Amid the ongoing debate over the extent to which Russian forces have actually withdrawn from near Kiev, which has not witnessed any recent shelling of the city itself (but in some suburbs outside the capital), Vladimir Putin has signed a new order that signals Russian forces are ready for further escalation inside Ukraine.
Reuters details Thursday that the new law will add 134,500 conscripts between the ages of 18 and 27 to Russia's armed forces. It comes in the context of the country's annual spring draft, but also amid widespread speculation that the military is fairing much more poorly than expected, now firmly into the second month of the Ukraine invasion.
However, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu sought to make clear the new recruits won't be sent to any "hot spots" - meaning they are not expected to enter Ukraine - and it remains that it could take up to six months or a year to process in new military members and get them trained.
Previously Putin himself had claimed that new conscripts aren't currently "participating in hostilities" across the Ukraine border.
According to the most recent numbers from the Ministry of Defense (MoD), the Russian death toll in Ukraine is at least 1,351 killed and 3,825 wounded, as of last week. But NATO officials have said that figure is in reality in the 7,000 to 15,000 range, while Ukrainian sources and some Western media reports have suggested as many as 17,000.
Even if new conscripts are not sent to the front lines, a large influx of new recruits can serve to open up troop flows into the conflict, by manning crucial bases at home, and serving pressing logistical needs.
After Putin signed the law Thursday, CNN and other mainstream networks presented that it was done in direct response to massive losses on the Ukraine battlefield, however...
2/2 The reality is that the Russian President is required by law to sign a decree at the end of March setting the draft goals for the annual conscription campaign that runs from April through July. The number being drafted—some 134,000–remains unchanged from prior years.— Scott Ritter (@RealScottRitter) March 31, 2022
By the start of this week, Russia's military command had made clear that strategic efforts will focus on fully liberating the Donbas, which would require 'redeployments' from near Kiev and Chernihiv. It remains unclear if this marks a complete shift in scope, or if perhaps this was the plan from the beginning. Overnight Tuesday into Wednesday Chernihiv's mayor said the city came under "colossal attack" - suggesting there's actually been little that's changed.
Putin's War - The Daily Brief - March 31— Nathan Ruser (@Nrg8000) March 31, 2022
5 weeks ago, Russia invaded Ukraine. After some initial gains, their progress rapidly slowed. Now, every day for the past week, Ukraine has retaken more territory than it's lost.
See this thread for a series of maps and downloadable data. pic.twitter.com/MhsWKfrCDk
Kiev officials have also pointed to Russia's willingness to employ more long-range bombardment of Ukrainian cites, increasing the dangers to the civilian population, while at the same time keeping Russian ground forces at a further distance from Ukrainian resistance.