Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday announced a partial mobilization in Russia as the war in Ukraine reaches nearly seven months and Moscow loses ground on the battlefield. Putin also warned the West that “it’s not a bluff” that Russia would use all the means at its disposal to protect its territory.
Putin’s decree Wednesday about the mobilization was sparse on details. Officials said as many as 300,000 reservists could be tapped. It was apparently an effort to seize momentum after a Ukrainian counteroffensive this month retook swaths of territory that Russians had held.
Putin said the decision to partially mobilize was “fully adequate to the threats we face, namely to protect our homeland, its sovereignty and territorial integrity, to ensure the security of our people and people in the liberated territories.”
The first such call-up in Russia since the Second World War also brings the fighting home in a new way for Russians and risks fanning domestic anxiety and antipathy toward the war. Shortly after Putin’s announcement, flights out of the country rapidly filled up, and hundreds of people were arrested at antiwar demonstrations across the country.
Hours later, in a speech to the UN General Assembly, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy suggested that Russia’s decision showed it wasn’t serious about negotiating an end to the war, and insisted his country would prevail in repelling Russia’s attack and forcing its troops out.
“We can return the Ukrainian flag to our entire territory. We can do it with the force of arms,” Zelenskyy said. “But we need time.”
A day earlier, Russian-controlled parts of eastern and southern Ukraine announced plans for referendums on becoming parts of Russia. Ukrainian leaders and their Western allies consider the votes illegitimate.
Zelenskyy didn’t discuss the developments in detail. But he suggested any Russian talk of negotiations is only a delaying tactic, and that Moscow’s actions speak louder than its words.
“They talk about the talks but announce military mobilization. They talk about the talks but announce pseudo-referendums in the occupied territories of Ukraine,” he said.
Putin’s decree came just hours before U.S. President Joe Biden’s address to world leaders at the UN General Assembly.
Biden excoriated the “brutal, needless war chosen by one man” as a violation of the UN’s charter, as well as the “sham referenda” Russia has planned for later in the week to consolidate authority over territories in Ukraine it controls.
“If nations can pursue their imperialist ambitions without consequences, then we put at risk everything this institution stands for,” Biden said.
The U.S. — which has contributed nearly $16 billion in aid to Ukraine since Biden took office — would be “clear, firm and unwavering in our resolve,” Biden said, to defend democracy both in Ukraine and around the world.
WATCH l Mobilizing, training that many troops will ‘take a long time’: military expert:
Nuclear threat ‘not a bluff’
Putin in his speech accused the West of engaging in “nuclear blackmail” and noted “statements of some high-ranking representatives of the leading NATO states about the possibility of using nuclear weapons of mass destruction against Russia.”
“To those who allow themselves such statements regarding Russia, I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction, and for separate components and more modern than those of NATO countries, and when the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal,” Putin said.
He added: “It’s not a bluff.”
Putin’s new nuclear threats against Europe showed “reckless disregard” for Russia’s responsibilities as a signer of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Biden said at the UN in New York.
“A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” said Biden.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said in a televised interview Wednesday that conscripts and students won’t be mobilized — only those with relevant combat and service experience.
Shoigu said that 5,397 Russian troops have been killed in Ukraine so far, the Kremlin’s first update on casualties since March. Western estimates of Russian military losses stand at tens of thousands.
The Kremlin-controlled lower house of parliament voted Tuesday to toughen laws against desertion, surrender and looting by Russian troops. Lawmakers also voted to introduce possible 10-year prison terms for soldiers refusing to fight. The measures are expected to be approved by the upper house and then signed by Putin.
Ukraine regains territory
Ukraine has liberated a number of towns and cities in the past month, enabled in large part by precision weapons and rocket systems provided by the U.S. and allies — including the High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, and the High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile, or HARM.
On the battlefield, shelling continued around Europe’s largest nuclear power plant In the Russian-occupied city of Enerhodar. Ukrainian energy operator Energoatom said Russian shelling again damaged infrastructure at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and briefly forced workers to start two diesel generators for emergency power to the cooling pumps for one of the reactors.
Such pumps are essential for avoiding a meltdown at a nuclear facility even though all six of the plant’s reactors have been shut down. Energoatom said the generators were later switched off as main power was restored.
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant has been a focus of concern for months because of fears that shelling could lead to a radiation leak. Russia and Ukraine blame each other for the shelling
Referendums, which have been expected to take place since the first months of the war that began on Feb. 24, will start Friday in the Luhansk, Kherson and partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions. Those votes are all but certain to go Moscow’s way, but have been dismissed as illegitimate by Western leaders who are backing Kyiv with military and other support that has helped its forces seize momentum on battlefields in the east and south.