Melissa Harris-Perry: We're back with The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry.
Translator: We are only talking about a partial mobilization. Only people currently in the military reserve will be drafted, prioritizing those who have served in the armed forces and of a particular military specialization and the corresponding experience.
Melissa Harris-Perry: You're listening here to a translation of an announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin last week who was announcing a partial military mobilization in the country that will lead to as many as 300,000 reservists being drafted. That's double the number of troops originally sent to fight in Ukraine. Putin's announcement has led to tens of thousands of men across Russia fleeing the country in an attempt to avoid the draft. Those evading service can be sentenced to 10 years in prison according to a new law Putin signed last Monday.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Here with me is Dr. William Pomeranz, director of the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars. William, welcome to The Takeaway.
William Pomeranz: My pleasure.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Can we start actually first with the staged referendums in these four Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine on Tuesday? What is Russian state media claiming about the outcomes?
William Pomeranz: Russian state media is claiming that they were victories for joining the Russian Federation in all four regions, and so that in the matter of about two weeks or so, it is expected that there will be laws that will annex all four regions to the Russian Federation and that they will be a constituent part of Russia
Melissa Harris-Perry: Is this what happened in Crimea? Are we looking at something unique here? Does it signal something about the rest of the war?
William Pomeranz: It is similar to what happened in Crimea. What it means for the rest of the war that any attack by Ukraine in these four regions will be considered an attack on the Russian Federation. The Russian Federation has issued several warnings about such attacks, including their ability to maybe use nuclear weapons in response to such an attack. It escalates the war and it escalates the consequences for attacks on these regions.
Melissa Harris-Perry: All right. Help us to understand what the announcement about conscription tells us about the status of the war.
William Pomeranz: The request for mobilization that Putin issued about five days ago shows that Russia is having problems with troops on the ground, that they don't have enough troops in order to win the war. That was shown because, in the Kharkiv region, there was a mass retreat of Russian soldiers and Ukraine achieved a significant victory in the Kharkiv region.
It has become apparent that there are not enough troops on the ground in order to wage this fight and that Putin needs to conscript soldiers in order to increase the number. The problem is that, as you reported in your opening remarks, hundreds of thousands of Russian men have essentially fled to Georgia, to Finland, to any place that they can get an airplane ticket so that they can avoid conscription.
Melissa Harris-Perry: That feels like a stark contrast to what we saw earlier this year with what felt like an outpouring of willingness of Ukrainians to fight in defense of their nation. Is that a fair comparison?
William Pomeranz: It's the Russians who are not wanting to fight for their nation. Ukraine has really had a very strong response to the aggression and the atrocities of Russia in Ukraine. For Ukraine, it has been a strong response. For Russia, in light of the conscription announcement, they are not basically willing to fight for Russia and want to do anything possible to avoid being caught up in this draft.
Melissa Harris-Perry: We've seen protests with as many as maybe 2,300 people detained and arrested as a result of these anti-conscription protests around the country.
William Pomeranz: That is right that there have been an increase in the amount of protests. Protests in Russia are very limited and have draconian penalties for participating in a protest. The willingness for Russians to protest in light of the penalties that incur if they are arrested and if they are convicted has been a very strong statement about how Russians are viewing this new conscription and the war itself.
Melissa Harris-Perry: The notion that this vote and potential annexation of these areas of Ukraine has heightened the cost of resisting, and then this notion that finding troops to fight on the ground is more difficult perhaps than Present Putin believed that it would be, what does that tell us about the possibility of a swift escalation?
William Pomeranz: There is a possibility of a swift escalation. Unfortunately for Russia, they don't have the troops for a swift escalation. If there is an escalation, there somehow has to be a increase in the number of real Russian troops who can be engaged in combat. Unfortunately, again, a lot of these troops if they are conscripted will basically have a few days training and then be sent to battle, and that has already been confirmed in various sources of information. Even though Putin wants to up the ante, it's unclear whether he will have the manpower and the equipment to wage a increased war in Ukraine.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Talk to me about Edward Snowden. He became a Russian citizen this week in what felt like a somewhat discordant piece of news.
William Pomeranz: He became a Russian citizen. Actually, he will officially be a dual citizen between the United States and Russia, but I don't think that Mr. Snowden is actually going to be called to service because he's a Russian citizen. I think that this was really done for propaganda purposes to remind the US that Snowden is still there. That was really the motivation for Putin.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Speaking of Americans who are still there, I just have to ask about the status of Brittney Griner. Is there any additional information or updates in her case?
William Pomeranz: There is no information. President Biden met with Brittney Griner's wife and the Whelan family, the other prisoner in Russia, about two weeks ago and emphasized that he is trying to do something and everything in order to get them back. Unfortunately, in light of current events, in light of sanctions, in light of a whole host of circumstances for President Putin, I don't think he is focused on this prisoner swap. Therefore, I am not optimistic that Brittney Griner or Paul Whelan is coming home soon.
Melissa Harris-Perry: William Pomeranz is the director of the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars. Thanks so much for joining us today.
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