Russia War has been whether western support for the Ukrainian military will cause the Kremlin to further escalate the conflict. The thinking goes that if the Russian military is faced with defeat, then Vladimir Putin might resort to using chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. There is no doubt that the war has already escalated far beyond what was originally imagined by the Kremlin or western world. Putin envisioned a three-day operation where Russian troops would stroll into Kyiv, overthrow the Ukrainian government and install a puppet regime. That plan failed miserably. A short, merciless military operation turned into a full-blown war spread across thousands of kilometers and multiple fronts. The west supplied Ukraine with enough military equipment and financial support to defend themselves, but not enough to inflict a decisive defeat on Russian forces.

The war settled into a stalemate until the recent Kharkiv counteroffensive which led to a Ukrainian breakthrough that changed the war’s parameters once again. Russia now has its back to the proverbial wall. Some worried European leaders want to limit western support for Ukraine out of fear that Putin will take desperate measures to forestall a humiliating defeat. In some way, he already has. This past week, Putin announced referendums that will lead to the annexation of Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine, issued implied threats to use nuclear weapons in defending these territories as part of Russia, and ordered a partial mobilization calling up 300,000 reserves for the war. Putin is under extreme pressure due to the faltering war effort. Often overlooked is the fact that Putin only has himself to blame for mismanagement of the war. The Kremlin is its own worst enemy and Putin the chief culprit in Russia’s continued failures in Ukraine.

Symbols of failure – Vladimir Putin & Sergei Shoigu

Shame & Blame – The Root of All Failure
Start with Putin’s disastrous decision to invade Ukraine. This was the initial escalation and Putin was the one solely responsible for it. While he has clique of close advisers, they amplify rather than moderate his impulses. While some of these men (and they are all men), such as secretary of the Security Council Nikolai Patrushev are highly influential, any decision Putin makes will be supported by his inner circle. It has been this way since he came to power twenty-two years ago. The war in Ukraine has only made Putin’s inner circle more subservient. They either support his decisions or lose their careers and possibly their lives. After defeat in the Battle of Kyiv, Putin blamed his security apparatus for poor intelligence. Several high-level intelligence officers were demoted, replaced and/or arrested.

This began a pattern of Putin blaming others for his failures. The intelligence apparatus told Putin exactly what he wanted to hear prior to the invasion, namely that Ukraine would welcome Russian troops. If security officials had told Putin anything different from what he wanted to hear they would have suffered drastic consequences. Truth be told, whatever intelligence Putin acted on probably mattered very little. All signs indicate that he was uber focused, to the point of obsession, on placing a Kremlin controlled regime in Ukraine. 

Another area where Putin’s decision making has been particularly disastrous is with Russia’s military commanders. Putin has replaced military commanders on multiple occasions while hoping to find someone who can successfully lead Russian forces to victory. Even in Russia’s lone successful campaign of the war, capturing all of Luhansk Province in the Donbas, he was still replacing commanders. The constant flux in military leadership has only added to Russia’s woes. Anyone who gets put in charge knows they could be replaced at any time. There are further reports that Putin micromanages decisions on the battlefield. The fact that he has next to no military experience, nor does his handpicked Minister of Defense and longtime crony, Sergei Shoigu, means that the military campaigns are overseen by little more than amateurs. Mismanagement of the military has caused outrageously high casualty rates which then led to the recently announced partial mobilization.

Decision maker – Vladimir Putin

Delusional Distractions – Exercises In Finger Pointing
If Putin and his chosen commanders had done a better job, mobilization would not be needed. The situation is so dire that Putin has resorted to making barely veiled nuclear threats. The fact that Putin threatens a nuclear response to stave off failure says all anyone needs to know about who keeps escalating the war. So how does the west stop Putin from continuing these escalations? That will be difficult because Putin is the one who made the decisions that have led to this dire situation. Putin started the war, then he mismanaged it. Now he is in the extremely odd situation of reacting to his own failures. Blaming the west is another one of Putin’s exercises in finger pointing to distract from the fact that he has been complicit in every one of Russia’s failures on and off the battlefield in Ukraine.

