It’s day 70 of Putin’s war in Ukraine, but at least in Russia, the war is not yet official – Russian leaders have continued to present the invasion as a “special military operation”.
But all that could change on Victory Day, the day Russia celebrates the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II. Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to declare war on Ukraine on Victory Day, May 9, Western and Ukrainian officials say.
Putin will declare a full mobilization for war on May 9, the main Ukrainian military spy, Kyrylo Budanov, predicted this week. US officials also warn that Russia could declare war as early as May 9, CNN reported.
Some senior US officials fear Putin will massively step up attacks on Ukraine in the coming days. Senior Biden administration officials are growing increasingly concerned that Putin is desperate to declare any kind of victory in Ukraine as VE Day approaches.
“He needs a win to survive,” a senior administration official told The Daily Beast. “A repetition of [the Soviet loss in] Afghanistan is literally an existential threat to a regime based on the idea that a strong leader can revive the glory of the Russian Empire.
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a concert marking the anniversary of the annexation of Crimea March 18, 2022 in Moscow, Russia.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak candidly, said the pressure to “deliver a victory, any sort of victory”, could trigger an unprecedented escalation.
Some of the day’s “festivities” might tout the apparent successes of invading Ukraine as a way to build support for the country, either simply to show off some supposed victories to justify the invasion, or to garner support for a new escalation.
The pomp and circumstance might include the twisted plan to present 500 Ukrainian POWs in a parade to show Russia’s military might compared to Ukraine’s, according to a report by the Russian Human Rights Project”Gulagu.net.” Putin is also reportedly considering sham trials of Ukrainians who Russia says supported the Nazis, in a knock-off of the Nuremberg trials that helped hold Germany’s Nazi leaders accountable.
The warnings about Russia’s plans come as Russian forces suffer massive losses – on Wednesday Russia lost 24,500 soldiers, according to the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. And the The Russian army is struggling to keep its numbers up to the task, striving to recruit more people to join, with little success.
Declaring war more formally would allow Russia to draw on reserve forces to bulk up its military operation on the ground in Ukraine to achieve a more decisive victory.
The symbolic VE Day comes at a time when Putin needs all the help he can get after his strength has been waning for weeks. After his troops failed to take kyiv and achieve some of his most ambitious goals in Ukraine, Russian forces had to retreat and replenish supplies going after eastern Ukraine, in a sort of plan B for Russia. And while fighting continues in eastern Ukraine, the delay in plans to redirect eastward has allowed Ukraine to ramp up its weaponry to try to thwart Russian attacks more effectively, which could put Russia at a disadvantage for a while, Rob Lee, a Russian military analyst, told The Daily Beast.
“I don’t think time is on Russia’s side, because Ukraine is getting more modern weapons [such as] howitzers,” Lee, senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told The Daily Beast. “I think Ukraine will be in a stronger position in a few weeks compared to today.”
The symbolic nature of VE Day could serve as an ideal platform for Putin to water the Russians with more propaganda about the invasion in Ukraine to garner support for a larger scale mobilization. But selling a more sincere mobilization at the national level could be difficult, given that Russia has hinted that the “special” operation is going well.
“I’m quite curious,” Budanov said. “How are they going to explain this to their own people? Why does Russia, with its, as they say, the first or second army in the world, need a mobilization, when, according to their official reports, everything is going according to plan and Ukraine in as a military machine is nothing?
The date could, of course, have no bearing on Putin’s declaration of war. The future of Putin’s war in Ukraine will depend on what happens on the ground in eastern Ukraine, not on a date, said Michael Kofman, director of the program’s research program on Russia at NAC, a national security research organization based in Virginia. The beast.
“The political leadership [will] assess the current situation in the Donbass and their likelihood of achieving their goals through this campaign,” Kofman said. “At the moment, it’s still unclear if the Russian offensive is going very slowly because they’re meeting a lot more resistance than expected, because their forces are much weaker now, or if they’re pursuing this more methodically and more carefully to preserve strength.”
And Russian forces are not so hot in eastern Ukraine, a senior US defense official said in a Monday briefing.
“They still haven’t worked out all of their logistical issues, and quite frankly there’s…an aversion to risk and loss that we continue to see from the Russians now, not just in the air, but on the ground. ground,” the senior US defense official said. . The Russians are “very, very careful, very lukewarm”.
Going all out for Ukraine, in any case, could be political suicide for Putin, Lee warned. After mobilizing for a war, Ukraine’s expectations of success may be higher – successes the Russian military has not proven it can achieve. And if conscripts die in large numbers, upheaval around Putin’s decisions could mount.
“With volunteers…it’s a bit of a different scenario where Russians can say, ‘ok, you chose to join, you chose to serve,'” Lee told The Daily Beast. “If you mobilize, it means you have to achieve something more, because then the stakes are higher. And if you start sending conscripts to war, they start getting killed in large numbers, it becomes a very big political risk.
US officials have warned that VE Day may not be the endgame for Putin as well, and have been unclear on when Putin could make his next big move in Ukraine. Around mid-May, for example, Putin is likely to attempt to annex parts of eastern Ukraine as well as Kherson, Michael Carpenter, the US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Peace, predicted this week. cooperation in Europe.
The intelligence on the plans is “highly credible,” Carpenter said.
“We believe that Russia will try to annex Donetsk ‘people’s republic’ and Lugansk ‘people’s republic’…to Russia,” Carpenter said Monday during a briefing with reporters. “I can’t say if Russia will be able to execute their planning, but that’s the planning we see.”
BudanovUkraine’s defense intelligence chief, however, warned that the Russian military was eyeing victory on May 9 in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass.