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.”