Last gasp: Kremlin announces Putin annexation ceremony tomorrow

Source: Hot Air

At this point, one almost has to admire the denial on display in Moscow. Having held absurdly cooked referenda in parts of Ukraine no longer fully in Russian control with absurdly cooked results, Vladimir Putin will hold an equally absurd annexation ceremony tomorrow. Putin will officially claim sovereignty over four areas in which the Ukrainian army is presently pushing Russian troops out:

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday will formally move to seize four Ukrainian territories by signing documents that the Kremlin is calling “accession treaties.”

The signing ceremony, to take place in the Grand Kremlin Palace on Friday, marks Putin’s attempt to annex the regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, even though Russia does not fully control any of them either militarily or politically.

The move, in defiance of stern international warnings including from President Biden, potentially slams the door on diplomacy for years to come, and almost certainly assures further escalation of the war in Ukraine, with Kyiv insisting it will fight to reclaim all of its lands and Western allies promising to send more weapons and economic assistance. …

Putin’s move, which is a blatant violation international law, will further isolate Russia, triggering new Western sanctions. But Putin nonetheless appears to hope that a long, brutal war will eventually fray Western support for Ukraine and curtail military and economic aid that is providing a lifeline to Kyiv.

What is the popular definition of insanity again? Putin has been trying to split the West from Ukraine, and/or split the West generally over the war, ever since he launched it. Instead, the US-EU alliance has gotten stronger in the face of a now-undeniable threat from an imperial Russia, and NATO has not only unified but now expanded into Finland and Sweden.

Putin’s attack on the Nord Stream pipelines — and by now it’s pretty clear that Russia was behind that — was an escalation on the same strategy. Putin wants to let the EU and its inhabitants know that Russia can take out pipelines and other key sea-based infrastructure at will as a way to intimidate Europe into disengaging with Ukraine. All it shows, however, is that a united defense against Putin’s regime is more necessary than ever. Rather than split Europeans away from Ukraine, Putin is proving Volodymyr Zelensky’s point that the attack on Ukraine is an attack on Europe.

That isn’t the only phase of denial at play here, either. Putin has actually been more coy than the Western press has recognized over extending his “nuclear umbrella” over annexed portions of Ukraine. The point of annexation is to unlock a more robust mobilization and domestic industrial seizure by transforming this from Putin’s aggressive “special military operation” to a supposed defense against an attack on Russia.

And that strategy may have looked good, right up until last week’s announcement of Putin’s “partial” mobilization on the basis of a claimed threat to the Fatherland. In reality, the mobilization demonstrated just how unpopular this war has been in Russia, a point missed again by Western media outlets until now. Rather than cheerfully volunteering for duty or even dutifully submitting to a draft, Russian men ran for the borders by the tens of thousands. The latest EU estimate for border crossings by Russians is around 66,000 in the past week, and many more left for Turkey, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and other easier-to-cross points. Russia is not at all politically prepared for either war or a humiliating massacre of its men, and the farther it goes, the more risking it becomes.

So in terms of domestic strategy, annexation is a dud. Diplomatically, it’s also a dud. The West let Putin get away with annexing Crimea, tacitly anyway, because it didn’t want a war over it. Now that Putin has launched a war anyway, the West isn’t going to tacitly retreat diplomatically or economically just because Putin signs another worthless annexation declaration. Neither will the Ukrainian military and government, who see this as an existential threat to their country … because that’s precisely what it is.

Besides, even if annexation has the domestic effect Putin wants, it’s far too late and Putin has no real resources to rally any longer. ISW has followed Russian milblogger chatter around the collapsed Kharkiv line and notes that they are concerned that Lyman will fall next. If it does, Putin’s “annexation” may be very short-lived, as may be milblogger and rabid-nationalist support for the regime:

Russian milbloggers discussed Ukrainian gains around Lyman with increased concern on September 28, suggesting that Russian forces in this area may face imminent defeat.[1] Several Russian milbloggers and prominent military correspondents claimed that Ukrainian troops advanced west, north, and northeast of Lyman and are working to complete the envelopment of Russian troops in Lyman and along the northern bank of the Siverskyi Donets River in this area.[2] Russian mibloggers stated that Ukrainian troops are threatening Russian positions and lines of communication that support the Lyman grouping. The collapse of the Lyman pocket will likely be highly consequential to the Russian grouping in northern Donetsk and western Luhansk oblasts and may allow Ukrainian troops to threaten Russian positions along the western Luhansk Oblast border and in the Severodonetsk-Lysychansk area.

