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Ukraine, Russia’s mobilization, and the guns of October

By Todd Davis

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed here are those of the authors. View more opinion on ScoonTV. 

On September 21, 2022, Vladimir Putin gave a speech to the Russian people announcing that referendums were being held in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia. Putin said Russia would respect the democratic wishes if they voted to join the Russian Federation. 

Putin said Russia would be partially mobilizing to protect the integrity of Russian territory that was under attack by Ukraine backed by NATO. The mobilization of a major power, even partial mobilization, is a big deal. Partial mobilization, in this case the call-up of 300,000 reservists, is about 1% of the manpower Russia could fully mobilize. Mobilization by Russia represents a new stage in the conflict with Ukraine, the end of the beginning, and now the war will begin in earnest. 

However, mobilization doesn’t exist within a vacuum. When a major power mobilizes for war, opposing nations are forced to respond. These moves and countermoves can create a chain reaction that pulls everyone into an ever-broadening conflict. We’ve seen this before.   

A series of events unfolded during the late summer of 1914 that would plunge Europe, and eventually the world, into a war so large in scope and scale that nothing of its kind had ever been experienced. Many associate the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo as the catalyst for World War I. However, it was the events that followed that drove Europe towards war. 

Like that fateful month over a century ago, we are about to enter a situation in October that looks frighteningly similar.  It also could have a conclusion that would make World War I look like a minor border skirmish. 

Nations are bound by alliances. Ferdinand’s death in Sarajevo, Serbia, caused the Austro-Hungarian Empire, influenced by Germany, to take a hard line with the Serbs issuing an ultimatum that was impossible for Serbia to accept. Russia, looking to defend the Serbs, or at the very least give the impression that it would do so, mobilized its army. 

The mobilization of the Russian army made war inevitable. Russia was allied with France and Germany had the famous Schlieffen Plan designed to defeat France on such a detailed timetable even the transit times of troops on trains were accounted for. With Russia mobilizing on its border, Germany was forced to match the threat and mobilize as well. The Schlieffen Plan was soon put into motion, ensuring war.  

Great Britain was the preeminent superpower in 1914 and had a decision to make. They were allied with neither France nor Russia. If Britain did nothing, the war would have remained relatively localized in Europe. Germany likely would have defeated France in 1914 bringing the war to a conclusion. However, Britain decided to enter the war on the side of France and Russia. Suddenly, a local conflict between Austria and Serbia would now last four years and span the globe. 

Events can spiral that quickly when major powers enter wars. 

Today, the United States is the preeminent superpower and has a decision to make. Back in March, according to Putin, a peace plan was in place between Ukraine and Russia where Ukraine would recognize Crimea as part of Russia, grant independence to the Donetsk and Luhansk republics, and agree not to join NATO. Putin asserts this plan was sabotaged by the Western powers, most likely by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Since Britain has taken an extreme hawkish view of the conflict as the tip of the spear that has embroiled NATO in the war, this claim resonates as truth. 

President Joe Biden also took a hard line, even going so far as to suggest a regime change should take place in Russia. The United States has increasingly bankrolled the war to the point that today Ukraine could not continue fighting without US arms and money. 

Russian mobilization and the referendums change everything from the scale of the conflict to the way the battles will be fought. Frustrated by a lack of progress in Ukraine, many Russian people support mobilization. Moscow streets were overrun by Russians waving flags and cheering the decision. It was a scene straight out of 1914 as people caught up in patriotic fervor applauded the march to war. Putin has tapped into a nationalist appeal by what he has described as NATO’s existential threat to Russia’s existence.  

A lawyer by training, Vladimir Putin has taken great pains to conduct the Special Military Operation, or SMO, under legal limits. Putin argues the primary purpose of the SMO was to liberate the Donetsk and Luhansk republics. Russian forces deferred to DPR and LPR militia leadership and the lion’s share of the fighting was done by republic militias and the Wagner PMC supported by Russian artillery and Aerospace forces. Russia has not conducted wide-scale attacks on the infrastructure in Ukraine such as knocking out electricity, water, and internet – targets that would be the first priority in a conventional war. The reason was because these utilities did not fall under the scope of the SMO. 

