Index > Briefing
Wednesday, September 21, 2022
Russia's Partial Mobilization Unable to Change Ukraine's War Situation
He Jun

With the Russian army’s recent successive setbacks in eastern Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin finally announced a partial military mobilization on September 21.

“I find it necessary to support the proposal of the Defense Ministry and the General Staff on partial mobilization in the Russian Federation to defend our Motherland and its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to ensure the safety of our people and people in the liberated territories”, Putin said in his speech, “only military reservists, primarily those who served in the armed forces and have specific military occupational specialties and corresponding experience, will be called up. Before being sent to their units, those called up for active duty will undergo mandatory additional military training based on the experience of the special military operation”. This mobilization begins on September 21. “I am instructing the heads of the regions to provide the necessary assistance to the work of military recruitment offices”, Putin added.

This partial mobilization may be related to the referendum in the occupied territories of Ukraine. The four regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson announced on September 20 that a referendum aimed at joining the Russian Federation will be held. Among them, the Donbas region formed by the first of these two is the top priority of the “special military operation” of the Russian army. Putin said in his speech that the main goal of Russia is to "liberate" the Donbas region.

A national defense mobilization can include armed forces, national economy, civil air defense, and politics. It is an emergency measure taken by a state to shift from peacetime status to that of wartime, and to mobilize human, material, and financial resources to serve the war in a unified manner. Mobilization can be divided into full and partial according to the scale. It can also be classified based on its openness and confidentiality based on the means, as well as early and continuous in relation to timing. Mobilization is usually issued by the head of state or government. It is a strategic matter involving all fields of the country's military, politics, economy, culture, education, science and technology, diplomacy, and so on.

This is Russia's first national defense mobilization after World War II. What impact will this mobilization have on the Ukrainian war? Will it lead to an escalation of the war in Ukraine? Or, will it trigger a third world war, even leading towards nuclear war?

What is certain is that Russia's mobilization has to do with its continuous defeats in the Ukraine war. Since August, the Ukrainian army has carried out effective counterattacks with the support of the West. Some territories in the Donbas region previously occupied by the Russian army, at a great cost, have been recovered. The Russian army has suffered a large-scale rout. If Russia cannot even hold on to the victory in the Donbas region, the basic goal of its "special military operation" will be difficult to achieve. When this happens, it will be an unacceptable defeat for Putin.

The war in Ukraine has lasted for more than 200 days. With this, Russia's economic and defense capabilities have suffered a lot. The data disclosed by Ukraine and Western countries show that more than 50,000 Russian troops have died; while Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that Russia lost 5,937 people in the so-called “special military operations”, a difference of nearly 10 times between the two figures. From the battlefield information reported by the media, the reduction of Russian troops, especially the officers with combat experience, on the battlefield is extremely serious. This effectively further diminishes the capability and morale of the army. The Russian army suffered a major defeat in the Kharkiv region, and the serious shortage of troops was one of the important reasons. Shoigu said partial mobilization is needed to control the 1,000-kilometer contact line and the “liberated” areas of Ukraine. During the mobilization period, a total of 300,000 reservists will be recruited, which is slightly more than 1% of Russia's general mobilization resources. He also stated that university students are not involved in the mobilization now, nor in the future under any conditions.

Ukraine and the West have condemned Russia's partial mobilization order. The Ukrainian side said that Russia's move was a "predictable action" and stressed that the mobilization order would not be supported by the Russian people. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted, “Sham ‘referendums’ will not change anything. Neither will any hybrid ‘mobilization’”. British Foreign Minister Gillian Keegan, German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck, and the American ambassador to Ukraine Bridget A. Brink criticized Russia for attempting to escalate the conflict, that Putin has broken his promise not to mobilize part of the population, and the West will respond to this. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said, "The mobilization, calling for referenda in the Donetsk, it is all a sign of panic. His (i.e., Putin’s) rhetoric on nuclear weapons is something we have heard many times before, and it leaves us cold".

It is worth noting that the Chinese Foreign Ministry's statement on this is the same as it has always been. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said that China's position on the Ukraine issue has always been clear, and he maintains that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected. Wang added that the purposes and principles of the UN Charter should be observed, and the legitimate security concerns of all countries need to be taken seriously. He also called for the support of peaceful resolutions to the crisis.

What will happen to the Ukraine war after Russia imposes partial mobilization? Based on the current situation, these are the possible changes:

First of all, few alternatives are left for both Russia and Ukraine, as there will be less room for maneuver and negotiation. Carrying out partial mobilization and investing more troops into the Ukrainian battlefield means that Russia has now poured a greater "bet" into the Ukrainian war. It also means that if Russia fails in the future, the price that it has to pay will be even higher. It is even less likely for Ukraine, which is now on the verge of smooth progress on the battlefield, to accept the outcome of peace talks or the referendum. Therefore, the two sides can only continue to invest more resources to fight until the final victor is determined.

Second, the war in Ukraine may intensify, and the duration of the war could be further extended. With both sides pouring in more “bets”, there is no way out for either of them. This is a dangerous outcome, as it signifies that the war is likely to escalate. For Russia, in the absence of substantive support from other countries, there are theoretically two levels of war. The first is the general mobilization of national defense, which means that all national forces are invested in the war against Ukraine. The second is to launch a nuclear war. This, however, means not only the end of Russia but the destruction of all humanity. At present, the probability of the latter is extremely small. For Ukraine, its goals are clear and there is little option, and it will continue to make greater sacrifices for the escalation of the war with aid from the West.

Third, regardless of the outcome of the Ukraine war, the U.S. and the West's purpose of weakening Russia will be achieved. Currently, the U.S. still controls the bottom line for NATO countries not to engage Russia directly, in order to avoid the outcome of a third world war or a nuclear war. If NATO weakens Russia through Ukraine within this framework, Russia’s economic and military capabilities will be significantly incapacitated. With this, a once great power that had a huge influence on the world will be vastly undermined in the international political arena, effectively being “denationized”.

Final analysis conclusion:

On the whole, Russia's move of partial mobilization will prolong and escalate the war, causing more casualties on both sides. However, it will not change the war pattern much. At the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Putin that, “today’s era is not of war”. Putin responded that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine will be ended as soon as possible. This scene is quite symbolic. The continuation of the Russia-Ukraine conflict is a huge disaster for both sides. The best way to end it is to end the war. Stopping the war in time may also preserve both countries, but allowing the war to spread and escalate will cause them to collapse.

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