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What Putin's partial mobilization announcement means for Ukraine


Open dissent in Russia after President Vladimir Putin announced he's calling up Russian reserves to fight in the war against Ukraine. According to OVD-Info, the human rights watchdog that monitors police activity, just over 1,300 people across dozens of cities were detained for protesting the partial mobilization order. That's an order that would usher in a new phase of the war. To get at that, let's bring in retired Marine Corps Colonel Mark Cancian. He's a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Colonel, most reports suggest these protests were driven primarily by young people, and the numbers are relatively small. But how telling to you is this level of dissent in the current climate?

MARK CANCIAN: Well, it's telling in the sense that Putin had been able to suppress protests in recent months. There were some protests at the very beginning of the war. Putin suppressed those, and there really haven't been any since then. Putin has dominated the information life of Russia. He's been able to put his views out there and suppress opposing views. So the fact that there were protests is quite significant.

MARTINEZ: How would you explain who'd be part of this partial mobilization? What's your understanding of what someone looks like that would be called in to fight in this war?

CANCIAN: Well, the first thing about this mobilization is that the number 300,000 has been put out there. That's an estimate. And it's not like 300,000 new troops are going to appear on the battlefield any time soon. What the Russians have done is they are going to pull in people who were in the military and have now got out. The Russians don't have a reserve system the way the United States and many Western countries do. That is, they don't have units that periodically train. They just have names on a list of people who were formerly in the service. So they start calling those people in and putting them back in the uniform, maybe giving them a little retraining and then sending them to units probably to fill them out and replace casualties.

MARTINEZ: So it could be a while before they're battle-ready, or maybe for Russia, it doesn't matter how battle-ready they are.

CANCIAN: Well, it's probably a little of both. It's going to take weeks or months for most of these people to be ready to be called up, to do some retraining. They certainly won't get the level of training that the U.S. does for its reserve forces. On the other hand, the Ukrainians aren't terribly well trained either. This is a war where you have two armies that have expanded and, you know, whose troops are not terribly well trained.

MARTINEZ: One of the things that we've seen with Ukraine - a will to win, and maybe we haven't seen that necessarily with Russia. What problems, Colonel, could arise if the reservists that are called in - say, the first wave - if some of them maybe don't want to fight?

CANCIAN: Well, they're certainly going to have some problems with morale because a lot of these people are older and weren't expecting to go back into the military. So this will continue the kinds of morale problems that we've seen in the Russian forces. On the other hand, I would not overestimate that. I mean, you know, the Russians have had a lot of morale problems. But they're still fighting. And, you know, the Russians, I think historically, have been able to carry on conflicts even in the face of adversity. So although I think that's a real problem, I wouldn't discount the ability of the Russian forces to continue the war.

MARTINEZ: If you're troops in Ukraine, if you're leaders of Ukraine's military, how do you see and process what's coming at you? Are you energized that it's maybe people that aren't as battle-ready as you are?

CANCIAN: Well, I think that this signals Russia's intention to continue this war for an extended period of time. They've taken a lot of casualties. Estimates are around 80,000. Their forces were not very large to begin with - only 150, 180,000 - you know, much smaller than the Russian - the Soviet forces, for example. So this is going to fill up the ranks maybe. But the big thing is this will - the intention is to allow the Russians to continue resistance. I think Putin's goal is to keep the war going until the winter. And then he hopes that high energy prices and the cold weather will push the Europeans to ask for an armistice of some sort.

MARTINEZ: Retired Marine Corps Colonel Mark Cancian, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Colonel, thanks.

CANCIAN: Thanks for having me on the show. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.