While NATO might not appreciate this distinction, the rest of the world has. Russia built up international support for its SMO with most of the world either acknowledging Russia’s right to intervene or staying silent on the matter while not participating in US and European Union sanctions on Russia. In fact, just this past week, Mexico announced it would not participate in unilateral sanctions against Russia. The only countries enforcing sanctions against Russia are NATO members plus Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. 

The supposed democratic election among the people in Donetsk and Luhansk ends the SMO, since the goal of the mission has been realized. Namely, the republics have been liberated and the people have voted to join the Russian Federation. NATO, of course, won’t acknowledge this. Neither does every other member of the UN Security Council, including China, India, and numerous African countries. Nevertheless, Russia recognizes them. 

Russia now considers these areas part of the homeland under the protection of the Russian constitution. Putin said as much in his September 21st speech. If that wasn’t clear, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on September 24th, following his speech to the UN General Assembly, that all Russian territory, including parts to be further enshrined in Russia’s constitution in the future, is under the full protection of the state. 

Russia has made it abundantly clear that an attack on the newly incorporated territories within the Russian Federation is an attack on Russia. The Russian Duma will move quickly to ratify the referendums. As soon as next week, these areas will be part of Russia according to Putin, even if almost every country has refused to condone the referendum. Therefore, the next attack Ukraine launches on military or civilian targets within these areas will constitute, from Russia’s perspective, an act of war. 

Russia will not actually declare war on Ukraine in response to these inevitable attacks, but it will have the capacity to respond to them with all means at its disposal no longer bound by the self-imposed restrictive parameters of the SMO. 

Much has been written about nuclear strikes. Putin certainly said nothing is off the table. However, let’s remember that Russia is conducting this war with diplomacy in mind. It isn’t going to go from a limited, restrained SMO to nuclear strikes. Far more likely is a conventional all-out attack on the infrastructure of Ukraine in the manner of how the US invasion of Iraq was conducted. Utilities will be brought down, rail networks destroyed, communication hubs neutralized and high-level command assets will be targeted. These attacks will be conducted by Iskander and Kalibr missiles. We will likely see the first appearance of Russian heavy bombers like the Tupolev Tu-95. Ukraine will be largely defenseless against these weapon systems. 

Attacks against Ukrainian infrastructure will cripple its capacity to conduct the war. Ukraine will launch a concentrated social media propaganda campaign declaring these war crimes. NATO will be forced into a monumental decision. During the course of this conflict, there have been multiple off ramps and avenues for peace. Back in March, a peace deal was in place but was sabotaged by Boris Johnson. During the summer, Russian Federation forces eroded Ukraine’s ability to fight to such a degree that a peace deal would have been reached had NATO not continued to supply Ukraine with an ever-escalating allotment of weapons. 

First, it was static artillery and 155mm artillery rounds, then T-72 tanks, and then HIMARS rocket launchers. NATO will likely further escalate and provide Ukraine with long-range rocket systems that can strike targets within Russian territory. Ukraine has been begging for these for months. It’s logical they will be supplied at some point considering the pattern of escalation we have seen. 

Long-range missiles in the hands of Ukraine will make headlines. They will hit some targets within Russia, but they won’t change the course of the war and will only antagonize Russia. Russia has 300,000 regular army reinforcements coming to the region. It will likely wait a month for its missile and air campaign to destroy Ukraine’s infrastructure and capacity to move its troops which are mostly done by rail. 

Then, a large counterattack will be launched this winter after the fall rains that will smash through the Ukrainian defenses. At this point, NATO will have invested so much into the conflict. It can’t let Ukraine collapse. The voices of moderation within NATO have been few and far between during this crisis already. Diplomacy, the language of empires, is nowhere to be found. 

