Ukraine Update: To mobilize or not—Putin’s lose-lose choice

Ukraine Update: To mobilize or not—Putin’s lose-lose choice

Today’s April 29 report really amounts to “zip.” A small village northeast of Kharkiv liberated by Ukraine was the only territory to change hands. On the main Donbas front, Ukraine General Staff reported repelling 14 attacks, none gained purchase. And yet again, we see Russia incapable of organizing a single, massive, coordinated push to crack Ukrainian defensive lines. It’s just more of the same we’ve seen all war—a slow grinding effort to erode Ukraine defenses by sending wave after wave of small, under-resourced attacks, except with more artillery prep. The tactic has had some successes! But at severe cost to the invaders.

And it’s slooooow going. Russia captured Izyum on April 1, and yet four weeks later, it has only managed to push out 30 kilometers (~19 miles). That’s about a kilometer a day. Only 5,000 more square miles to go! It doesn’t help that Russia is pushing in four different directions, as usual failing to concentrate its efforts in a single axis. 

Russia’s scattered attacks have had some local successes, at a cost of broader strategic advance.

Russia’s wanted to parade Ukrainian victories at its May 9 victory, er, parade. Oh well, they can’t even claim the carcass of Mariupol, as Ukrainian resistance continues at the massive Azovstal steel factory and its surroundings:

Graphic video that shows a Russian naval infantryman shot while running to a building in Mariupol, severing an artery. A BTR-82 arrives at the end to help with the evacuation. According to the Russian source, the serviceman did not survive.

— Rob Lee (@RALee85) April 29, 2022

(Note, you don’t actually see any of the injury, as it’s far from the camera. You do see Russians trying to help their fallen comrades, which might be a first and I found it strangely life affirming.) 

Ukraine, aside from some tactical pickups here and there, seems content to chip away at Russian forces with artillery, guerrilla ambushes, and drones, trading ground for blood when absolutely necessary, but mostly holding firm in their extensive prepared defenses along the entire Donbas front. They just need to hold out a couple more months, to allow all that sweet new Western gear to arrive—drones, armored, and artillery, of course, but also body armor and helmets that will allow reservists to join the fight, and medical supplies that will save many lives. Also, lots and lots of armor.

.@usairforce airmen load 155mm Howitzer ammunition bound for Ukraine into a C-17 Globemaster III at Travis Air Force Base, Calif.

— Department of Defense 🇺🇸 (@DeptofDefense) April 29, 2022

The US has already committed to sending 170,000 155mm shells. That’s a lot of shipments from California and elsewhere. And now, with lend-lease authority granted by Congress, the US will keep supplying as many of these as Ukraine needs. The spigot is wide open to anything the Pentagon thinks will help push Russia entirely out of Ukraine. Russia’s defeat is official U.S. policy. 

#Ukraine: Remarkable video from the Ukrainian 30th Mechanized Brigade showing a BM-27 Uragan MRL resupply point of the Russian Army struck by artillery in Irmino, #Luhansk. 3x 9P140 launchers, 2x 9T452 transloaders & 5x trucks full of rockets are seen- almost entirely destroyed.

— 🇺🇦 Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) April 29, 2022

Ukraine has a near unlimited supply of soldiers and potential soldiers. Unlike Russia, their bottleneck isn’t willing volunteers, it’s equipment. With the U.S. fully committed to the war effort, the new bottleneck is training Ukrainians and shipping the equipment. That’s why the stalemate out east is such a blessing for Ukraine. 

While Ukraine’s forces grow, Russia’s are a finite resource and attriting rapidly. They’ve run out of Donbas separatist cannon fodder, Syria never sent its promised 15,000 soldiers, none of Russia’s allies like Belarus are lending a hand, and Wagner mercenaries can’t fill the void. So Vladimir Putin has a difficult choice: whether to announce a general mobilization.

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace says he thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin will officially declare war on Ukraine during the May 9th parade – a move that would bring in more reservists or “cannon fodder.”