The only ones who might be able to save Putin from himself are Russian officials who realize that unless he is replaced the situation in Ukraine will worsen, quite possibly to the point of catastrophe. The chance of Putin being ousted from power looks slim in the near term.  Currently, he controls all the levers of power. For now, that ensures his continued rule and the Russian’s failing war effort. Paradoxically, the greatest hope for replacing Putin, is none other than Putin himself. His terrible decision making is almost certain to continue. This could lead to more unintended consequences where Putin unwittingly undermines his own grip on power. For instance, the decision for partial mobilization will bring in hundreds of thousands of undersupplied, undertrained, and badly led reserves thrown onto the battlefield.

Signs of stress – Vladimir Putin

Dangerous Decisions – The Toxic Element
Rather than turn the balance of power on the battlefield in Russia’s favor, the reserves may add a toxic element to the already abysmal morale of Russian forces. Putting them into the ranks will lead to more desertions, more refusals to fight and more dissension both in the trenches and back home in Russia. This in turn could force Putin to crack down even harder domestically and/or escalate the war further. How far the Russian people will follow Putin deeper into disaster is an open question. If Putin keeps making bad decisions, he may soon suffer consequences that neither he nor anyone else around him could have ever imagined.

Click here for: Dictatorial Drama – The Putin/Lukashenko Meeting at Sochi (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #202)

The Art Of Avoidance – Russians Flee From Mobilization (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #200)

Many years ago, I worked with a Russian intern at a decommissioned nuclear missile site giving guided tours to visitors who were intrigued by this cold war relic. My Russian colleague was there as part of an international exchange program. He spoke immaculate English, interacted well with visitors, and had a good sense of humor. We rarely had a disagreement except when Georgia and Russia went to war in 2008. That conflict, which now seems quaint by the standards of the current one in Ukraine, has been called Europe’s first 21st century war. The war in Georgia came as a shock at the time. Few realized that such wars of aggression were endemic to the Putin regime. My Russian colleague and I had differing opinions over who was at fault. He said that Georgians were attacking Russians and his countrymen had the right to defend themselves. I viewed Russia as a bully that was picking on a small country. What could Russia possibly have to fear from Georgia? We exchanged our diametrically opposed views and then came to an unspoken understanding not to speak about the war again.

Facing reality – Russian soldiers getting ready for war

Conscription & Chaos – Border Wars
The thought of that long ago exchange came to mind this past week when I learned that an estimated 2,000 cars were lined up at the Russia-Georgia border. Russian men are fleeing their country to avoid conscription. Whereas Russian soldiers invaded Georgia in 2008 to fight a war, now they pour over the border into Georgia to avoid another one started by the Putin regime. The manpower of mighty Russia is running into the arms of tiny Georgia to escape from the malevolent clutches of conscription. The Putin regime’s call for partial mobilization has sent Russian males into a frenzied search for anywhere that will take them. I now wonder what my former Russian colleague would say about the change in his homeland’s fortunes. Probably not too much since he is living abroad, safely ensconced in northern Italy.

The Russian flight from military service in Ukraine is skewed towards those with the means to go abroad. Many of them are entering Georgia because they do not need a visa and can stay in the country for up to a year. This is one of the best options for Russian males who evade military service. Georgia was formerly part of the Soviet Union so many of the locals already speak Russian. It is also not a terribly expensive place to live. Georgia shares a land border with Russia. This means that when the war ends, those dodging the draft can do a reverse migration. While many of those headed abroad were for the war in Ukraine, that support has its limits. Professing support for Putin’s war while living thousands of kilometers from the frontlines is not the same as fighting in the trenches against Ukraine. These men do not care to risk their lives for Putin’s vision of a neo-imperial Russia. The reality is that the 300,000 reserves being called up to secure Putin’s place in history, might become lost to history. Dead, forgotten, abandoned, all for one man’s legacy and to course correct his fatal decision to invade Ukraine.