Russian military leadership has failed to set information conditions for potentially imminent Russian defeat in Lyman.  The Russian Ministry of Defense has not addressed current Russian losses around Lyman or prepared for the collapse of this sector of the frontline, which will likely further reduce already-low Russian morale. Russian military authorities previously failed to set sufficient information conditions for Russian losses following the first stages of the Ukrainian counteroffensives in Kharkiv Oblast, devastating morale and leading to panic among Russian forces across the Eastern axis. The subsequent ire of the Russian nationalist information space likely played a role in driving the Kremlin to order partial mobilization in the days following Ukraine’s initial sweeping counteroffensive in a haphazard attempt to reinforce Russian lines. Future Ukrainian gains around critical areas in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblast may drive additional wedges between Russian nationalists and military leadership, and between Russian forces and their superiors.

Donetsk and Luhansk are the areas that Putin plans to declare Russian tomorrow. A failure at Lyman will either cut off Russian forces in the places Putin purports to annex or force them to flee for their lives — again. The British Ministry of Defence also reports that Ukrainians are advancing on Lyman after consolidating gains from the Russian defeat and rout from Kharkiv:

The British military said Ukrainian advances near the eastern hub of Lyman have been slower than previously. “Units are making slow advances on at least two axes east from the line of the Oskil and Siverskyy Donets rivers, where forces had consolidated following their previous advance earlier in the month,” the British Defense Ministry said in an intelligence briefing Wednesday.

Lyman is just a matter of time for Ukraine, it seems. Even with the poor quality and untrained troops Putin now has, he probably can’t get them there in time to test the theory that quantity is a quality all its own.

The news is no better for Putin in Kherson, where he refused a request for an orderly withdrawal from Russian military commanders. The Ukrainian army now claims to have zeroed in on troop concentrations in the city itself, and also claim to have all but trapped the forces occupying the city and its environs:

Ukrainian army hits cluster of Russian troops in occupied Kherson, says regional official

He clarified that the dormitory had belonged to the Polytechnic College in Kherson, which is currently being used as large-scale housing for Russian occupying forces. …

Ukraine is keeping almost the entirety of Kherson Oblast under fire control, Natalia Humeniuk, spokesperson for the Ukrainian military’s Operational Command South, said in mid-September.

According to her, in the south of Ukraine, Russian units are sandwiched between the Armed Forces and the right bank of the Dnipro river. The invading troops are being offered a chance to surrender under the auspices of international humanitarian law, or to return home.

Russian sources confirmed the attack at the college, ISW confirms:

Russian and Ukrainian sources reported that Ukrainian forces hit two main areas in Kherson Oblast as part of Ukraine’s continuing interdiction campaign on September 27 and 28: around Kherson City and near Beryslav, about 70km east of Kherson City. Geolocated footage shows the aftermath of a reported Ukrainian HIMARS strike on Oleshky, 8km southeast of Kherson City.[24] Russian sources also posted imagery of the aftermath of a Ukrainian strike on Kherson Polytechnical College in Kherson City, where Russian troops reportedly were residing.[25] Ukrainian sources also stated that Ukrainian forces hit Russian concentration areas near Beryslav.[26]

Ukrainian sources reported that Ukrainian troops conducted limited ground maneuvers in western Kherson Oblast on September 27 and 28. The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Ukrainian troops repelled a Russian attack on Bezimenne, 15km southwest of Davydiv Brid and near the Inhulets River that runs along the Kherson-Mykolaiv Oblast border.[27] Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command additionally noted that Russian troops attempted to attack Bezimenne from positions in Chkalove, 7km southeast of Bezimenne.[28] Russian sources discussed various Ukrainian troop rotations northwest of Kherson City near Posad-Pokrovske and in western Kherson Oblast near Andriivka.[29]

Tomorrow’s annexation ceremony won’t be entirely analogous the scenes in the Berlin bunker, where Adolf Hitler issued orders to phantom armies and insisted that victory was still around the corner. But it won’t be entirely unlike that, either.