Desperate Putin still a threat – even if evil regime is at an end

Putin's mobilisation plot is 'ill conceived' says Rupert Jones

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But the West must take his nuclear threats seriously because the “desperate” dictator is running out of options, it was warned.

The announcement of a “partial mobilisation” on Wednesday caused a mass exodus of eligible men, as border routes to Georgia and Finland became choked with traffic and one-way flights out of Moscow sold out. “Putin’s speech heralded the beginning of the collapse of the Putin regime,” said Keir Giles, of the Chatham House think tank.

“Russia is now displaying all the symptoms of the early stages of the kind of crisis that has brought Russian dictatorships crashing down in the past – pursuing unfeasible objectives in unwinnable wars and destroying the country, its economy and the lives of young men in the process.”

More than 20,000 Russian troops have been killed in action and a further 60,000 wounded in just six months of fighting, far exceeding the country’s 10-year war in Afghanistan.

In order to shore up gaps, private mercenary companies such as the Wagner Group have already been given permission to recruit in prisons, offering convicts a reprieve for six months’ service.

Lt Gen Stephen Twitty, former deputy commander of the US European Command, said: “I don’t think Putin will make that 300,000 figure and, even if he does, they need to be trained and equipped. Russians have taken a lot of losses, so to be able to conjure enough combat-worthy equipment is difficult.

“We always knew he felt that Ukraine was Russian but we didn’t know how good he was militarily. We were suspicious of his capability but could not know, as he had only fought in small wars like Aleppo. We do now.”

But he warned that the West should not be complacent about the other part of Putin’s speech, in which he warned his country had “various weapons of destruction” and would “use all the means available to us”. He said: “We should not take it lightly but we should not let it deter us either.”

Fabrice Pothier, former Nato director of policy and planning, said contingency plans had been made in the West.

“It is no coincidence Putin made this speech just when it seemed the US was preparing to sanction the deployment of main battle tanks. That would spell the end for Russia. Infantry would have the back-up they need,” he said.

In Putin’s “parallel universe”, the nuclear threat is a way to come back to the negotiating table, he said, “But we must assume he means it.” Mr Pothier added: “It will be up to the nuclear powers of the US, UK and France to lead the response to Russia’s use of tactical nuclear weapons.

“This may end up being a non-Nato operation, though Nato’s nuclear group has also made contingency plans.”

Last night, Putin fired the general in charge of military logistics in Ukraine. Dmitry Bulgakov, 67, was “released” to a new role, the Russian defence ministry confirmed. He will be replaced by Col Gen Mikhail Mizintsev, who oversaw the brutal siege of Mariupol.

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