What They Are Talking About on the Russian Talk Shows Today: Full War Mobilization!

A month ago I was asked by a retired U.S. lieutenant colonel in a private email correspondence whether Vladimir Putin would be announcing general mobilization in his State of the Union address on 21 February. I answered with full confidence that this was unfounded speculation, that the Russian war effort was going well in the estimation of the Kremlin, that they expect the imminent capture of Artyomovsk (Bakhmut), opening the way for Russia to assume full possession of the Donbas.

Indeed, the fighting in and around Artyomovsk today continues to favor the Russians, notwithstanding the latest dispatch of 10,000 or more Ukrainian army forces to keep open supply lines to their comrades in the nearly surrounded city, who number perhaps 20,000.

Meanwhile, the United States and its NATO allies have come to agreement on what further heavy equipment they can ship to Ukraine in support of Kiev’s planned counteroffensive later this spring. Several Leopard tanks have already been delivered by Poland; more are on their way from other countries. And, as Russian television has been showing for the past 24 hours, there is an enormous stock of American armored personnel carriers, self-propelled artillery, HIMARS launchers and other equipment now stored on the quays of the Polish port of Gdansk awaiting delivery to Ukraine.

In this context, the discussion in Washington and European capitals over how far they can go without crossing Russia’s red lines and triggering a hot war between Russia and NATO is being bypassed by events. As the latest editions of prime news and discussion programs Sixty Minutes and Evening with Vladimir Solovyov indicate, Russia’s political elites consider that these lines have been crossed, with or without delivery of the F-16 fighter jets requested by Zelensky; with or without the latest version of the Leopards or the Abrams tanks promised by the USA. The Russians also speak openly on television about the Polish, French and Italian ‘mercenaries’ whom their troops in Donbas are overhearing daily on the front lines, and there is no question but that these are in effect NATO officers, not volunteers from the street.

The ‘fog of war’ distortions and blatant propaganda over the status of the Ukraine war that we see daily in mainstream electronic and print media in the West are being cleared away by very realistic assessments of the intentions and capabilities of the sides that I now see on the aforementioned talk shows. The information being broadcast is coming from war correspondents in the field, from front line commanders themselves and from expert analysts – Duma members of various parties, as well as from among academics and think tank directors.

The Financial Times may be just a sounding board for the Zelensky regime. Sixty Minutes and the Solovyov show are far more nuanced, self-critical and helpful for the broad Russian public to understand the challenge their country is facing as it goes up against the entire U.S.-led West in economic and military warfare.

These programs are unquestionably preparing the Russian public for mobilization of the economy to a full war footing and for further call-ups of reservists and recruits to join the fight. At the same time, I see demands that the government adopt a much more repressive policy at home to purge the country of fence-sitters, implementing a policy well-known to Americans from the time of President George W. Bush: ‘you are either with us or you are against us.’

The recent cases of sabotage and attempted political assassinations within Russia perpetrated by treasonous Russian nationals or by teams of Ukrainians who passed through the porous border have given rise to demands to ‘get tough’ and follow the practices put in place by Stalin, namely summary execution of saboteurs and ‘enemies of the people.’

It must be stressed that until now the Russian government has been lenient towards its domestic critics and enemies. Western talk of an ‘authoritarian’ or ‘autocratic’ Kremlin has just been libelous propaganda. However, by encouraging the Kiev regime to deploy every kind of despicable attack on Russia up to and including use of chemical and biological weapons on the field of battle, as the Russians now report is the case, Washington is making a mockery of international law and inviting Russia to wage all-out war.

In this regard, I point to the remarks of Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko before and during his visit to Beijing a week ago: he remarked that the present moment should not be lost, that all sides should be pressuring the warring parties to declare a cease-fire and enter into peace negotiations. Lukashenko argued that Russia had not yet unleashed its military potential, had not yet mobilized its economy and its society for total war, but that was sure to come if the conflict is allowed to proceed and thus to escalate further.

Gilbert Doctorow is a Brussels-based political analyst. His latest book is Does Russia Have a Future? Reprinted with permission from his blog.

© Gilbert Doctorow, 2023