On Tuesday the Kremlin addressed widespread speculation and rumors that President Vladimir Putin is planning to issue a full declaration of war as Russian forces pull back from Kharkiv, in a Ukraine counteroffensive that Kiev leaders and their Western allies are hailing as a major success. A war declaration would trigger mass mobilization and a draft.
"Russia is not planning to declare a mass national draft for the war in Ukraine," the Kremlin stated, amid reports its forces are suffering fatigue, low moral and manpower shortages. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov emphasized this is not under discussion at this point: "Not at this point. No, we are not discussing that," he said when asked about widespread reports, as quoted in TASS news.
Peskov was then pressed about the degree to which Ukrainian forces had advanced into Russian lines in the northeast, amid ongoing heavy fighting, but he declined to address the ground situation. "This [question] is for the Defense Ministry. I simply do not have accurate information," he said.
There does appear to be growing pressure from inside Russia to act, according to The Moscow Times:
Lawmaker Mikhail Sheremet, a member of the State Duma’s Security Committee and the ruling United Russia party, spoke out in favor of general mobilization on Monday, according to the URA.ru news agency.
"Without full mobilization, [without] switching to the war mode, including the economy, we will not achieve the desired results," the agency quoted Sheremet as saying.
"I am talking about the fact that today society should be consolidated as much as possible and aim for victory," said the deputy.
There have meanwhile also been signs in Russian domestic media and among popular pundits of a narrative shift that is increasingly recognizing recent Russian losses and setbacks, and the need for a strategy overhaul, as well as growing criticism of how the "special operation" is being managed. Very likely there's under-the-surface ratcheting tensions across the population due to mounting casualties among the country's young men who've been thrust into battle these past seven months.
For example Al Jazeera chronicles some recent reactions going back to last week as Ukraine forces began taking key towns in the northeast:
"There is no panic in Balakliya," the Telegram channel Veteran’s Notes, which boasts 192,000 subscribers, wrote on September 6. A number of pro-Russian feeds, including that of famous talkshow host Vladimir Solovyov, reposted that message.
By the following day, however, there was a more sullen tone. "Don’t expect good news today," Veteran’s Notes warned.
An illusory declaration of war against Ukraine without full mobilization by Russia is plausible.— Clint Ehrlich (@ClintEhrlich) September 12, 2022
There's significant pressure on Putin's government to do *something.*
But actual wartime mobilization would risk political unrest. Maybe he tries Clinton-style triangulation. https://t.co/RZR6avh0mK
Days later, a Russian defense ministry statement called the withdrawal of Russian forces in Kharkiv Oblast a "regrouping". Other examples from Russian media of a changing tone on the war include:
Speaking on the loss of Izyum, the host of a political talk show on Match TV, a sports channel, urged his viewers to "pray for our guys".
The government and its friendly voices in the media have acknowledged that Russian forces have withdrawn from previously held positions, but have avoided outwardly calling it a loss.
Related to the question of a formal war declaration, looming large in the background is the continued unprecedented in size weapons pipeline coming from the US and NATO countries to Ukraine forces. There's been widespread acknowledgement that US assistance, which has included intelligence-sharing, has greatly helped the recent Ukraine counteroffensive and territorial gains. This has led to the speculation that Putin could be getting ready to say "enough is enough" and expand the war.