Differences of opinion – Russia-Georgia border in 2008 & 2022

Hidden Fears – A Knock At The Door
There is a high probability that the reserves being called up for military service will have as good of a chance of being killed or wounded than surviving the war. The fear of being sent to Ukraine has spread across all of Russia. The sheer scale of those fleeing the country is hard to fathom. There have been reports of lines as far east as the border crossing into Mongolia. Few want to visit Mongolia just before the onset of winter. Russian males do. Better to cool one’s heels in Ulan Bator than die in the Donbas. A six-kilometer line of cars piled up at a border crossing into Kazakhstan, a place that is not exactly known as a garden spot in summer or winter. Those who want to avoid conscription, but do not have the means to travel abroad are said to be hiding. The dreaded knock at the door by recruiters and/or police goes unanswered. Hiding is a near term solution to a problem that will last for as long as the war continues. Russia needs all the young, healthy men it can get to continue the war. If they will not voluntarily answer the call of duty, they could be arrested and then sent to the front anyway.

The art of avoidance is now being practiced by tens of thousands of Russian men. Many of them will go to great lengths to ensure they avoid the war in Ukraine. One analytics check of Google searches in Russia shows “How to break your arm.” has been one of the top queries. Self-harm does not seem like too bad of an option compared to fighting in Ukraine. Another avenue of escape is desertion. Russian soldiers could then hope to be captured by Ukrainian forces. The situation is so bad that being held as a prisoner of war by Ukraine is likely better than living conditions in the Russian Army. That is because anyone conscripted now, could find themselves shivering in a trench or stuck in barracks that have a bare minimum of necessities this winter. There is little appeal for Russian reservists fighting in Ukraine. Soldiers who are killed will have their remains burned in a mobile crematorium. Their loved ones may never find out what happened to them. No wonder potential conscripts are making a run for the border.

Getting the boot – Russia is trying to mobilize 300000 reserves

Into Oblivion – A False Front
Those Russian men unlucky enough to be pressed into service will have the bizarre burden of fighting in a “special military operation” rather than a war. There is no glory to be found while fighting for lies. The regime still cannot acknowledge Russia is involved in a major war, but those fleeing abroad know the truth. The regime is locked in a struggle for its own existence. Putin has called up reserves to save Russia from the disaster he created. They are his last resort. Those who are forced to fight will not be doing so to save Russia from anything other than defeat. They have no other reason to be at the front other than to support Putin’s rotten regime. Those who have realized this are headed abroad. Those who have not are headed to oblivion.

Click here for: Own Worst Enemy – The Putin Paradox & Russia’s Failing War Effort (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #201)

Coalition of the Unwilling – Russia’s Ethnic Minorities & The War in Ukraine (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #199)

On September 21st, Vladimir Putin announced in a nationwide message that there would be a partial mobilization to conscript 300,000 reserves. This immediately sent Russian males heading for the exits. By planes, trains and automobiles they headed out of the country in a mass emigration the likes of which has not been seen since the Russian Revolution in 1917 and the Civil War which followed it. By September 25th Russian security services reported that some 261,000 Russians had fled abroad. Just think about that for a moment. Nearly as many Russians left the country in a four-day period as Putin is trying to conscript for military service.

Off to war – Russian conscription notice

Discriminatory Practices – The Minority Report
The Russian authorities are finding it difficult to deliver draft notices. It is hard to imagine there are 300,000 willing reserves ready to fight and possibly die in Ukraine. Protests have broken out across the country. Some men have gone into hiding with help from their families. Others are heading abroad to friendlier countries or to ones they thought were friendly. For instance, those who fled to Belarus thinking they would be safe from conscription are in for a rude awakening. The Lukashenko regime will send any Russian male they catch avoiding conscription back to Russia. Early reports state that draft notices are being haphazardly delivered. The poor and those without connections are most liable to find themselves headed to Ukraine for the winter. They will not be only ones.

