This article by Bill Bostock was originally published by Business Insider.
Western officials think President Vladimir Putin may formally declare war on Ukraine on May 9, Russia’s “Victory Day,” a move that could see thousands more troops sent to Ukraine and bloodshed intensified.
Since ordering troops into Ukraine on February 24, Putin has euphemistically referred to the invasion as a “special military operation,” claiming Russian troops were there to liberate the Ukrainian people from what he called a neo-Nazi government.
However, Russia has in recent weeks abandoned its primary plan to seize all of Ukraine following a series of major setbacks and heavy casualties, with Western officials now believing its sole focus is taking the Donbas, an eastern region largely controlled by pro-Kremlin separatists since 2014.
But Western officials think Putin may use May, the annual Russian celebration of the surrender of Nazi forces in at the end of World War II, to declare war on Ukraine, meaning Putin could call up tens of thousands of reserve troops to fight.
“He’s been … laying the ground for being able to say ‘look, this is now a war against Nazis, and what I need is more people. I need more Russian cannon fodder,'” UK defense secretary Ben Wallace told LBC Radio on April 28.
“He is probably going to declare on this May Day that ‘we are now at war with the world’s Nazis and we need to mass mobilize the Russian people.'”
“To mass mobilize the Russian reserves is an admission of failure from a man who thought he would have got Ukraine in a couple of days,” Wallace added.
Ukraine and Russia have given vastly different numbers on Russian troop losses: Ukraine’s General Staff of the Armed Forces said Wednesday that more than 24,500 Russian troops had been killed since February 24, while Russia said on March 25, its last public update on casualty numbers, that it had lost 1,351 troops.
In a press briefing on Monday, the US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said it “would be a great irony if Moscow used the occasion of ‘Victory Day’ to declare war” given how poorly the invasion is going.
Price added that Russia’s declaring war on Ukraine meant Putin would be able to call up additional conscripts, but said it would be “tantamount to revealing to the world that their war effort is failing.”
In late March, Putin signed a decree ordering 134,500 new conscripts into the army as part of an annual spring draft, though the defense ministry claimed it was unrelated to the invasion of Ukraine.
Experts at the Institute for the Study of War said they were wary of how much use a new round of conscription would be to the Ukraine war effort.
“Replacing individual combat casualties in Ukraine with recalled reservists who have gone years without military training is unlikely to dramatically increase Russian combat power,” it said.
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