Russia is preparing to mobilize another 500,000 conscripts, Ukraine says
Ukrainian military intelligence has claimed that Russia is preparing to order the mobilization of 500,000 conscripts in January, in addition to the 300,000 it called up in October, another clear sign that Vladimir Putin has no intention of ending the war.
Ukraine believes the conscripts will be part of Russia’s spring and summer offensive in the east and south of the country, Vadim Skibitsky, deputy chief of Ukrainian military intelligence, said.
Russia has denied it is preparing a second wave of mobilization, with Putin saying last month it was “useless” to talk about a new appeal, with only half of those already mobilized being sent to Ukraine.
Russian officials, including Putin, denied plans to order mobilization before finally announcing a “partial mobilization” in September..
Ukraine’s new mobilization warning comes as Russia says it is abiding by a unilateral Orthodox Christmas truce..
Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Friday that its troops began observing a ceasefire “along the entire contact line” from noon Moscow time, accusing Ukraine of shelling residential areas and military positions.
No major airstrikes have been reported by Ukrainian officials since the ceasefire began, despite warnings of airstrikes in some parts of Ukraine.
But there were signs of local Russian attacks. Citing eyewitness accounts in the Russian-occupied regional capital Donetsk, Reuters reported artillery fire from Russian positions on the outskirts of the city after the ceasefire took effect.
Denis Pushilin, the Russian-appointed leader in Donetsk, said late Thursday that Putin’s order covers only offensive operations and that his forces will retaliate if they come under fire.
A few hours before the declared ceasefire, Russian rockets fell on a residential building in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, damaging 14 houses, the mayor said that there were no casualties.
Ukraine’s estimate of troops to be mobilized is higher than in September, which has proved largely unpopular and sparked protests across Russia.
If the estimate turns out to be correct, Russia will have almost doubled its pre-war strength within a few months. Ukrainian military intelligence said that 280,000 Russian ground troops are currently deployed against Ukraine. In the summer, Oleksii Danilov, Ukraine’s national security chief, said that a million Ukrainians have gained combat experience, but only a minority of that number may be on active duty.
Skibitsky said it would take Russia about two months to build up military formations, and any Russian success on the battlefield would depend on how well equipped and trained the Russians were. According to him, a lot will depend on the continuous supply of military ammunition and weapons to Ukraine for the supply of new spare parts made by Ukraine.
“If Russia loses this time, Putin will collapse,” Skibitsky said, describing the next six to eight months as a final push. According to him, Ukraine expects the last wave of mobilization to be announced on January 15 after Russia’s winter holiday. “They emphasize the number of men and equipment and hope to overwhelm our team.”
Andrei Gurulyov, a retired Russian colonel general and Duma deputy, said on Wednesday that there was “no reason and no condition” for Moscow to announce a second mobilization within the next six months.
“Not all of those who were mobilized before were sent to fight,” Gurulyov told Russian media, referring to the tens of thousands of conscripts undergoing military training.
Several pro-war nationalist bloggers who have gained influence in recent months have said, contrary to the official line, that Russia has no choice but to announce a new campaign of mobilization soon.
Russian ultra-nationalist commentator and former intelligence officer Igor Strelkov has predicted that Moscow will announce mobilization next month.
“There will be a second wave of mobilization. We will be forced to implement a second, maybe a third wave. We will have to call at least half a million more soldiers to win in Ukraine,” said Strelkov, adding that the new mobilization campaign will take place at the end of February, on the anniversary of the start of the war.
“We expect that they will conduct offensive operations in Donetsk and Kharkiv regions, including Zaporozhye, but defend in Kherson and Crimea. This is the number of men they will need for such a job,” said Skibitsky, explaining why they expected half a million to be called up.
In December, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov and Army Commander Valery Zalujny said that Russia would attack again from Belarus next February. On the contrary, Ukrainian military intelligence has said that they believe that the probability of an attack from Belarus is low.
According to Skibitsky, Russia has only one unit in Belarus – about 15 thousand people. In February last year, they had 45,000 men, and although Ukraine was not sufficiently prepared, they could not take Kiev. Defense positions in northern Ukraine are now strong and Ukraine was ready, Skibitsky said. “The Guardian” spent New Year’s Eve at the border of the Sumy region in the north-east of Ukraine, where the local defense forces expressed the same opinion.
“Of course, this could change if Belarus joins the war,” Skibitsky said. Belarus has about 45,000 soldiers.
According to US military expert Rob Lee, even if Russia has the numbers, that doesn’t automatically mean its units will be effective – the Russian military currently has leadership, ammunition and training issues. According to Lee, the question of how well Russia can integrate the newly mobilized forces remains open because there has been no comparable war recently.
“If you mobilize 500,000 men, those problems don’t go away, you just have similar problems with more manpower,” Lee said, noting that less trained troops are better at defending territory than offensive operations.
To compensate for heavy combat losses during the 10-month war, Russia also recruited tens of thousands of prisoners to fight in Wagner’s personal military group.
On Thursday, the first prisoners Wagner recruited received their promised pardons after six months of fighting in Ukraine.