Russian President Vladimir Putin could further escalate his offensive in Ukraine by formally declaring war against the former Soviet state as soon as May 9, according to a report on Monday.
A formal declaration of war against Ukraine would allow the Russian military to mobilize its reserve forces and draft conscripts and then move them to the front lines in the eastern and southern parts of the country, according to the report, which cited U.S. and Western officials. May 9 is a significant date in Russia, known as "Victory Day," which commemorates the country's 1945 defeat of the Nazis during World War II. Moscow is slated to host a military parade marking the date.
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A formal declaration of war could bolster public support in Russia for the invasion, according to the report.
To date, Russia's Feb. 24 invasion has only been referred to as a "special military operation" to "de-Nazify" Ukraine by Putin and Russian officials.
The new troops that a formal war declaration would provide are also desperately needed by Russia amid mounting losses and "slow and uneven progress," according to Western officials.
The British Defense Ministry said on Monday that out of the roughly 120 battalion tactical groups Russia has used in its offensive, it’s “likely” that “more than a quarter of these units have now been rendered combat ineffective.”
Analysts and officials have long believed that May 9 would hold some significant implication for the war in Ukraine — possibly the announcement of a military achievement.
Russian forces have been trying to consolidate modest gains and legitimize their controlled territory in Ukraine ahead of the date.
Last month, Putin declared victory in the battle for the southern port city of Mariupol, despite reports of hundreds of Ukrainian troops holding out in the besieged Azovstal steel plant.
Pro-Russian government administrations have been set up in the southern city of Kherson, where the Russian ruble has now replaced the Ukrainian hryvnia
as the currency.
U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Michael Carpenter said on Monday that he believes "sham" referendums will be set up in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions this month to create the "veneer of democratic electoral legitimacy" in the eastern regions.
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On Sunday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denied that May 9 would influence any Russian military actions in Ukraine.
“Our military will not artificially adjust their actions to any date, including Victory Day,” Lavrov said in an interview with an Italian media outlet.
“The pace of the operation in Ukraine depends, first of all, on the need to minimize any risks for the civilian population and Russian military personnel,” he claimed.