President Vladimir Putin’s announcement of the partial mobilisation of Russian forces and nuclear threats have triggered growing concern about a further escalation and increased suffering in the war against Ukraine. Putin knows very well that a nuclear war should never be fought and cannot be won, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday. Commentators see Russia weakened.

Today, Europe’s press debates the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. Here are some opinions from a selection of European publications, presented by eurotopics.

An admission of failure

Russia’s partial mobilisation can only delay its defeat, not avoid it, says an article by the state-run Centre for Strategic Communication on Ukrinform:

“The war that russia has unleashed against Ukraine has long been out of control for the kremlin. Defeat seems imminent for the aggressor state. By mobilising, the kremlin clearly wants to save the front from destruction by playing for time and using that time to blackmail and intimidate Ukraine and the world with nuclear weapons. The war criminals putin and Shoigu have no choice but to raise the stakes. They are fighting above all for their own survival.”

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Cannon fodder for a war that has already been lost

Leonid Volkov, a close ally of opposition figure Alexei Navalny, argues on Facebook that Putin’s move of calling up reservists is pointless:

“From a military point of view the mobilisation comes hopelessly late and changes nothing in this war that has already been lost. A mobilisation is a logistical operation of gigantic proportions. … In the seven months since the war began, the Russian army has shown on more than one occasion that it is not even able to manage logistical operations on a much smaller scale. Even assuming it succeeds in finding reservists, training them, arming them, feeding them and sending them to diverse locations, it will be at least a few months before they are ready to start fighting. But they won’t be of much use. Putin is truly just sending ‘cannon fodder’ to the front.”

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Not only fighting morale is lacking

Putin is living in a dream world, Népszava believes:

“In the long term – and perhaps even in the medium term – Russia will not be able to hold the occupied territories either with referendums or with partial or general mobilisation. From the moment it started, Putin’s war has been a series of incredible mistakes – and Putin does not learn from his mistakes. He continues to live in a dream world of his own making. He wouldn’t have to be a great strategist to know that for a successful war you need support from the rear, an efficient supply chain and a military with fighting morale. And these are the three things that Putin is most lacking.”

More suffering for Ukraine

The destruction is going into extra time, Polityka laments:

“The announcement of the mobilisation is ultimately a confirmation of Russian war history: when it can’t win through technological or economic superiority, Russia mobilises masses of people and replaces quality with quantity. This means the prolongation of the war and more losses, but also more suffering for Ukraine. Let us not forget that while these Russian masses may be poorly trained cannon fodder, they will nevertheless be fighting on Ukrainian soil and continuing the destruction of Ukraine.”

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Pressure from unexpected places

Putin is quickly losing any international support he still had, Avvenire points out:

 “The main reason for the Russian mobilisation must perhaps be sought elsewhere, further afield. On the international stage, Putin believed until recently that he had developed a successful strategy and could resist the Western economic siege thanks to the many countries that did not comply with the sanctions. In other words, it is not the actions of hostile countries that has prompted Putin to take these measures, but pressure from friendly or non-hostile countries. This became clear in Samarkand during the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit.”

 Hands off Ukraine!

The West must not allow itself to be intimidated, De Volkskrant stresses:

“The fact that Putin is backing his criminal and deadly ambitions with nuclear threats must not break the will of Ukraine’s allies. … Giving in to nuclear blackmail would really destabilise the situation. … So the West should not be deterred by Putin’s rhetoric, but should send heavy equipment – including the tanks and fighter planes that Kyiv has been asking for for months. As Putin announces the further dismantlement of Ukraine there can only be one response: Hands off Ukraine!”

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A new dilemma in the offing

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung fears a new escalation:

“We should entertain no illusions about the outcome of the ‘votes’. The decisive question will be how Kyiv and its partners react. So far the West, especially Washington, has done everything in its power to prevent the Ukrainians from attacking Russian territory. That was a central criterion in the arms deliveries. … By shifting the border Putin is confronting the West with a difficult choice: if it sticks to its previous policy, it would be tantamount to accepting Russia’s territorial gains. … If the former policy is abandoned, a level of escalation would be reached that not only the German government had hoped to avoid.”

 Use of nuclear weapons more likely

La Stampa warns:

“Putin has no intention of sitting down at the table and negotiating if not peace, then at least a ceasefire. Instead he’s escalating, militarily and politically. Annexation is a decisive factor here. Firstly, Putin appeals to the national and Slavophile feelings of both the vast majority of Russians and the inhabitants of the war zones, in the occupied territories and in Russia. … Secondly, the rapid incorporation of Donbass into ‘holy’ Russia makes any military means, conventional or otherwise, permissible in defence of its newly created territorial integrity. … And in this case the use of nuclear weapons has always been implied.”

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Escalation out of desperation

SRF fears incalculable consequences for both sides:

“This trick is an act of desperation because the Russians and Putin are running out of options. … For Russia, the announcement of the referendums is a tremendous, almost fatal decision. If Putin were to actually go so far as to designate the territories as Russian territory, this would not be recognised internationally. Such a step would drag Russia down for years, severely damage economic relations with the West and consume the country militarily.”

A pretext for general mobilisation

Jutarnji list speculates:

“Why must the annexation of the territories be declared as soon as possible? Firstly, the situation on the ground is not as anticipated, and secondly, and perhaps more importantly, fighting in these areas could subsequently be described as a ‘direct Ukrainian attack on Russian territory’. Perhaps this is a precondition for Putin to announce general mobilisation because of the ‘threat to Russian territories and populations’. One must bear in mind that even before the war Russia granted citizenship to the inhabitants of the occupied territories, and Russian passports are now being hastily distributed.”

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All fake

The referendums have no legal foundation, lawyer Yelena Lukyanova explains in Novaya Gazeta Europe:

“Can you hold a referendum three days after it’s announced, and then let the voting go on for three days? What status will Ukrainian troops have while a referendum is being held on territories they control – that of ‘foreign observers’? … The key principle is that referendums are never and nowhere held under martial law, yet that is what prevails in these pseudo-state entities. As a result, everything about these referendums is a priori fake, and everyone knows it. Besides, the aim of referendums is to legitimise something. But nothing can be legitimised by fake referendums.”

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