After nearly a month of consistent counter-offensives by the Ukrainian Armed Forces resulting in extensive grounds recaptured and the retreating of Russian forces in the east, global leaders have begun to wonder what direction Vladimir Putin and his Generals will take in the war.
Russian leadership have entered panic mode as its "special military operation" -that promised a quick victory in Ukraine and the capture of several eastern provinces- spirals out of control. Surmounting losses, failed planning, and the underestimation of its enemies have left Russian officials with little to no options but to rethink their strategy and allocate more resources to the war effort.
In the past 48 hours, the Kremlin devised an answer that could potentially escalate the war: Mobilization and the annexation of occupied territories in Ukraine.
The Russian parliament on Tuesday had introduced and passed legislation that would toughen its military policies and punish insubordination and desertion. With the legislation, top officials have also called for referendums to annex already controlled territories in Ukraine. The strategy is similar to the one used in 2014 when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula. The decision allows the Russian army to bolster its offensive and defensive capabilities and provides a political excuse to escalate the war further if these Russian "territories" are attacked. Dmitry Medvedev, former Russian President, had this to say about the referendums, "Encroachment onto Russian territory is a crime which allows you to use all the forces of self–defense."
In an interview, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had expressed the apparent desires of the people of Luhansk, Donetsk, and Zaporizhzhia provinces to be admitted as Russian states. Lavrov stated, "All through the special military operation, and in the period preceding, we were insisting that the people living in the regions should be able to decide their future. The current situation confirms that they want to be masters of their destiny."
Western allies have claimed that using this direction would illustrate desperation on behalf of Russia to make up for its disastrous losses in the war. National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, emphasized the U.S's position if these territories are annexed, "The United States will never recognize Russia's claims."
In the event these referendums are passed, it is highly probable that the entirety of the Russian economy and military will be mobilized. With the Russian army currently fighting across two fronts, recruitment across the nations has amped up to bolster its reinforcements and regain momentum for an offensive. Russia also has mercenary groups such as the Wagner Group to aid in the war. To incentivize military enlistment, the Russian Duma had also proposed that foreign nationals receive Russian citizenship after one year of military service.
Leadership in the Russian-claimed lands had announced that voting for the referendums would be conducted on Friday. Whether the Russian mobilization for war will come will likely depend on these votes and the decision by Putin himself.