Russian military vehicles rehearse ahead of Russia’s ‘Victory Day’ military parade marking the 77th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, in Red Square in Moscow, Russia, on May 4, 2022.
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | fake images
As Russia approaches one of the biggest days on its calendar, speculation is rife that President Vladimir Putin could use May 9 to declare some kind of victory in Ukraine, or even all-out war.
Also known as “Victory Day”, May 9 is a key day for Russia’s national identity as it marks the anniversary of the then-Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany at the end of World War II. in 1945.
On the day, Moscow displays its military might with pomp, pride and pageantry, with massive military parades through the center of the capital, watched by Putin and other top Kremlin officials.
This year, the event will take on added significance as Russia is actively involved in a military conflict with Ukraine, having invaded its neighbor on February 24.
Russia’s President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Vladimir Putin (C) and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (L) and Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (R) during a Victory Day military parade commemorating the 75th anniversary of the victory in World War II, on June 24, 2020 in Moscow, Russia.
Brochure | Getty Images News | fake images
Mass mobilization or victory?
Western officials and geopolitical analysts, as well as Ukrainian intelligence, suggest that Putin could use this year’s Victory Day to herald a victory in Ukraine, specifically in the eastern Donbas region, where his forces have concentrated their attacks in recent years. weeks.
It is also feared that the date could cause Russia to double down on the invasion, ordering the massive mobilization of its army and citizens under conditions of war.
Russia has undoubtedly stepped up its attacks on Ukraine in recent days and, after withdrawing its forces from the north in recent weeks, has focused on seizing key strategic positions in southern and eastern Ukraine, especially in the Donbas region. , where it has backed separatist rebels. during the last eight years.
Looking ahead to Victory Day, William Alberque, director of strategy, technology and arms control at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said there are “two real big options” for Putin.
“One is that he just declares victory with what he’s got and says, ‘Look, I expanded the DPR and the LPR [the two pro-Russian “People’s Republics” in Donetsk and Lugansk]’, and say: ‘I connected them to Crimea and to the land bridge, and we secured the water supply for Crimea and now I can declare that it is part of Russia,'” Alberque said.
“Or, the alternative is that you declare real war and an all-out war mobilization.”
Given the unpredictable nature of Putin’s leadership, Alberque said “ultimately we have to prepare for the worst.”
However, mass mobilization of Russia’s population for wartime operations would be a big step for Putin, which could put him at risk of popular dissent, particularly if thousands of young new Russian recruits are sent to fight the war despite having little training.
In March, Putin signed a decree ordering 134,500 new recruits into the army, raising suspicions that they might be destined to fight in Ukraine; Putin insisted that they would not.
A tank belonging to pro-Russian rebels is seen in separatist-controlled Donetsk, Ukraine, on March 11, 2022.
Anadolu Agency | Anadolu Agency | fake images
Russia has repeatedly denied that it will announce a declaration of war on Ukraine on May 9 and has avoided the term “war” since its invasion began, instead calling it a “special military operation.”
Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, this week rebuked journalists who asked how likely Putin was to declare war on Ukraine, telling them “no, this is nonsense.”
Russia is ‘preparing’
Asked if Russia plans to announce a full mobilization on May 9, kyiv’s defense intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov seemed sure.
“Yes, they are preparing,” he said, adding that Rosreserv, Russia’s state agency responsible for storing, securing and managing state food and equipment reserves in preparation for states of emergency, had “begun to check what they really have.” in stock. and calculate what they can give in mobilization orders”.
“This is an absolutely necessary step before the start of a real mobilization,” he added.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin looks on before the Red Square Victory Day military parade marking the 75th anniversary of victory in World War II June 24, 2020 in Moscow, Russia.
With ‘Victory Day’ focused on the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, the occasion would be ripe for Putin to compare his invasion of Ukraine, and what he claims is his “protection” of ethnic Russians there, with Russia’s defense of the country in the World Cup. Second war.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said last week that he would not be surprised if Putin used Victory Day to declare that Russia “is now at war with the Nazis of the world.” The Kremlin has repeatedly made unsubstantiated claims that Ukraine’s government is run by “Nazis” in an attempt to justify its invasion to the Russian public, and experts say there is no truth to the claim.
How far could Putin go?
There is concern that any mass mobilization could be accompanied by the introduction of martial law in Russia, a move that would confer extraordinary powers on Putin, allowing for a dramatic increase in his control over the lives of citizens and the economy of Russia. .
Not only would it give him the power to close Russia’s borders and censor communications, but he could also impose curfews, control the food supply, seize private property, and mobilize the population for war operations, even to the point to perform forced labor for defense needs.
Russia’s constitution allows martial law to be introduced if the country is under attack from an outside force and there are concerns that Russia may prepare a “false flag” attack to justify all-out war and martial law.
Destroyed buildings are seen as Russian attacks continue in Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 4, 2022.
Leon Klein | Anadolu Agency | fake images
One of the big questions in this regard is how far Putin is willing to go to achieve his goals in Ukraine.
Maximilian Hess, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told CNBC that “it’s very clear that he wants to be able to have something that he sees as a sizeable victory and soon.”
Hess said the “complete eradication” of the Ukrainian military in Donetsk and Luhansk was Putin’s main goal, but “I don’t think he wants to stop there.”
“Whether there is a clear overall Russian military strategy remains to be seen, but the tactics are certainly brutal,” he added.
Russia is widely believed to be focusing its attacks on the Donbas region to fully reclaim the territory and allow it to create a land bridge from Russia to Crimea, which it annexed in 2014, on Ukraine’s southern coast. This would give it access to ports crucial to its economy and to its military fleet in the Black Sea.
The battered coastal city of Mariupol, home to some of the heaviest fighting in recent weeks, appears to be a key part of this plan, as its capture would help Russia secure the link between Crimea and Donbas.
The UK Ministry of Defense said on Friday that Russian forces continued their assault on the city’s Azovstal steel plant for a second day, despite Russian statements that they would only seek to seal it off.
“Russia’s renewed effort to secure Azovstal and complete the capture of Mariupol is likely related to the upcoming May 9 Victory Day commemorations and Putin’s desire for symbolic success in Ukraine,” the ministry tweeted.
If the capture of Mariupol and control of the Donbas region would satisfy Russia, and if Ukraine is willing to cede some of its territory (it says it is not), it points to an open conflict that could drag on for years. Strategists have warned that the conflict in Ukraine could turn into a war of attrition, with massive losses on both sides and no clear “victor.”