December 22, 2022 - 12:55pm

Following the humiliating and large-scale loss of territory around Kharkov, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the mobilisation of 300,000 troops to address the military’s considerable manpower deficiencies and replenish battlefield casualties. Russia has reportedly now sent at least 150,000 of these personnel into the conflict arena, with 150,000 or more in reserve. 

This number presumably doesn’t include the thousands of mobilised Wagner Group fighters — with a sizeable number of recruited prisoners — and other irregular forces that have been brought into the fray. Further, Russia yesterday announced a plan to increase the size of their military from 1 million to 1.5 million members, and to create new units. Putin told his ministers:“We have no funding restrictions […] The government will provide whatever the Army asks for — anything.”

Meanwhile, the Russian president has been pouring thousands of men and large amounts of equipment, tanks, armoured vehicles and weapons systems into Belarus for joint military exercises. It could also mean that new incursions can be launched from there. This comes as Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and Putin finalised agreements for further military cooperation between the two countries, more regular military exercises, and the training of Belarusian crews to fly planes capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

The high-profile makeup of the Russian delegation to Belarus set off alarm bells for many analysts as Putin was accompanied by Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Adding to these concerns, Belarus implemented temporary restrictions to sections of the southeastern Gomel region bordering Ukraine and Russia. This follows Lukashenko’s decision to send Belarusian forces and equipment to the border for counter-terrorism exercises over a week ago.

Ukraine has warned about the rising threat from Belarus, and has accordingly bolstered its defences for these scenarios. Some observers also believe there are signs that Belarus could directly take part in another Russian incursion from the country, as satellite imagery shows newly cleared forest roads and the movement of Belarusian military equipment to the borderlands.

However, there would be significant social, political, and economic backlash to an intervention of this kind and, for now, Belarus will likely remain as a staging area, training ground, and overall supporting actor for Russia’s war in Ukraine. As for Russia, Moscow’s current primary focus is on the Donbas and hotspots such as Bakhmut, Marinka and Avdiivka, as well as Vuhledar further south. After months of humiliating defeats in Kharkov, Lyman, and Kherson, newly assigned general Sergei Surovikin — who is seemingly more competent than his predecessors — has inherited a mess but has largely stabilised Russian lines. 

On top of this, Russian forces are again on the front foot in sections of the Donbas, and are making incremental gains as they push to dislodge entrenched Ukrainian defenders from the highly fortified and strategic city of Bakhmut. It is the hottest battleground of the war and a location that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited this week to boost morale and show the world that his men intend to hold the city and beat back adversarial advances.

Russia and Ukraine view this conflict as existential and are fully preparing for a drawn-out war that will ultimately be settled on the battlefield. Neither side has a political incentive to compromise at this time, which was made explicitly clear in recent days by the leaders of both nations. Putin reiterated that Russia’s campaign will continue until all objectives have been achieved, while Zelensky vowed to reclaim all annexed territory, including Crimea. With hundreds of thousands of Russian forces ready to enter the arena and the prospect of new axes of invasion opening up, the war’s trajectory is heading for certain escalation.

Lucas Webber is the co-founder and editor of Militant Wire