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Is Putin Panicking Over Ukraine?

Experts say the Russian leader’s military mobilization plans reflect his growing desperation.

By , a reporter at Foreign Policy.
Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech.
Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech.
Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech during an event to mark the 1,160th anniversary of Russia’s statehood in Veliky Novgorod, Russia, on Sept. 21. ILYA PITALEV/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at Russia’s escalating military campaign, Venezuela’s crimes against humanity, and Germany’s energy measures

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Putin Escalates War Campaign in Ukraine

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at Russia’s escalating military campaign, Venezuela’s crimes against humanity, and Germany’s energy measures

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Putin Escalates War Campaign in Ukraine

In a sharp escalation of the war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to mobilize as many as 300,000 military reservists, just a day after four occupied Ukrainian regions announced illegal referendums to join Russia. 

Western officials and analysts say his announcement reflects his growing desperation and signals weakness as Ukrainian forces rapidly retake territory and the Russian military sustains heavy losses. Between 70,000 and 80,000 Russian troops have been killed or injured in the war, according to U.S. estimates.

This is one of the most significant/riskiest political decisions Putin has ever made, Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, wrote on Twitter, while adding that it was an acknowledgment that Russias war was failing and a change had to be made.

With fewer than 200,000 Russian troops currently believed to be in Ukraine, Putin’s plan would summon around more 300,000 people with some form of military experience. Under Russian law, they could be between the ages of 18 and 60. But the decree has limited details, and a lot remains unclear, leading some experts to believe Putin made it intentionally vague to allow for flexibility in implementation. 

Given the low number of Russian reservists with combat experience—and the likely monthslong training process that Russian officials described—the Institute for the Study of War said the decree probably wouldn’t influence the war’s outlook for months.

“This all adds up to a likely gradual call-up and deployment of limited numbers of reservists over the coming months that will not change the battlefield dynamics this year,” it wrote on Twitter.

Putins troop buildup comes after he consistently denied plans to expand his war campaign, as FPs Amy Mackinnon, Jack Detsch, and Robbie Gramer report. It is likely to deal a serious—if not fatal—blow to Putin’s effort to pitch the war as a special operation,’” they write—a framing that had helped protect him from criticism.

Within Russia, Putin’s announcement has already sparked an outpouring of anger and desperation, with more than 1,000 protesters reportedly arrested after demonstrations erupted. As others scrambled to escape the country, airplane tickets quickly sold out or drastically surged in price.

Adding more forces will do little to boost rapidly shrinking morale, which suggests an army of largely unwilling fighters—and more domestic frustration.

“The war will now increasingly be fought on the Russian side by people who do not want to be there,” Lee tweeted. “The difference in morale, unit cohesion, and other critical factors between Ukrainian and Russian units will grow even greater.”


What We’re Following Today

Venezuela’s crimes against humanity. A new U.N. report has uncovered evidence that the Venezuelan government committed crimes against humanity in its mission to stifle opposition and crack down on dissent. The assessment detailed numerous cases of torture, sexual violence, and arbitrary arrest.

“Our investigations and analysis show that the Venezuelan state relies on the intelligence services and its agents to repress dissent in the country, said Marta Valiñas, chair of the United Nations fact-finding mission. “In doing so, grave crimes and human rights violations are being committed, including acts of torture and sexual violence.

Germany nationalizes Uniper. Germany has nationalized its gas giant, Uniper, in a bid to improve its energy security as Russia’s chokehold on European energy leads to skyrocketing prices as well as strains businesses and households. In August, Uniper said it was facing $12.5 billion in losses. 

“We at Uniper have de facto become a pawn in this conflict,” Uniper CEO Klaus-Dieter Maubach said in August. 


Keep an Eye On 

Egypt’s shaky record. Egypt has used its new human rights strategy to camouflage its brutal crackdown on critics and political repression, Amnesty International said in a 48-page report released Wednesday. 

“Egyptian authorities have created the National Human Rights Strategy as a shiny cover-up to their unrelenting violations of human rights, thinking they would fool the world ahead of COP27,” said Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnès Callamard, referring to the U.N. climate change conference (COP27) in November. “But the grim reality … cannot be rebranded in a PR stunt.”

U.S. bank pledges. If China attacks Taiwan, the chief executives of three major U.S. banks—J.P. Morgan Chase, Citigroup, and Bank of America—have pledged to withdraw from China if the U.S. government orders it, the Financial Times reported.


Wednesday’s Most Read

What Russia’s Elites Think of Putin Now by Tatiana Stanovaya

‘We’re Working 24/7’: Ukraine Keeps Its War Machine Humming by Jack Detsch

Kazakhstan Is Breaking Out of Russia’s Grip by Temur Umarov


Odds and Ends 

From experiencing a deluge of 150,000 tomatoes to being smeared with Alfredo sauce, U.S. highways have consistently been the sites of peculiar food spills. In the latest disaster, a semitrailer transporting Coors Light beer collided with another vehicle, flooding a Florida highway with silver cans and crushed cardboard cases.

Christina Lu is a reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @christinafei

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