For the first time since the start of Vladimir Putin’s bloody invasion of Ukraine, it appears Russia has the upper hand in the conflict.
While neither side is likely to be able to capture – or recapture – the territory held by the other, Putin has strengthened his position domestically in Russia and has put the country on a war footing.
Mobilisations in Russia remain unpopular and popular opinion of the war is falling, but the Russian President announced Friday he would expand the military by 170,000. Protests in Russia remain suppressed and limited and there is little sign Putin’s regime will collapse.
While Russian forces are suffering hundreds, if not thousands, of casualties per day attempting to take metres of ground, Russia has significantly more manpower than Ukraine and the industrial capability to produce more weapons of war. Putin appears ready to sacrifice thousands more for his unprovoked war of conquest.
Friday’s decree released by the Kremlin would expand Russia’s military to about 1.32 million service personnel bringing the total number of military personnel to about 2.2 million.
In a statement on the expansion, the Kremlin said: “The increase in the full-time strength of the armed forces is due to the growing threats to our country associated with the special military operation and the ongoing expansion of NATO.”
It continued: “[NATO’s] joint armed forces are being built up near Russia’s borders and additional air defence systems and strike weapons are being deployed. The potential of NATO’s tactical nuclear forces is being increased.”
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The move comes as Ukraine appears to be struggling to recruit more soldiers of its own with President Volodymyr Zelensky warning that changes mobilisation would be required.
He said: “In particular, this concerns the issue of mobilisation. Everyone in Ukraine understands that changes are needed in this domain.
“This is not simply a question of numbers, of who can be mobilised. It’s a question of a time frame for each person who is now in the military, for demobilisation and for those who will join the military. And it’s about conditions.”
A major concern for Ukraine is the sheer size of the Russian military and its apparent disregard for casualties. Thousands have died in human wave attacks in the besieged city of Avdiivka for little gain but the Kremlin does not appear to be giving up.
Russia continues to attack “along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, near Bakhmut, near Avdiivka, west of Donetsk City, in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area,” according to the Institue for the Study of War and has advanced in some areas.
Volodymyr Zelensky, meanwhile, has urged his forces to accelerate the building of extensive defensive positions to prevent a Russian breakthrough.
He said: “In all major sectors where reinforcement is needed, [we must] speed up [the] building of structures.”
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In addition, there are fears that Western support for Kyiv may be waning despite leaders vowing to continue with military aid to Ukraine.
US President Joe Biden is struggling to get a $60 billion (£47 billion) earmark for Ukraine released by Congress and his top opponent for the 2024 US presidential election Donald Trump has promised a swift peace, although it’s unclear how he would achieve this.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said during a prank call that Europe was weary of the war following Ukraine’s counteroffensive which failed to recapture a meaningful amount of territory.
It’s crucial for Kyiv – and for Western leaders who say they want Ukraine to come out of the war as a thriving European democracy – for Europe and the US to continue material support for Ukraine if the country beats Russia,
One advantage Ukraine has is the advanced NATO weaponry supplied by the West, although Kyiv says it doesn’t have enough of it. Although Putin has more men to throw into the meatgrinder, the war appears to be turning into a protracted conflict that could last years.
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