Trying to chaotically cobble together enough reserves means Russian officials will have to create a coalition of the unwilling to fight the war. Reports from a wide range of media sources show that a disproportionate number of those being called up come from ethnic minorities and/or rural areas. Some of the minorities include Central Asian guest workers who are told by officials that they are required to join the Russian military. They have the legal right to refuse. Tragically, they are not being informed of this. Many of them will end up fighting in Ukraine for a pittance. The remittances they regularly send back to their home countries which are vital to the economies of places such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will dry up. Meanwhile, these men might pay the highest price by losing their lives for getting caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Creating cannon fodder – Vladimir Putin announces partial mobilization

Mass Movement – The Richest Man’s War
At least guest workers armed with the correct knowledge can refuse to serve. Ethnic minorities that are Russian citizens will have no such luck. They are being targeted by the Putin regime to help the Russian military find enough men to replace those killed or wounded in Ukraine. These men do not have the means to head abroad. Thus, they are being inundated with draft notices. No matter how far flung or forlorn a frontier area, if it has able bodied males then many of them are likely to receive a notice. Reports from Siberia show that men there are being subjected to mass conscription. Take for instance Yakutia, where villages predominantly made up of indigenous peoples are seeing a large proportion of their male population called up. Many of these men are involved in subsistence activities such as hunting and fishing that feed their families. They are being forced to leave their loved ones behind right before the onset of winter. The suffering of those left behind will be immense.

Close knit communities that have lived on the margins of Russian society for centuries are going to be stripped of manpower. The old phrase, “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight” is being given a diabolical twist by the Putin regime. As the richest man’s war becomes the ethnic minorities fight. In the Caucasus region, which is heavily Muslim, protests led the governor of Dagestan to announce that conscription will be slowed down. Sadly, no such thing has happened yet in Crimea where Tatars are being called up. In Chechnya the same thing is happening. Ethnic minorities are being sent off to fight a neo-imperialist war for a regime that is rabidly nationalistic. These minorities are seen as less likely to protest than those who live in major Russian cities. Putin is making another attempt to win the war without asking most ethnic Russians to make the ultimate sacrifices by sending their husbands, sons and brothers to Ukraine. Instead, the burden will fall on those least likely to resist.

Run for the border – Vehicles waiting to cross the Russia-Georgia border

Off To War – Pressganging & Partial Mobilization
The Russian authorities have been cracking down on anyone who dares to protest partial mobilization. While the international media focuses on attempts to resist mobilization in Moscow and St. Peterburg, many of the protests have occurred in Siberian cities such as Novosibirsk, Tomsk, Chita, Ulan-Ude and Khabarovsk. Conscription will fall heavier on these cities, rather than ones in western Russia. This is ironic since these places are thousands of kilometers from Ukraine. Putin keeps saying that Russia is threatened by the west and its support for Ukraine. Logically, that should mean Russians in the western part of the country make more sacrifices. This is the opposite of Russia’s latest conscription practices. Even with the partial mobilization, most ethnic Russians are still insulated from the war. Putin cannot chance anything more than half measures with them. He fears the Russian populace turning on him. Thus, Putin is left to rely on ethnic minorities, all of whom have a long and bitter history of mistreatment at the hands of Russia.

Putin’s regime will also use Ukrainians from areas under Russian occupation to plug gaps in the armed forces. The sham referendums Russia is now holding in these areas will be used to annex them to Russia. The men there will suddenly become Russian citizens whether they want to or not. Russian officials in occupied areas have already been doing this. Annexation will only serve to accelerate this process. Pressganging Ukrainians and ethnic minorities to fight for Russia will provide badly needed manpower. On the other hand, it will lead to lower morale, higher rates of desertion and soldiers more willing to surrender. Partial mobilization might solve the Russian military’s manpower problem, but it will lead to all kinds of unintended consequences on the battlefield. Those could prove fatal to the Russian war effort and perhaps Putin’s regime.     

Click here for: The Art Of Avoidance – Russians Flee From Mobilization (The Russian Invasion of Ukraine #200)