President Putin’s declaration of partial mobilisation is a sign of the utter failure of Russia’s Ukraine strategy since February’s invasion. That Putin waited so long before declaring mobilisation is partly because it involves an implicit recognition of this failure, and of the fact that the “special military operation” is in fact a full-scale war, which Russia seems to be losing. It is also because he feared – rightly – a backlash from the Russian public. His regime is now in serious danger. Another major defeat would most probably bring it down.
What could be much more dangerous than the mobilisation itself is the combination of this announcement with the decision to hold referendums in the eastern Donbas (recognised as independent by Russia in February), and the other territories occupied by Russian forces during the invasion.
The key question is not the results of the “votes” on joining Russia themselves, which are a foregone conclusion, but whether the Russian government and parliament move immediately to annex these territories. If they do, it will be a sign that Moscow has given up any hope of peace and is ready to fight on indefinitely; for this annexation could never be accepted by Ukraine or the west and be part of any agreed settlement. The very best that could be hoped for in Ukraine will then be a series of unstable ceasefires punctuated by war, as has been the case in Kashmir for the past 75 years.
It will become apparent within the next week whether this is in fact Moscow’s intention, or whether the referendums are instead a move to create bargaining chips for future negotiation. It should be remembered that the Donbas separatist republics declared independence from Ukraine in 2014, but it was only eight years later, on the eve of war this February, that Moscow officially recognised their independence. In the meantime, Moscow negotiated with Ukraine and the west on the return of these territories to Ukraine with guarantees of full autonomy, under the Minsk II agreement of 2015.
Read the full piece in The Guardian.