Facing setbacks, Vladimir Putin makes his biggest gamble yet in Ukraine

by | Sep 22, 2022 | Top Stories

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Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech Wednesday at a ceremony. In separate remarks, Putin said Russia will mobilize additional troops to fight in Ukraine and he expressed support for referendums in parts of Ukraine on joining Russia.

Ilya Pitalev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

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Ilya Pitalev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin has already placed big bets on Ukraine. He sent troops to storm the capital Kyiv in the first days of the war, only to have them retreat a month later. He wagered that the West and other countries would not act in such a swift and coordinated manner to isolate Russia. Despite this track record, Putin’s latest gamble may be his biggest yet. In the face of battlefield setbacks, the Russian leader has doubled down. Russia will mobilize 300,000 additional troops — a number larger than the original invasion force — and Moscow also appears poised to annex Ukrainian territory under its control. To drive home his intentions, Putin made his announcement on Russian national television Wednesday, speaking just hours before President Biden and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the United Nations. “Washington, London and Brussels are openly urging Kyiv to bring the fight to Russian territory and defeat Moscow by any means,” Putin said in a speech that portrayed Russia as a country under siege by “the collective West.”

Putin’s move addressed growing criticism from pro-war Russian nationalists at home, who say Russia is in danger of losing because it hasn’t unleashed its full fighting force. Yet Putin called it a “partial mobilization,” and continues to call the conflict a “special military operation.” This appears to be a nod toward Russians who have misgivings about the military adventure in Ukraine.

Biden lambasts Putin in his U.N. speech Putin’s moves will need time to play out on the battlefield. But the Russian leader is already facing a new wave of international criticism led by President Biden. In his remarks to the U.N., Biden described the conflict in Ukraine as a “war chosen by one man.” He said Russia is “trying to extinguish Ukraine’s right to exist” and is carrying out a large numbers of war crimes. The U.S. president also said Putin was making “overt nuclear threats against Europe.” This was a reference to Putin’s remark that Russia has “various means of destruction.” Putin has issued veiled nuclear warnings previously. Now, he says, “This is not a bluff.” In his remarks, Zelenskyy said, “A crime has been committed against Ukraine, and we demand punishment.” “Ukraine wants peace, Europe wants peace, the world wants peace, and we have seen who is the only one who wants war,” Zelenskkyy added. “There is only one entity among all U.N. member states, who would say now, if he could interrupt my speech, that he’s happy with this war.”

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Moscow police officers detain a woman on Wednesday at a protest against the mobilization of up to 300,000 reserve troops to fight in Ukraine. Hundreds of protesters were arrested nationwide.

Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images

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Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images

Other Ukrainian officials say Putin is acting now because he knows he’s in trouble and he wants to change the narrative, which has focused on Ukraine’s military advances in recent weeks.
A ballot that could lead to annexation Putin’s military announcement was accompanied by other risks as well. The Russian leader expressed his support for choreographed referendums in four partially occupied regions in eastern and southern Ukraine to formally join the Russian Federation.

Putin’s endorsement came just one day after the Russia-backed separatist leaders in Ukraine announced they would hold five days of voting that would get underway as soon as Friday. In recent months, Moscow had worked to lay the groundwork for eventual annexation. Key Kremlin advisers were dispatched to oversee integration efforts through proxy governments. But as the fighting raged on, the voting was put off. Even now, Russia and its separatist allies in Ukraine have not publicly addressed any of the obvious questions. For example …

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