With Putin desperate, Ukraine and the West must keep up pressure

The Russian president is calling up 300,000 reservists and extending the contracts of soldiers already in Ukraine.

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Editorials

September 22, 2022 - 2:39 PM

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Pavel Bednyakov/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)

Though Russian President Vladimir Putin has often asserted that his “special military operation” in Ukraine was proceeding as planned, the facts on the ground have said otherwise for months. The most dramatic recent evidence is the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the northeastern part of the country, in which Kyiv’s forces recaptured more than 3,000 square kilometers this month as many of the Kremlin’s troops broke and ran. So Mr. Putin — albeit without admitting it — has switched tactics.

In an extraordinary televised address Wednesday, he announced a partial mobilization that would call up 300,000 reservists and forcibly extended the contracts of those already in Ukraine — as well as harsh new penalties for anyone who refuses to fight. He set the stage for annexing occupied areas of Ukraine, which would recast those regions as sovereign territory that Moscow is bound to defend. Most ominously, he said that, to counter threats to its “territorial integrity,” Russia “will certainly use all the means at our disposal” — an obvious allusion to its nuclear arsenal — adding, “This is not a bluff.”

President Biden and the leaders of other nations supporting Ukraine must take all of this seriously even as they take none of it at face value. Yes, Mr. Putin appears to be raising the stakes; but at the same time, he implied that Russia was scaling back its war aims — from the erstwhile (and absurd) “denazification” of all Ukraine to the mere protection of purportedly traditional Russian lands in the southeastern Donbas region. Indeed, Mr. Putin sought to recast his aggressive war as a reactive one. “The territorial integrity of our motherland, our independence and freedom will be defended,” he said. These are the hypocritical, backpedaling words of a dictator who badly miscalculated by seeking to destroy Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and who finds himself in need of a new rationale for war.

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