May 9, known as “Victory Day” within Russia, commemorates the defeat of the Nazis in the country in 1945.
Officials have begun to zero in on one scenario, which is for Putin to formally declare war on Ukraine on May 9.
To date, Putin has insisted on referring to the brutal months-long conflict as a “special military operation,” effectively banning words like invasion and war.
“I think he will try to walk away from his ‘special operation,'” British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told LBC Radio last week.
“He’s been rolling the pitch, laying the groundwork to be able to say ‘look, this is now a war against the Nazis, and what I need is more people. I need more Russian cannon fodder.’”
Throughout the conflict, Putin has continually framed his invasion of Ukraine, a country with a Jewish president, as a so-called “denazification” campaign, a description rejected by historians and political observers alike.
Wallace added that he “would not be surprised, and I have no information on that, that he will probably declare this May day that ‘we are now at war with the Nazis of the world and we need to mobilize the Russian people en masse.'”
A formal declaration of war on May 9 could potentially bolster public support for the invasion. It would also, under Russian law, allow Putin to mobilize reserve forces and recruit conscripts, which officials say Russia desperately needs amid a growing labor shortage. Western and Ukrainian officials have estimated that at least 10,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in the war since Russia invaded just over two months ago.
Russian battlefield effort ‘anemic’
But the US official on Monday described the Russian war effort there as “anemic.”
“They will move and then declare victory, and then withdraw their troops, only to let the Ukrainians take them back,” the official told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.
The official said that the problems that have plagued the Russian military since its initial buildup have not been fixed.
“They continue to suffer from poor command and control, low morale in many units, less than ideal logistics,” the official said.
Russian forces were also keen to avoid risks that could cause further casualties to their already depleted forces, the official said, describing the ground war in the area as “very cautious, very lukewarm.”
Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces were making significant gains in pushing the Russians back around Kharkiv, in the far northwest of the Donbas region, the official said.
“An incredible effort there that, again, hasn’t gotten a lot of headlines and hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, but it’s just another piece of the tough Ukrainian resistance that they continue to demonstrate,” the official said.
Putin’s other options for May 9
With less than a week to go until Victory Day on May 9, Moscow may look to places other than Donbas to make a statement.
Other options include annexing the breakaway territories of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, making a big push for Odessa in the south, or declaring full control over the southern port city of Mariupol.
The United States has “highly credible” intelligence reports that Russia will try to annex Luhansk and Donetsk “sometime in mid-May,” US Ambassador to the OSCE Michael Carpenter said on Monday.
There are also signs that Russia may be planning to declare and annex a “people’s republic” in the southeastern city of Kherson.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday that there are “good reasons to believe the Russians will go to great lengths to use” May 9 for propaganda purposes.
“We have seen the Russians redouble their propaganda efforts, probably, almost certainly, as a means of distracting attention from their tactical and strategic failures on the battlefield in Ukraine,” Price said at a State Department briefing. .
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Price added that “it would be a great irony if Moscow took the occasion of Victory Day to declare war, which in itself would allow them to recruit recruits in a way that they cannot do now, in a way that would be tantamount to revealing to the world that their war effort is failing, that they are floundering in their military campaign and their military objectives.
“I’m pretty sure we’ll hear more from Moscow before May 9,” added MrPrice. “
I’m pretty sure you’ll hear more from the United States, from our partners, including our NATO partners, in the lead up to May 9 as well.”