He is losing the war, he knows he faces a humiliating defeat in Ukraine. He cannot match Ukraine in terms of motivation, cause, and now in technology and arms - without that he is using the nuclear option which would be a lose-lose. He cannot keep what he currently controls - the offensive in Kharkhiv has proven that.
The strategy to force negotiations is to build a range of pressure points:
• The referenda in occupied lands, and then the hint of the use of nuclear weapons, is to signal that these lands are Russians, its his red line, and he will not back down at all, and would resort to the nuclear option to defend them. The 90%-odd percent approvals (in the rigged elections) coming thru are just to hoodwink the world that somehow the annexation of these territories are popular.
• The mobilization of Russians, while chaotic, is more about signaling that Russia is in this for the long haul. The chaotic nature of the mobilization reveals that Russia cannot actually sustain a long war - putting more untrained, poorly armed Russians in harms way just risks massive casualties, and lots of disgruntled troops coming home. This idea that Russia can sustain hundreds of thousands of casualties, like WWI & WW2, is just not credible in the social media world. Look what is happening in Dagestan. The longer this conflict goes on, the bigger risk of mass social unrest - Putin is breaking the social contract here.
• Energy - the October 1 heating season is kicking off in Europe, and I think the NS attacks, cutting flows thru Ukraine with the Gazprom - Naftogaz spat kicking off. I think Putin here is trying to max pressure on Europe thru the energy channel to get them to cave in and push Ukraine to the negotiating table.
Read also: Putin plans to take Kharkiv, Odesa after announced mobilization, says Bloomberg
Concern here also that Russia might threaten Western underwater telecommunications cables - note the UK head of the armed forces met with Russia's military attache to the UK over the past week, and warnings were given here as the consequences of such action.
Putin wants to negotiate, he is using whatever bluffs he has available to him - mobilization is I think a weak bluff, energy - I think Europe can whether the storm, the question is the nuclear threat real.
Read also: Russia at war 'not with Ukraine,' but with 'collective West,' says Russia's defense minister
Will Ukraine and the West blink? For me, it's up to the Ukrainians who are doing the fighting, and the US, which is providing most of the equipment and financing that are the key decision makers. I don't think they will blink.