From the beginning of the “special military operation” in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has forbidden the use of words such as “invasion” or “war” in his country. Journalists have disappeared from their on-air roles for slipping up and saying those words. Anyone daring to protest the war in public was similarly at risk of being taken away in the night by Kremlin goons. Nobody in Russia is allowed to talk about the staggering losses of lives and equipment the Russian military has suffered in Putin’s misbegotten adventure in the south. But that might change in the near future. Intelligence analysts believe that Putin is preparing to officially declare war on Ukraine and he may do it on Russia’s “Victory Day” on May 9th. If so, he will likely try to capitalize on the symbolism of the date while providing himself with more legal avenues to conscript troops and resources to pursue his war on the “Ukrainian Nazis.” (CNN)
Russian President Vladimir Putin could formally declare war on Ukraine as soon as May 9, a move that would enable the full mobilization of Russia’s reserve forces as invasion efforts continue to falter, US and Western officials believe.
May 9, known as “Victory Day” inside of Russia, commemorates the country’s defeat of the Nazis in 1945. Western officials have long believed that Putin would leverage the symbolic significance and propaganda value of that day to announce either a military achievement in Ukraine, a major escalation of hostilities — or both.
Officials have begun to hone in on one scenario, which is that Putin formally declares war on Ukraine on May 9. To date, Putin has insisted on referring to the brutal monthslong conflict as a “special military operation,” effectively banning words such as invasion and war.
“I think he will try to move from his ‘special operation,’” British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told LBC Radio last week. “He’s been rolling the pitch, laying the ground for being able to say ‘look, this is now a war against Nazis, and what I need is more people. I need more Russian cannon fodder.’”
The idea of a national leader declaring war more than two months after invading a neighboring nation and seeing his troops commit countless war crimes is patently absurd. But don’t expect that to deter Vladimir Putin. I doubt that Mad Vlad will actually use the phrase “cannon fodder” as the British Defense Secretary suggested in the quoted excerpt above, but he will probably tell his people that he’s being forced to fight a war against modern Nazis, and doing so on the day that Russia celebrates its victory over the actual Nazis in World War 2 will probably be seen as some clever optics among Putin’s inner circle.
If he does this and his people rise up in support of the proposition, this will probably be a timely reminder of the power of Russia’s iron grip on state-sponsored media. For all the complaining that many of us do about American mainstream media bias, we’re still light years ahead of the Russians. While there are obviously pockets of dissent in Russia among people who are still able to access international news through forbidden channels, the majority of the country is spoon-fed propaganda through state television. Polling indicates that Putin’s popularity has actually increased since the invasion and a majority of his people actually believe that Putin is just trying to “save their Ukrainian brothers and sisters” from the grip of the Jewish Nazis in charge of Kyiv. It’s almost too surreal for words.
As mentioned above, the formal declaration of war would allow Putin to call up reserve military forces and conscript civilians into the army. They would be needed to replace the rapidly depleting and underequipped troops that have already been deployed. But given how badly the regular army has performed, how much improvement would they see from rapidly recruited and deployed fighters that probably have had little or no training? It’s not hyperbolic to describe such conscripts as literal cannon fodder under such circumstances.
If current estimates are anywhere near accurate, Russia has lost at least 10,000 fighters in the war against Ukraine so far, and potentially considerably more. An even larger number are being sent back to hospitals in Russia with the horrendous types of wounds that soldiers suffer in warfare. Surely the families of all of these dead and maimed soldiers must be aware of their losses and at least some of them must be talking to their neighbors, right? How long can public support for this misguided adventure hold up? Americans widely supported the invasion of Afghanistan because we had been attacked on 9-11. The war in Iraq quickly drew sizable protests despite the Bush administration’s incorrect claims that Saddam Hussein was building weapons of mass destruction to use against us because Iraq hadn’t attacked us. Ukraine has never done anything remotely aggressive toward Russia and Putin would be hard-pressed to fabricate a claim that they had without ever mentioning it before now.
If Putin loses the support of his people, the war may become unsustainable. One defense analyst interviewed for the article I linked above is suggesting that Putin may send a fresh round of troops into eastern Ukraine for a week or so, declare victory, and then pull out entirely, leaving Ukraine to retake the Donbas. I’m not sure how plausible that is at present, but it would at least bring an end to Putin’s war. And if he can’t secure an actual victory, that may begin to look like an option to him. Also, the state-run media I mentioned above would back up his story wholeheartedly, so he might just get away with that lie.