Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has announced a partial mobilisation of the country’s military reservists.
It’s the most significant escalation in the conflict with Ukraine since Russia’s invasion back in February.
Basically, it means some 300,000 people would be called into service, according to Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) estimates Russia to have around 2 million reservists, who are made up of people who have done mandatory military service.
But while Mr Putin’s incendiary speech has sent shock waves across western nations, there are two issues that might provide more context on the gruelling war in Ukraine.
1. Important votes are about to be held in parts of Russian-held Ukraine
The mobilisation comes a day after Russian-controlled regions in eastern and southern Ukraine announced plans to hold votes on becoming parts of Russia.
The referendums will start Friday in the Luhansk, Kherson and partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions.
The move is a “device” that could set the stage for Moscow to escalate the war, as Ukraine has rapidly driven back Russian advances.
That’s according to Emeritus Professor Paul Dibb from the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre.
“What he’s trying to do with this device, and I use that word advisedly, [is] if they vote to be part of holy Mother Russia, then that will be Russian territory and any attack against it by Ukraine or anybody else will mean war with Russia,” Professor Dibb told the ABC.
And Professor Dibb says the doesn’t have much faith in the vote.
“Absolutely, we cannot believe it, [Russia] has totally and utterly rigged referendums as in Crimea in 2014 and so on,” he said.
“This is merely a device, what [Putin] calls Russian democracy.”
2. Russia just toughened the laws for deserting troops
The Kremlin-controlled lower of house of parliament voted to toughen laws against desertion, surrender and looting by Russian troops in the lead up to Mr Putin’s speech.
Deputies also approved possible 10-year prison terms for soldiers refusing to fight.
If approved, as expected, by the upper house and then signed by Mr Putin, the legislation would strengthen commanders’ hands against failing morale reported among soldiers.
“This urgency is likely driven by fears of imminent Ukrainian attack and an expectation of greater security after formally becoming part of Russia,” the UK Ministry of Defence said in a statement.
“Russian forces in Ukraine continue to experience personnel shortages.
“This is likely intended to limit the number of desertions and refusals and thereby to mitigate some of the immediate pressures.”
So where is this all heading?
Mr Putin is banging the drums of war, Professor Dibb said.
“He’s deliberately leading us [the West] by the nose, daring us to take him on,” he said.
“The cards are in his hand to provoke further conflict, and that too it is a worry.”
In his speech broadcast on Russian television, Mr Putin accused Western leaders of engaging in nuclear blackmail, vowing to respond to any threats against Russia.
“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,” Mr Putin said.
“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.”
Professor Dibb said it’s not clear what “means of destruction” Mr Putin is referring to.
But he said Mr Putin is whipping up conflict.
“He claims advanced capabilities other than nuclear that is better than the West,” Professor Dibb said.
“I have no idea what he’s implying: hypersonic, biological capabilities, chemical, who knows?
“The thing that worries me is that he’s whipping this up to not just to a partial mobilisation.
“The next step will be, you watch, something else, and he’s banging the drums of war I’m afraid.”
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