Putin’s decision to declare a partial mobilization of men with prior military service was not precipitated by a significant attrition in the existing force. The facts are clear–the militias of Dontesk and Luhansk represent the majority of the Russian allied forces doing the fighting in the Donbas. The militias are reinforced by contract soldiers from the Wagner Group and the Chechens. This explains why Russia has less than 5,800 kia since February 24–Russians are not the primary force on the frontlines of the battles.
The number of Russians fighting in Ukraine is going to change dramatically. But the arrival of Russian units in force is at least a month away. The referenda in the Ukrainian oblasts come first and will be followed by the Government of Russia and the Russian legislature accepting the results and approving the annexation of these territories. After that, any attack on the new Russian republics would be treated as an act of war against Russia.
While Ukraine has carried out some spotty attacks in the Crimea and Belgorod in the last six months, Russia has shrugged these off and continued with its mission to secure Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson. The referenda is a watershed and the special military operation will be replaced by Russia going on a war footing. The west will be well advised to acknowledge this fact rather than pretend that Russia is on the verge of collapse.
The reality is that western leaders, not Putin, are behaving like the deranged Denethor. We need a Gandalf with a big white wand to knock some sense into them. Otherwise, the world is entering some very dangerous waters and heightened risk of nuclear war.