Russian President Vladmir Putin has just ordered a partial military mobilization of reserved forces. What was long expected has arrived. Earlier many Russian experts repeatedly spoke about the impossibility of achieving a turning point in the Ukrainian war, without resorting to mass or, at least, partial mobilization. The former leader of Russian-backed forces in Donetsk, Igor Strelkov, was among the very first of them to suggest its inevitability. He now says this: “My understanding is that our [Russian] authorities initially weren’t aware that, having started a special military operation, we would be forced to go through with it to the very end”. According to him, ‘the die is now cast’ and ‘the war in Ukraine and the confrontation with NATO are entering a new round’.
By any measure, Russia’s mobilization means an escalation of conflict. Hence, the war in Ukraine is now entering a new and possibly much more dangerous phase. Earlier the Kremlin repeatedly declared that its ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine was going according to plan, but military observers said Russian forces were depleted and increasingly dispirited. And there is no light visible at the end of the tunnel in the Ukraine conflict. And it is rather unclear how the latest steps by the Kremlin will have an immediate impact on the ground. By themselves, they appear to be half-hearted. There were expectations that the Kremlin would have enough resolve to declare nation-wide mobilization and introduce martial law throughout the Russian Federation, since ‘otherwise the desired result could not be achieved’. But such a decision was not made. There are maybe some other options out of the situation, being considered by the Russian leadership. It is, however, hard to say for sure whether that is so or not.
What’s clear is that the Kremlin faces a growing political and societal pressure to show at least some success in the Ukraine conflict. The common Russians are also understandably upset about their country’s being not supported by its allies in this situation. Special emphasis is being placed on Kazakhstan among the latter ones.
Against such a background and given stalling war activities on the Ukrainian territory, there is likely to be talk in Moscow about calling on ‘our CSTO allies’ to help the Russian military forces and Ukrainian separatist formations to try and change the situation to their advantage. So a logical question arises – what is the extent of the danger that Kazakhstan may become drawn by Russia into the warfare it is waging against not only the Ukrainian army, but, as Putin himself has said, ‘the entire military machine of the collective West’? It does not from idle curiosity. Such a danger could become quite real in the near future, unless the Kazakh leadership take timely measures to prevent it.
This is not the first time that Russia has had clashes with the West. What’s new is that in Russia the Russian-Ukrainian warfare now is increasingly being seen as the Patriotic war, i.e. as a defensive war for one’s homeland. In other words, the bulk of the Russian elites and society tends to consider it individual self-defense by Russia against the United States and NATO.
In the days prior to the announcement of partial mobilization, the International Union of Soviet officers and the Russian Union of Soviet officers called upon the Russian president to rename the so-called special military operation in Ukraine as the 2022 Patriotic war. This seems to have been an orchestrated move. In a nationally televised address Wednesday, Putin described the ongoing war in Ukraine as part of a larger struggle for Russian survival against a West whose goal is to ‘weaken, divide and ultimately destroy our country’. “In such a situation, I consider it necessary to make the following decision, which is fully appropriate to threats we face. Namely, in order to protect our motherland, its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to ensure the safety of our people and people in the liberated territories, I consider it necessary to support the proposal of the defense ministry and the General Staff to conduct a partial mobilization in the Russian Federation”, he said.
According to him, Ukraine attacked the provinces of Belgorod and Kursk in southwestern Russia. And this means that the war is being waged not only on the territory of Ukraine, but also on that of the Russian Federation. The CSTO Charter (Article 4) provides that if a CSTO ally is the victim of an armed attack, each and every other member of the organization will consider this act of violence as an armed attack against all members and will take – at the request of that State – the actions it deems necessary to assist the ally attacked. Here there is a real danger for Kazakhstan which is a member of the Russia-led CSTO to get drawn into the Russian-Ukrainian conflict that began on 24 February 2022. For the time being, there is no request of help on the part of Russia. What if it comes?