On Wednesday morning, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin finally gave his delayed speech announcing a “partial mobilization” of Russian forces. Putin insisted that this would affect “only military reservists, primarily those who served in the armed forces and have specific military occupational specialties and corresponding experience,” and promised that college students would not be called up—though the new law working its way through the Duma allows for precisely that.
After standing up the nation on Tuesday evening, Putin finally popped up on Moscow TV Wednesday morning to deliver his promised “most important speech since the beginning of the special military operation.” In this speech [warning: link to official Kremlin site], Putin said this mobilization would be immediate, “starting on September 21.”
When Putin failed to show up for his scheduled speech on Tuesday, the initial word was that he intended to speak for over 3 hours on Wednesday morning, with Russian media carving out a big block of time. But in reality, the speech lasted just over ten minutes. Most of that time was devoted to simply lying about the invasion for the hometown crowd, blaming the invasion he initiated on NATO and “international terrorists.” Putin also claimed that Russia had no choice in invading because Ukraine, which notably gave up the hundreds of nuclear weapons that were on its soil when the Soviet Union collapsed, was “publicly seeking” such weapons.
Putin declared that, “The main goal of this operation, which is to liberate the whole of Donbas, remains unaltered.” Demilitarization seems to have vanished from the Kremlin vocabulary, though “Nazi” is still definitely present. In fact, Putin used the term at least once per minute, while blaming the atrocities that have taken place in Ukraine—including those just being discovered in liberated Kharkiv—on “the Neo-Nazi Kyiv regime.”
When it came to the war itself, Putin seemed to acknowledge that progress had been slow. As an excuse, he said that Ukraine had created very difficult defensive lines, backed by western weapons, and that Russian forces were fighting not just “against neo-Nazi units but actually the entire military machine of the collective West.” Because of that, said Putin, Russia’s slow motion movement was a feature, not a bug. According to Putin, “A head-on attack against them would have led to heavy losses...” And he would certainly know.
When it came to the sham referendums, Putin declared that Russia “ will support the choice of future made by the majority of people in the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics and the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions,” but didn’t specify what form that support would take before sliding back into a finale in which he blamed the West for “encouraging shelling of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant” and raising the threat of nuclear weapons. Followed by a threat that Russia would use nuclear weapons.
After Putin’s brief speech, it actually fell to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to fill in all the blanks. According to Shoigu, 300,000 people would be subject to the mobilization. Bizarrely, Shoigu said this while claiming that Russia has lost less than 6,000 soldiers while killing “half the Ukrainian military” or “over 100,000.” In fact, according to Shoigu, the whole Kharkiv counteroffensive has been a great success for Russia, as they have “killed more Ukrainians in the last three weeks” than Russia has lost in the whole war. (Bonus: Shoigu says Russia destroyed 208 Ukrainian tanks and 970 other vehicles during the Kharkiv advance. So big Russian win.)
So … Russia has lost fewer than 6,000. Has killed 100,000. Killed 7,000 Ukrainians in the last three weeks. And is now calling up 300,000 to fight the half of the Ukrainian military that remains? It doesn’t have to make sense. It’s Russia.
Those who are mobilized will be treated as “contract soldiers” rather than conscripts, meaning they can be sent outside of Russia and into combat regions. When it comes to contract soldiers, many of whom have contracts only for a few months, all of those contracts have been extended “indefinitely.”
It seems that everyone in the Russian army, and everyone called to the army, is now serving an infinite term. But wait, it gets better. The Duma has recently passed a series of new penalties for desertion, for disobeying an order, and for damaging military equipment. All now come with hefty prison sentences. All of which helps to explain why airline tickets from Moscow to anywhere are now sold out. And why the biggest spike in Google searches in Russia is how to break a hand, or arm, or anything that would get someone out of service, at least for a few weeks.
It also fell to Shoigu to make it clear “following the referendum” that Russia would consider the areas involved to be part of the “territory of Russia.” It’s amazing that Shoigu apparently knows the outcome of referendums that haven’t been held. However, the reason for making this statement is because Russian law allows for mobilization in case of invasion of Russian territory.
Combined with a portion of Putin’s speech in which he said, “The citizens of Russia can be sure that the territorial integrity of our Motherland, our independence and freedom will be ensured—I emphasize this again—with all the means at our disposal,” this certainly seems to be a threat that attacking any of the referendum areas would be possibly met with a nuclear response. Which is actually not what Russian law allows. Other than in response to a first strike, Russian law only allows use of nuclear weapons if the existence of the Russian state is under threat.
But again, Putin and Shoigu get to interpret this stuff as they want. That’s the benefit of being a dictator.
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink summed up the response of both the U.S. and the world to Putin’s speech and Shoigu’s bluster.
Tankies on Twitter and pro-Russian channels on Telegram are bubbling over with a lot of “oh, boy, you guys are in for it now. Just you wait.” As they are all seemingly convinced that Russia kept all the super soldiers back home.
Meanwhile, everyone else points out that Russia’s logistical nightmare won’t be solved by adding more people. Russia’s increasing shortage of modern weapons won’t be solved by Putin wagging his finger at factories and telling them to make more, when they don’t have access to microprocessors and other necessary components. And perhaps most of all, Russia’s top-down, 1950s-era tactics won’t be made better just by throwing in more people.
How long it will take before any of those called up today actually arrive in Ukraine is unclear. But there are reports that military officers are already walking the streets in some towns—though not, of course, in Moscow—with “warrants” for reservists who are being shipped away today.
While we wait for what’s next, here’s a thread of Russian reservists saying they’ll either refuse to fight, or shoot their officers, if sent into Ukraine. Here you go, tankies, these are the guys who are going to save your Russian army.
“I'm not going to fight, f**k you. Not only will I immediately give up, I will show you the way to the Kremlin.”
Good news. Russia isn’t going to have to worry about dealing with 300,000 new conscripts. But Finland may soon have a larger Russian army than Russia.