As its battlefield fortunes continue to deteriorate, Russia recalls up to 300,000 reservists, prepares sham plebiscites in four still partially occupied regions, and threatens the West with nuclear annihilation.
Ukraine at D+209: More nuclear threats and a partial mobilization.
Russia is organizing snap referenda on annexation of the Ukrainian territories it holds. The UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) this morning summarized those plans, as well as moves toward full mobilization."On 20 September 2022, officials from Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions announced they will conduct referendums on accession to the Russian Federation. These referendums follow the Russian Duma’s formal recognition of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics on 21 February 2022." The haste is probably motivated by concerns about Ukrainian advances into occupied territory. "This urgency is likely driven by fears of imminent Ukrainian attack and an expectation of greater security after formally becoming part of Russia."
Bucking up the troops, trawling the prisons, and calling up reserves.
Russian manpower shortages are being addressed in part with harsher laws against desertion and combat refusal. The MoD writes, "Russian forces in Ukraine continue to experience personnel shortages. The Russia Duma voted on 20 September 2022 to amend a law which extends punishments for defaulting troops. This is likely intended to limit the number of desertions and refusals and thereby to mitigate some of the immediate pressures. The Russian civilian and military leadership has faced significant pressure over the last two weeks. These new measures have highly likely been brought forwards due to public criticism and mark a further development in Russia’s strategy. Putin is accepting greater political risk by undermining the fiction that Russia is neither in a war nor a national crisis in the hope of generating more combat power."
Looking at the new criminal penalties for reluctant soldiers, the AP summarizes, "Under the new legislation, deserting a military unit during a period of mobilization or martial law would be punishable by up to 10 years in prison, compared with five years under the current law. Those who voluntarily surrender to the enemy will also face a prison term of up to 10 years, and those convicted of looting could be handed a 15-year term. Another amendment introduces a prison sentence of up to 10 years for those who refuse to go to combat or follow an officer’s order." In themselves the crimes defined aren't remarkable, and they'd be punishable offenses in almost any army in the world. In the US, for example, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) would punish various forms of desertion under Articles 85, 86, and 87. Articles 99, 100, and 101 would cover improper surrender and other misconduct in the face of the enemy, and Articles 88, 89, 90, 91, and 92 address different modes of disobedience and insubordination. Article 109 makes looting a punishable offense. Rather, it's the timing of the new Russian law that's significant, which seems an attempt to address the recent incident of serious indiscipline, and to give commanders some legal cover as they drive reluctant troops into combat.
President Putin also announced what media describe as a "partial mobilization," a call-up of reservists. Rusty and aging as they may be, reservists constitute a pool of at least relatively trained soldiers. Up to 300,000 may be recalled to active service, the AP reports.
Update, 12:00 noon: Reuters reports heavy booking of airline flights out of Russia. Departures are said to have sold out within hours of the call-up's announcement. Social media posts, like this one, report traffic jams at the Finnish border, the last one open in European Russia.
Attempts to recruit convicts into contract service with the Wagner Group continue, the Guardian reports. One prisoner described the inducement. “I have 11 more years to spend in jail. Either I die in this sh*thole or I die there, it doesn’t matter that much. At least I’ll have a chance to fight for my freedom. We all compare it to Russian roulette. Besides, right now, signing up is voluntary. Soon we might have no choice and be forced to go,”
The significance of annexation referenda in occupied territories.
Plans have been announced to hold plebiscites on annexation in those occupied territories still under Russian control--portions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson, the Washington Post and many others report. The votes have been generally condemned as illegitimate, illegal under Ukrainian and international law, and amounting to nothing more than a Potemkin election.
Dmitry Medvedev, since 2020 deputy chairman of the Security Council of Russia, yesterday applauded annexation as transformational and decisive: “The geopolitical transformation in the world will be irreversible once the referendums are held and the new territories join Russia,” the Telegraph quotes him as saying. The Kyiv Post has a bit more of Mr. Medvedev's remarks: “Encroachment into Russian territory is a crime and if it is committed, that allows you to use all possible force in self-defence.... That is why these referendums are so feared in Kyiv and in the West. That is why they need to be carried out."
President Putin used the occasion of the announced referenda to make additional warnings of his willingness to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia. He said in a televised address reported by the Guardian and others, ““Some senior officials from Nato members have made remarks that it can be possible and acceptable to use weapons of mass destruction against Russia, that is nuclear weapons. To those who allow themselves such statements regarding Russia," that is, talk of continued Ukrainian resistance, Russia's ultimate defeat, etc. "I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction, and for separate components and more modern than those of Nato countries and when the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal. It’s not a bluff.”
It's not clear what senior NATO officials he has in mind, since the nuclear saber-rattling in this war has come entirely from the Russian side, but of course numerous Western officials have cautioned Moscow that there would be severe consequences for any Russian use of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. But the desired consequence of annexations is clear: the conquered provinces would have become Russian territory, and an attack on them would represent a direct attack against Russia. Nuclear reprisals wouldn't be limited to strikes against Ukraine, either, and probably wouldn't be conducted there at all, Sergei Markov, a former Duma member and a close advisor to the Russian president explained to the BBC. In the Telegraph's account, Mr. Markov frames the war as Western aggression against Russia. Russia's "Ukrainian brothers" are being used, and their country is in fact occupied by Western powers. “When Great Britain continues to be the aggressor against Russia, if the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Liz Truss, still has the plan to destroy Russia, people in London should understand this threat comes from Liz Truss, who is the aggressor. Now we are liberating Ukraine from your British-American occupation… You support nuclear terrorism.... Ukrainians are our brothers, but Ukraine is occupied by Western countries who make a proxy army from Ukrainians and it’s Western countries fighting against the Russian army using Ukrainian soldiers as their slaves.... Russia does not want everybody in the world to die, but what Russia wants is to solve this war with Western countries conducted against Russia on Ukrainian territory which Western countries in fact occupy.”
Further notes on the IT Army's claimed hack of the Wagner Group.
Ukraine's IT Army has claimed to have personal identifying information on the members of the Wagner Group, although so far it hasn't posted any as a proof-of-hack. But there are other indications in the form of archived website defacements that indeed the IT Army has been fiddling with Wagner's online assets. The IT Army posted a link to an archived version of a Wagner Group site that's been defaced to show pictures of Wagner Group dead beneath a welcome-to-Ukraine message: "“All of your personal site data is with us. Welcome to the Ukraine. We are waiting for you,” Vice, which reports the defacements, also has a characterization of the Wagner Group as a de facto, if deniable, arm of the Russian military, effectively an umbrella term for a certain class of Russian government operations.