Russia is scrounging around for new ways to boost its military’s numbers in Ukraine without kicking off domestic backlash, according to a new British government intelligence assessment.
“The Russian leadership highly likely continues to search for ways to meet the high number of personnel required to resource any future major offensive in Ukraine, while minimizing domestic dissent,” the intelligence analysis, shared on Monday, said.
“Russian authorities are likely keeping open the option of another round of call-ups under the ‘partial mobilization,’” the assessment added.
U.S. officials have begun warning that Russia is likely preparing for a new offensive in the new year. Although Russia has maintained a manpower advantage over Ukraine in the war, the intelligence analysis reveals the balancing act the Kremlin is working on behind the scenes.
Russia initiated a “partial mobilization” of 300,000 last fall in an attempt to gin up the war effort in Ukraine, after months of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war plans failing to achieve their major goals. But the domestic response was less than supportive: Hundreds of thousands of Russians fled the country to evade the orders. Those that didn’t escape received no training before being sent to the front in some cases.
Other signs are trickling out from Russia that the Kremlin is growing desperate for more manpower. Aleksandr Bastrykin, the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, noted in recent remarks that naturalized citizens must participate in the war. And Russia has begun preventing some workers from Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan who hold dual passports from leaving Russia, since they might be needed to fight in Ukraine, according to RFE/RL.
“‘You are included in a mobilization list, this is the law, and you have no right to go abroad until February 12,’” one worker recalled border guards saying when they prevented him from leaving Russia.
Russia’s Defense Ministry is also weighing an order that would fund volunteer military units with food, medical supplies, weapons, and uniforms, according to Meduza.
The Kremlin has attempted to throw cold water on the idea that Russia may be planning another mobilization—Kremlin Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov sidestepped questions about it earlier this month, noting that rumors about a new mobilization shouldn’t necessarily be taken at face value. According to a Ukrainian intelligence assessment, however, Putin has ordered the commander of Russian troops in Ukraine to take all of Donbas before March and still has plans to surge fighting in the coming months.
Russia’s new offensive might start as early as February or March, according to Bloomberg.
There are other signs that Russia is on edge about how poorly the war is going, nearly one year in.
A satellite imagery analysis shared exclusively with The Daily Beast last week shows that Russia has been building up a network of fortifications in multiple layers throughout the front in Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson. The defensive fortifications, including trenches, mounds, and dragon’s teeth, suggest that Russia is preparing for a potential Ukrainian counteroffensive and will struggle to preserve what gains it has made in Eastern Ukraine.
The Institute for the Study of War assessed the fortifications could also indicate Russia is preparing for an offensive of its own in the coming weeks.