- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 21, 2022

If you can’t beat ‘em, co-opt ‘em.

That appears to be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strategy as he announced this week a new task force of military bloggers to help sell a possible new round of mobilization for the beleaguered Russian military.

While supporting Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, many of the bloggers have emerged as among the harshest domestic critics of the Kremlin’s prosecution of the war.

Even as the government has moved strongly against critics of the war, the military bloggers have openly questioned Mr. Putin’s overall war plan, the performance of Russian generals and troops in the field, and what they say is the Kremlin’s failure to use even more ruthless tactics to force Kyiv to surrender.

The Russian government on Tuesday issued a decree creating the task force, designed to coordinate the government’s message on the ongoing mobilization of forces that has proven a major logistical and public relations headache for Mr. Putin.

The “partial” mobilization of 300,000 reservists this fall was deeply unpopular, sparking a mass exodus of potential draft-age men leaving the country to avoid service on the Ukrainian front. There were also a slew of reports that those pressed into service were given little training and inadequate supplies before being rushed to the fighting.

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The task force “will interact on issues of preparation, mobilization, military registration and social and legal protection” of mobilized Russian soldiers and their families, the new Putin decree reads.

Among the members of the 31-person task force will be Russian military bloggers who have become one of the most reliable — if critical — sources of information on the fighting, the Moscow Times reported.

The Kremlin has denied reports that a second mobilization drive is imminent, but Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Wednesday announced a longer term goal to increase the country’s military forces from 1 million to 1.5 million, including 695,000 volunteer contract soldiers. Mr. Shoigu didn’t say when the increased strength would be achieved, the Associated Press reported.

The Defense Ministry said some of the new troops will be positioned in western Russia to counterbalance plans by Sweden and Finland to join NATO.

• David R. Sands can be reached at dsands@washingtontimes.com.

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