Nona Mikhelidze (Iai): “There is general mobilization, Russian society in panic. Referendums in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia are used to carry out nuclear blackmail”.
Vladimir Putin “is clearly moving towards escalation from a position of weakness”. Nona Mikhelidze, head of research at IAI, speaks with Adnkronos after the speech of the Russian leader who, seven months after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, announces “partial mobilization” and shakes the nuclear spectrum, ” wrong again “. To explain Putin’s speech, Mikhelidze talks about the counter-offensive of the Ukrainian forces which “required a response from the Kremlin”, a “political response” in the absence of a “on the front” and underlines how “the initial phase” of the Ukrainian initiative was “marked by the liberation of the Kharkiv region”, an “operation that took place within four days” with Ukrainian forces that were able to “liberate more territories than Russia has been able to occupy since April 2”.
“The counter-offensive and the continuous advance in the Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions required a response from the Kremlin – he notes – An answer had not arrived, not even on the battlefield, after the first attacks on civil infrastructure, because the Russians in recent days they have not been able to advance in any direction along the front of more than 1,000 km. ” And “in all directions the Ukrainians have maintained a strategic initiative”. Mikhelidze underlines how “for months Russia has been trying to simulate a sort of offensive in Bakhmut”, in Donetsk, and how “even here it is unable to break through the Ukrainian defense lines”. And how the “absence of a response on the front” coincided, however, with a “revenge that was poured out on civilians”. The reference is to when after the Ukrainian advance on Kharkiv the Russians hit civilian infrastructures. Many people left for days without light or water. And, he notes, “after the counter-offensive, Russian propaganda had gone completely haywire”, while Putin “was wrong again if he counted with the escalation and the direct threat of nuclear power to provoke some hesitation among Western leaders”. The effect, says the analyst, is a “greater cohesion and conviction that more weapons must be given to Ukraine”.
“They call it ‘partial’, but it’s a general mobilization” and “there is a lot of anxiety in Russian society”, says Mikhelidze, reasoning with Adnkronos after Putin’s speech and the words of his defense minister, Sergei Shoigu. The “Russian” losses amounted to 5,937 people, “said Shoigu, praising the work of doctors thanks to whom” more than 90% of the wounded have returned to their posts “and announcing Moscow’s willingness to recall” 300,000 reservists “on “nearly 25 million people”.
“If it is true that there are only 6,000 dead, what is the need to mobilize? At the beginning of the conflict they had made available an army of 220,000 units”, underlines Mikhelidze, who wonders about the need for a “mobilization” if indeed the data provided by Shoigu coincided with reality. “The accounts certainly do not add up-he says-And this tells us that the losses are heavy”. And “they call it ‘partial’, but it is general”, says the expert who stresses that she has studied the decree and speaks of “points so smoky that they can be interpreted at will and leave ample room for the authorities to send almost everyone to war” . And, she observes, “25 million people means all those who have done military service in life”.
“There is a lot of anxiety in Russian society”, he notes, speaking of how the web searches of those looking for ways to “leave the Russian army or the country” have exploded. Meanwhile, the air tickets to leave Russia are now sold out. According to the Moscow Times, which cites data from aviasales.ru, seats have all been sold on flights scheduled today from Moscow to the capitals of Georgia, Turkey and Armenia. And at noon on the site it was no longer possible to buy tickets for flights from Moscow to Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. “This mobilization puts the Russians in a condition where they can no longer watch the war from the sofa at home – he concludes – Everyone can be called to fight”.
“With this speech Putin kills the negotiation” and the referendums for accession to Russia that the pro-Russians announced starting from Friday in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia “serve to carry out nuclear blackmail”, he told Adnkronos Mikhelidze, after the intervention of the president Russian, a leader who feels the need to emphasize that he is not ‘bluffing’ and that he is “contradicting himself in concepts”.
“Once this bogus request is accepted by the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk and by Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in which there are not even self-proclaimed republics, once these bogus referendums are concluded, what will happen will be the incorporation and the Crimean scenario will repeat itself” , annexed in 2014 by Russia.
So Putin “kills the negotiation” because “once incorporated” these territories will not then be put on the table for any difficult negotiations and “referendums are used to carry out nuclear blackmail”. Mikhelidze says it clearly, she “never believed” in the negotiations, but now “there is no more room for compromise” and “now it is even more clear that the fate of the war will be decided on the battlefield”.
“Finding himself in difficulty from a military point of view – says the expert – Putin’s bet was to start with the blackmail of gas”. That is “to influence public opinion in European countries so that the high bills push people to put pressure on governments”. Now “to this blackmail of gas, nuclear blackmail adds” and, she observes, “all we will see from today will be a psychological terror on the use of nuclear power”. In this ‘scheme’ the “incorporation of Ukrainian territories” after the referendums serves the Kremlin leader because a possible Ukrainian counter-offensive “will be perceived as an attack on Russian territory”.
This is where Putin shakes the nuclear spectrum. “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened – Putin said – we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people. It is not a bluff”. “He wanted to emphasize that it is not a bluff” and – observes the analyst – this says a lot about the “precarious situation” in which the Russian president finds himself, since he suggests that “he himself has the feeling that his threats do not are more perceived as real “. Not only that, but the leader of the Kremlin, Mikhelidze concludes, “contradicts himself” in his speech: because, he recalls, the Russians have already denounced Ukrainian bombings against the Russian regions of Belgorod and Kursk and Crimea has also been hit.