Vladimir Putin should see setbacks as evidence of the irrationality of war
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of a partial troop mobilization marks an acknowledgement of the limits of his “special military operation” in Ukraine and a readiness to escalate the conflict in response to setbacks. His original plan was to meet his military objectives through a limited war. He had mobilized more than 1,50,000 troops and ordered a sharp thrust into Ukraine from multiple fronts on February 24, but this plan did not quite work as Ukrainian forces, backed militarily and economically by the U.S. and Europe, slowed down the enemy’s advances and made the invasion costly for the Russians. Earlier, Mr. Putin had to withdraw troops from around Kyiv and Kharkiv and focus on Ukraine’s east and south where the Russians made territorial gains. But Russia suffered its first major battlefield defeats earlier this month in Kharkiv Oblast in the northeast where its troops had to retreat in the face of a lightning Ukrainian counter-offensive. This setback seemed to have quickened Kremlin’s move to consolidate its positions in captured Ukrainian territories. Pro-Russia separatists in Luhansk, Donetsk in the east and Kherson and Zaporizhzhya in the south are now planning to hold referendums on joining the Russian Federation. As the results are known even before the first ballot is cast, the door is now shutting on the possibility of a negotiated settlement of the conflict based on the pre-war borders.