Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Wednesday the immediate “partial mobilization” of Russian citizens, a move that threatens to escalate his faltering invasion of Ukraine following a series of defeats that have caused recriminations in Moscow.
Putin said in a speech that he would use “all means at our disposal” and even raised the specter of nuclear weapons if he felt that Russia’s “territorial integrity” was jeopardized.
The mobilization means that citizens who are in the reserve could be summoned and those with military experience would be subject to conscription, Putin said, adding that the necessary decree had already been signed and went into effect on Wednesday.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Russian television Wednesday morning that the country will call 300,000 reservists. “These are not people who have never heard of the military,” Shoigu said. “These are the ones who have served, have a military registration specialty, have had military experience.”
It comes after a sudden and successful Ukrainian offensive through most of occupied Kharkiv changed momentum in the conflict over Kiev this month. The counterattacks galvanized Ukraine’s Western supporters and caused anger in Russia, which was repeatedly thwarted in its full-scale assault on its neighboring state launched seven months ago.
“Our country also has various means of destruction and in some components more modern than those of NATO countries, and if the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and ours. people. Putin said in his speech on Wednesday pointing to a possible new chapter in the months-long conflict.
Addressing the potential for escalation and the use of nuclear weapons, Putin said: “Those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that prevailing winds can turn in their direction.”
The announcement comes because Russia is believed to face labor shortages and follows amendments to the Russian law on military service made on Tuesday, which increase sanctions for resistance related to military service or coercion to violate an official military order. during a period of mobilization or martial law.
Putin framed the ongoing fighting as part of a broader Russian survival struggle against a West whose goal is “to weaken, divide and ultimately destroy our country”. Several Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine have announced that this week they will hold referendums on formal membership of Russia, votes that have been widely dismissed as deceptions intended to increase Putin’s justifications for further attacks on Ukrainian soil.
“They are already saying directly that they were able to divide the Soviet Union in 1991 and now the time has come for Russia to divide into a multitude of regions and areas that are fatally hostile to each other,” he said. Putin.
But NATO leaders rejected the announcement as a sign of panic in the Kremlin and reaffirmed their commitment to support the Ukrainian military.
US President Joe Biden condemned the Kremlin’s planned mobilization and voting during his speech at the UN General Assembly on Wednesday.
“Just today, President Putin has launched blatant nuclear threats to Europe … now Russia is calling more soldiers to join the fight and the Kremlin is organizing bogus referendums to try to annex parts of Ukraine,” Biden said. . “The world should see these outrageous acts for what they are.
“Putin says he had to act because Russia was threatened, but no one threatened Russia and no one other than Russia sought a conflict,” Biden added.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz meanwhile called the mobilization an “act of desperation”.
“Russia cannot win this war. But this is a kind of panic reaction, “Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte added Wednesday.
The referendums, which Putin supported during his speech on Wednesday, could pave the way for the Russian annexation of the areas, allowing Moscow to frame the ongoing Ukrainian counter-offensive there as an attack on Russia itself, thus providing Moscow with a pretext to escalate. his military response.
In what appeared to be a coordinated announcement, Russian-appointed leaders in the occupied regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia and the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic all said they planned to hold “votes” starting on 23 September.
Together, the four regions that announced their referendum plans make up about 18% of Ukrainian territory. Russia does not control any of the four in their entirety.
The expected referendums, contrary to international law supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty, were announced as world leaders descended on New York for a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, where the war and its impact were already ready to loom.
Ukraine dismissed the announcement of the referendums in the occupied regions as a “forgery” stemming from the “fear of defeat”, while the country’s Western supporters signaled that they would not change their support for Ukraine.
US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget A. Brink tweeted Wednesday that “the false referendums and mobilization are signs of weakness, of Russia’s failure. The US will never recognize Russia’s claim to allegedly annex the territory. Ukrainian and we will continue to be with Ukraine for as long as necessary. ”
Putin on Wednesday said that Russia was asked for the support of the two “people’s republics” and the regions of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia for the referendums and pledged to do “everything to ensure safe conditions for people to express their will”.
The announcements had already received rapid support from Russian politicians. Former Russian President and Vice-President of the Russian National Security Council Dmitry Medvedev has publicly approved referendums in the self-proclaimed republics of Donbas, saying this would have “enormous significance” for the “systemic protection” of residents.
“The invasion of Russian territory is a crime that allows all self-defense forces to be used,” Medvedev said on his Telegram channel, in an apparent allusion to the potential of military escalation.
But the social media video geolocated by CNN on Wednesday showed protests in several Russian cities, each involving what appeared to be a few dozen people. The independent monitoring group OVD-Info said over 100 people were detained in total during anti-mobilization demonstrations.
It is unclear what form an escalation might take, but concerns were raised during the conflict that Russia would resort to using its nuclear stocks in Ukraine.
US President Joe Biden addressed these concerns in a 60-minute interview earlier this week when a reporter asked what he would say to the Russian leader about the use of chemical or tactical nuclear weapons.
“Not. Not. Not. You will change the face of war like no other since World War II,” Biden said, adding that the US response to such actions would be “consequential.”
Putin approved a new “deterrent” strategy in June 2020 that allowed the use of nuclear weapons in response to a non-nuclear attack on Russia that threatened its existence.
On Tuesday, Russia’s lower house, the State Duma, amended the law on military service, tightening punishment for violating military service duties – such as desertion and evasion from duty – according to the news agency. state tax.
The bill sets a prison sentence of up to 15 years for resistance related to military service or coercion for violating an official military order, involving violence or the threat of its use, during the period of mobilization or martial law.