With Kyiv’s counter-offensive to regain territories in eastern Ukraine, the war there has entered a new phase.
But what does this mean for Russia?
For the first time since the beginning of the conflict, harsh criticisms are being heard against the leadership of the Russian Army, but also against the power itself in the Kremlin, which presents President Vladimir Putin with the need for quick decisions to overturn the paradigm.
And this is not an easy undertaking. More and more evidence is emerging that Russian forces are ill-equipped, severely demoralized and forced to cope with far less support than they expected. All of this speaks to poor war planning and poor management of the conflict effort.
Meanwhile, in Russia’s ultra-nationalist circles, criticism of Putin is emerging, as well as claims that the only way for the country to deal with Ukraine is to declare full military mobilization and plunge the country into an all-out war in which all the efforts of the economy are aimed at military action.
For Putin himself, however, the solution looks different. To throw the country into all-out war would turn the tide inside Russia – many people would simply become more disillusioned, and the support the president currently has would begin to plummet.
On the other hand, however, he sees a possible course of action in the face of the oligarchs.
According to the investigative journalist of the Bellingcat platform Hristo Grozev, Putin has ordered Russian state corporations and oligarchs to create private military companies, which should intensify armed aggression against Ukraine and start a “new phase” of the war.
“He says that all failures are due to corruption and incompetence in the army. But again, very optimistically, he says that every state corporation and oligarch is instructed to create their own private military companies (PMCs) for a ‘new phase in October,'” Grozev wrote on his Twitter account earlier in the week.
He commented to bTV that various corporations are currently being given the opportunity to form their own private armies on the “Wagner” model. The journalist named the company “Rostech”, which has already started such efforts.
Meanwhile, the “Wagners” themselves also continue their efforts to recruit new members among those serving sentences in the country’s prison colonies.
Leaked footage from Russian social networks, released by the BBC, shows Putin-friendly businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, the mercenary group’s unofficial owner, explaining to prisoners how those who do not want to send convicts to fight in Ukraine, they should instead be willing to send their own children.
Prigozhin also tells the prisoners serving their sentences that if they agree to fight in Ukraine, they will be released after 6 months and receive wages. However, he warns that those who decide to defect will be executed.
The businessman also states that if he were in the place of the prisoners, he would “dream” of joining the “Wagner” group to get the chance to “pay off his debt to the Motherland”.
“Either private military companies and prisoners, or your children – decide for yourself,” Prigozhin stated categorically.
According to BBC experts, the video was filmed in a penal colony in the central Russian republic of Mari El, in the central part of European Russia, near the city of Kazan.
However, the more interesting thing in this case is something else – for the first time, Prigozhin personally engaged in recruiting soldiers for “Wagner”.
For years he has denied having anything to do with the mercenary group, although there are clear links between him and “Wagner”, but now he is directly talking about the prisoners joining the company.
In front of them, the oligarch commented that he was a representative of a private military company, and then clarified: “Perhaps you have heard the name – Wagner group.”
The group has been linked to involvement in numerous military conflicts as an unofficial mouthpiece of the Kremlin’s will. Their presence was registered in Eastern Ukraine as early as 2014-2015, and then they had missions in Syria, as well as in several of the active African conflicts.
Now their units are back on the ground in Ukraine, and their efforts to recruit prisoners for the conflict there have been noticed several times so far, with experts commenting that it is a desperate attempt by Russian forces to recruit new soldiers for the fighting in Ukraine.
Hristo Grozev also spoke about this to bTV. According to him, there are currently serious signals that the Kremlin does not see a useful move to withdraw and will fight to the end.
“Putin is preparing for a war that will last up to 5 years, because he does not see a scenario in which he can come out with a successful outcome. Another question is whether someone will allow him to be in power for 5 years,” Grozev also commented.
Another interesting look at the situation in Russia comes from the independent site Important Stories, which tells of Russian teachers being asked to give up part of their salaries and donate them to Russian soldiers in Ukraine to help with their maintenance.
At a teachers’ meeting to mark the start of the school year in Moscow regional schools, teachers were encouraged to donate 3,000 rubles (about $50) each from their salaries to help Russian soldiers fighting in Ukraine.
However, the teachers that Important Stories spoke to are not sure what exactly these funds will be spent on.
“We were told that the boys there don’t have pants and socks. It was obvious that our principal felt uncomfortable talking about it. She said she had to say that and she understood our concerns, but we also had to understand the situation: “These are our citizens, our soldiers,” said one teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
Each teacher was given papers to declare that he was donating a sum of his salary to aid the Russian troops.
“Please deduct funds in the amount of … from my salary for September 2022 and transfer them to the charitable foundation “Cultural Development of the Youth of Podolsk” to support soldiers of the Russian Federation participating in a special military operation on the territory of of the Donetsk People’s Republic, the Luhansk People’s Republic and Ukraine,” the form says.
According to Important Stories, about 50% of the staff at the school in question agreed to donate money to the soldiers.
The “Cultural Development of Youth of Podolsk” foundation cited in the document also did not specifically answer Important Stories’ question about where the collected money would go.
“At the moment, the city administration is conducting negotiations with the competent state authorities on how, where and to whom to transfer the money. Once this is decided, the purchase and shipment/delivery will take place,” answers the representative of the foundation, Dmitry Nikolaev.
However, he said, once the goods are shipped, the city will notify everyone who donated money about where and what was shipped.
According to the site, 33 Russian regions have so far pledged support totaling 4.8 billion rubles (nearly $80 million), but according to military expert Pavel Luzin, this will not be enough to cover the needs of Russian forces. in Ukraine.
However, according to him, this practice of collecting donations for the army is yet to be popularized. And the reason for this is simple – Russia simply does not have enough money to wage this war.