Following the debacle in Afghanistan, how can President Joe Biden accept defeat in Ukraine? Newly elected British Prime Minister Liz Truss is as big of a war hawk as Boris Johnson. The British pound is cratering, and the US economy is being dragged down by inflation. Yet Biden, with the bipartisan support of Congress, continues to send billions to Ukraine. 

Despite these deep investments, NATO has very few attractive options available to the alliance. Ukraine started the conflict with Russia having about 2,500 tanks. Almost all those have been lost. Poland sent hundreds of T-72s to Ukraine. These were used in the disastrous Kherson offensive and the partially successful Kharkov attack. Most of these T-72s are now out of commission. Ukraine has been asking for modern Leopard tanks from Germany and Abrams tanks from the United States. Neither Germany nor the US seems eager to send the flagships of their armored forces to the battlefields in Ukraine where some will undoubtedly be captured and reverse-engineered in Moscow and Beijing. 

Even if a commitment was made to send these tanks to Ukraine, NATO-armored operating systems are far different than Soviet tanks. It would take six months to train Ukrainian soldiers to use Leopards or Abrams. Britain has no tanks to send to Ukraine because it dramatically cut its armored force, while modern NATO tanks are extremely expensive to build and maintain. They are too expensive to lose. The blow to American prestige would be enormous if scores of Abrams tanks were knocked out by the Russians. 

One of the first measures of NATO intervention that Ukraine asked for was a no-fly zone over the conflict area. Enforcing this would require NATO aircraft to patrol the skies over Ukraine and to engage Russian Federation aircraft if they entered the restricted areas. American leadership quickly rejected this idea as it would lead to direct conflict with Russia. But will this resolve hold when Ukraine is being bombed back to the stone age? 

The pressure to alleviate the aerial assault on Ukrainian infrastructure will be immense. Trying to stop the Russian air campaign would require NATO pilots to engage Russian pilots. Planes would get shot down. This would trigger alliance clauses bringing NATO into the war. 

NATO’s most likely reaction to Russian mobilization is continuing to supply Ukraine with money and weapons while adding more sanctions which seem to cripple the EU more than Russia. There is a belief within certain power circles in the West that Ukraine will win the war if supplied with the most modern weaponry. This assumption is deeply flawed and is based more on Russophobia than any realistic military analysis. 

For one, Ukraine’s manpower isn’t endless. Western media has attempted to portray Russia’s partial mobilization as an act of panic and admission that it’s losing the war. But Ukraine has gone through six or seven stages of mobilization. A large percentage of the available population for military service in the country have already been conscripted. Realistic casualty figures show that Ukraine has suffered tremendous losses. 

Having successfully accomplished the SMO, and now fighting what it views as a proxy war against NATO, Russia will likely expand the scope of the conflict. Odessa is a prime target for Russia. From a military perspective, Odessa would landlock Ukraine. From a political perspective, a large portion of the population in Odessa supports reunification with Russia. In the East, Russia could drive all the way to the Dnieper to assure that Ukraine cannot shell civilian centers in the newly incorporated Russian territory. Then why stop there? If Odessa is taken and Federation forces have reached the Dnieper, it would be logical to take Kiev. In other words, the more NATO doubles down and prolongs the conflict, the more certain it is that Ukraine will be destroyed.  

That is, unless NATO directly intervenes. But NATO does not appear to have any grand strategic plan. Everything it does is a reaction to what happens in Ukraine. Even more horrifying, NATO policy seems to be influenced by trends on social media. No emergency summit has been held between NATO powers to determine what the plan going forward will look like. NATO is not united by a single voice. Virtually every country says something different. It is alarmingly evident that NATO, without a plan in place, could be compelled to act in a haphazard manner.  

Rational leadership would never allow NATO to become involved in a war with Russia but we aren’t dealing with serious diplomatic leaders. The West is saddled with a hodgepodge of neocons, globalists, and plutocratic elites who have no background in Cold War diplomacy and compromise. Some of them gleefully point to Article 5 in the NATO charter as a way to get involved in the war. 

An attack on one is an attack on all. If the guns of October bring about Article 5, then Ukraine will have been the prelude to Armageddon.

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Todd Davis

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