US and Western officials believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin could move to formally declare war on Ukraine as soon as May 9, which would allow the full mobilization of Russian reserve forces as they attempt to invade eastern and southern Ukraine.
May 9, known as Russia’s “Victory Day”, commemorates the Russians’ defeat of the Nazis in 1945. Western officials have long believed that Putin would take advantage of the symbolic significance and propaganda value of that day to announce either a military achievement in Ukraine, or a significant escalation in hostilities—or both.
Officials are beginning to focus on one scenario, which is Putin officially declaring war on Ukraine on May 9. So far, Russian officials have insisted that the conflict was just a “special military operation” with the central goal of “de-Nazification.”
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said: “I think he will try to walk away from his ‘special operation’.” For LBC Radio last week. “He was rolling around on the field, setting the stage for him to be able to say ‘Look, this is now a war against the Nazis, and what I need is more people. I need more Russian cannon fodder.”
Wallace added that he “would not be surprised, and I have no information on this, that he would probably announce this May Day ‘that we are now at war with the Nazis in the world and need to mobilize the masses of Russian people.'”
More context: A formal declaration of war on May 9 might motivate Russian citizens and stir public opinion to invade. Under Russian law, Russian law would also allow Putin to mobilize reserve forces and recruit conscripts, which officials say Russia desperately needs amid a growing shortage of manpower. Western and Ukrainian officials have estimated that at least 10,000 Russian soldiers have died in the war since the Russian invasion just over two months ago.
Other options on May 9 include annexing the breakaway territories of Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, making a major push for Odessa in the south, or declaring full control of the southern port city of Mariupol.
Michael Carpenter, the US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said on Monday that the US had “very credible” intelligence reports that Russia would attempt to annex Luhansk and Donetsk “sometime in mid-May.” There are also indications that Russia may be planning to declare and annex a “people’s republic” in the southeastern city of Kherson.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday that there was “good reason to believe that the Russians would do everything in their power to use” May 9 for propaganda purposes.
“We’ve seen the Russians redouble their propaganda efforts, probably, probably, as a way to distract from their tactical and strategic failures on the battlefield in Ukraine,” Price said in a State Department briefing.
Price added that he had been “aware of the speculation that Russia might officially declare war” on May 9, and said, “It would be a great irony if Moscow took advantage of the ‘Victory Day’ occasion to declare war, which in itself would allow them to increase recruits in a way they cannot do now, in a way that would amount to revealing to the world the failure of their war effort, that they are floundering in their military campaign and military objectives.”
“I am absolutely confident that we will hear more from Moscow in the lead up to May 9,” Price added. “I’m pretty sure you’ll hear more from the United States, from our partners, including our NATO partners, in the run-up to May 9 as well.”