— Moshe Schwartz (@YWNReporter) April 29, 2022

Many conscripts and contract soldiers have used Russia’s kafkaesque bureaucracy to get themselves out of deployment to Ukraine. All of that reportedly disappears with a declaration of war and mobilization. With 135,000 conscripts currently mobilizing, that alone would more than double Russia’s forces in Ukraine. 

It’s curious that Russia hasn’t blamed Ukraine for the spate of attacks on fuel depots and other military infrastructure on Russian territory. Russia even pretends the sinking of their Black Sea Fleet flagship Moskva was an accident. That doesn’t speak to a government whipping its populace up into a war fervor. 

On the other hand, Russian state propaganda has been all about whipping up war fervor. Check out Julia Davis’ entire Twitter feed, but this is a taste:

I’ve seen Russian propagandists contort themselves into pretzels, but this really takes the cake. Former military spy on state TV claimed that Americans are responsible for the genocide of Russians, because they’re arming Ukrainians in order to exterminate the Russian genotype.

— Julia Davis (@JuliaDavisNews) April 22, 2022

The disconnect between state propaganda and the Russian government is stark, and creates genuine uncertainty about Putin’s direction. Yet his reluctance to mobilize thus far, despite Russia’s difficulties in Ukraine, signal fear of … something. Is Russia’s support for the war, supposedly in the 70-80% range, just skin deep—as long as it’s someone else’s skin in the game? 

[Russian political scientist Sergei] Sazonov argued that Putin may be afraid of mobilization because it is difficult to organize logistics for a much larger Russian army. He may be also afraid of provoking a political disaster, with a majority of conscripts trying to evade the draft, Sazonov added.

Putin is reluctant to begin mobilization because people will be disappointed with their relatives’ deaths in Ukraine, [Russian political analyst Dmitry] Oreshkin said.

“Mobilization is like pension reform – it concerns everyone,” he said. “It would be bizarre if Putin resorted to mobilization for something he calls a special operation. It would mean he has admitted his failure in Ukraine. It would be his last resort.”

We may already be seeing anti-mobilization panic. 

Belgorod, Russia. Local people share panic in telegram. Why? Are they preparing for something? Mobilisation? What’s going on? We will soon see.

— Dmitri 🇺🇦 (@mdmitri91) April 29, 2022

Even if Russia corrals more of its youth, then what? This is a great thread on the challenges: How will Russia train hundreds of thousands of new conscripts, when they’re already maxed out training the spring class of 135,000? How will these new soldiers be equipped given Russia is already scraping the bottom of the barrel in Ukraine, their reserves looted by rampant grift, and sanctions hindering the manufacture of new gear.

And will Putin really admit they are losing the war. Winners in a “special military operation” don’t need more troops. Sure, he’ll blame NATO, but “we’re losing, send me your sons” will be a tough sell. 

Thus, Putin is damned if he calls a general mobilization and damned if he doesn’t. A week before the war I wrote what ended up being a war preview titled, “Putin has backed himself into a lose-lose corner. How much will the world have to pay as a result?” The story has held up surprisingly well, but the headline? Even better. 

Mark Sumner had two great updates today: 

Dept. of Defense acknowledges that logistics are limiting Russian advances

To execute a different strategy, Russia needs a different army

Also, there’s great community coverage in the Ukraine tag

And on a completely different subject, but holy shit, this is our dystopian climate change future: 

No relief in sight. Day after day in range 45-50C, even 10 days out. That’s 113-122F. These are temperatures that kill. Pakistan and NW India are being hit hardest, but it is brutal throughout most of India. Although there is little reporting, the death toll must be staggering.

— Prof. Eliot Jacobson (@EliotJacobson) April 28, 2022

Saturday, Apr 30, 2022 · 3:53:12 AM +00:00


Because we all need more flowers in our lives, but especially Ukrainians:

Meanwhile in the Maidan Square 🇺🇦

— Illia Ponomarenko 🇺🇦 (@IAPonomarenko) April 29, 2022

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