Escalation in Ukraine

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin did two things today that escalate the war in Ukraine and make nuclear war a little more likely than it was before.

The first thing was to announce referenda in Russian-speaking, Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine on joining the Russian Federation.  It’s reasonable to think that the vote will be “yes.”

The second was to announce a partial mobilization, which will increase Russian troop strength by about 300,000.  This could double or triple the number of troops available to fight in Ukraine.

In other words, Russia has drawn a new red line and is increasing its war-fighting ability to maintain it.


For years, Putin’s demand was only that Ukraine grant autonomy to the Luhansk and Donetzk regions and respect the civil rights of Russian-speakers.  But early this year, he persuaded the Duma to recognize Luhansk and Donetsk as independent republics.

This provided a theoretical legal justification for the “special military operation.”  Russia was defending two sovereign nations from attack.

Annexation of the Luhansk, Donetzk, Marupol and Kherson means that Russia would say that any invasion of these regions was an attack on Russia itself.  According to stated Russian policy, Russia would retaliate by any means deemed necessary, including use of nuclear weapons.

It also means that Russia’s occupation of these lands is non-negotiable.  Russia cannot afford to give them up.

When Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, it had the advantage.  It had prepared arms production so that the Ukrainians were outgunned.  It also had bolstered its economy so as to be able to survive the sanctions war launched by the United States.

By supplying Ukraine with modern weapons, and by providing intelligence, training and possibly support by elite troops, the U.S. has changed the nature of the war.  Military analyst Scott Ritter says the war is no longer a Ukrainian war using NATO equipment; it has become a NATO war using Ukrainian troops.

Russia’s main weakness is that the Russian people themselves are not eager to go fight and die in Ukraine.  The bulk of the fighting has been done by militias of Russian-speakers in Luhansk and Donetzk, the Wagner Group (private mercenary soldiers), Chechens and fighters from the Syria and other foreign countries.

While Russia has a military draft, there is an understanding that draftees won’t be sent to fight in Ukraine.

 Putin’s mobilization will draw on reservists.  This is how the George W. Bush administration found the troops needed for the occupation of Iraq.  American reservists came to feel their patriotism was being exploited, and the same thing may happen in Russia.

Troops now serving under military contract for limited times will have their enlistments extended.   And the Wagner Group will be permitted to recruit from prisons.

But the USA, its NATO allies and Ukraine have their own weaknesses.  The stockpile of NATO weapons is being depleted and cannot be easily replaced – in contrast to Russia, which made sure in advance to be able to produce weapons as needed.

Ukraine is resorting to assassination, sabotage and guerrilla warfare, which are the tactics of desperation.

The Western European nations face a devastating economic crisis this winter as a result of blowback from sanctions, and it will affect the USA.

The USA, UK and most of the NATO allies are unwilling to send their own troops to fight in Ukraine, at least not openly.

 In the USA, the armed forces are unable to meet their recruiting goals.  A majority of young people eligible for military service are disqualified by reason of illiteracy, criminal records, drug addiction, or obesity and other health problems.

I still think the advantage lies with Russia.

Leaders of both Russia and Ukraine are fighting wars of survival.  Russia intends to pound Ukraine until it can no longer to fight wars.  The NATO allies have the same goal for Russia.  Neither side can afford to lose, and only one can win.


Text of Putin Speech Announcing Partial Mobilization, with commentary by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

Text of Putin’s Speech on Ukraine via Consortium News.  A more readable version.  [Added Later]

Russia Announces Partial Mobilization by Bernhard for Moon of Alabama.

Game Changer in Ukraine by Larry Johnson for Son of the New American Revolution.

Machiavelli on Putin by Ian Welsh.  Not my view, but interesting and possibly true.


[Added Later]

Public opinion polls indicate that about three-quarters of the Russian public approve of Putin’w war policy in Ukraine, about the same percentage that approved of President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq.  

The strong punishments for war protestors imply the Russian government is worried about potential opposition to the war.  The Meduza news service reported on the protests and details of Putin’s mobilization plan.

‘Anyone who’s upset can still leave – for now’: The logistics of the Kremlin’s mobilization plan by Andrey Pertsev for Meduza news service.

‘It’s whatever the Defense Ministry says’: Warned not to leave the country, reservists rush to buy their tickets to escape by Meduza news service.

No to Putin: Russians take to the streets countrywide after Putin announces call-up by Meduza news service.

[Added Still Later]

Peace Activists Hit the Streets from D.C. to San Francisco by Marcy Winograd for International Press Agency.

[Added 09/22/2022]

Further Thoughts on Russian Partial Mobilization and Next Steps by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

From ‘special military operation’ to open war by Gilbert Doctorow.

NATO prolongs the Ukraine proxy war, and global havoc by Aaron Maté

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3 Responses to “Escalation in Ukraine”

  1. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    When Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, it was pretty clear they had more on their agenda than protecting Russian speakers and convincing Ukraine not to join NATO.

    Assassination, sabotage, and guerrilla warfare are how a resistance movement in occupied territories fights. And they also provide Ukraine with detailed information on Russian positions and logistics.

    I think the advantage still lies with Ukraine. They have more volunteers than they can train and the draft has been discontinued. Morale is very high. Not the size of the dog in the fight; it’s the size of the fight in the dog.

    It is the Russians who are running low on equipment. That’s why they went to N Korea for artillery shells and Iran for drones and are dusting off 60-year-old tanks. The west is doing fine.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. philebersole Says:

    Over the past 20 years, the USA, with its expensive, advanced, high-tech army, has been losing war after war, while Russia, supposedly a gas station pretending to be a nation, has won victory after victory.

    The contradiction for the USA is that we have a military-financial establishment whose aim is world domination, aka “the rules-based international order,” but that we the people are unwilling to shed our blood to maintain that domination.

    War is by its very nature uncertain. I’m not smart enough, or foolish enough, to try to predict what will happen. Russia may well be more fragile than it seems, but so are the USA and its NATO allies. One possibility is that both sides will crack under the strain of war.


  3. the blame-e Says:

    Very well-written piece. Very informative. I had several gaps in my knowledge and understanding about what is going on. Your article helped fill those gaps. Thank you.


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