After Ukrainian counter-offensives forced Kremlin invaders into a string of humiliating retreats, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday announced a mobilization which will see around 300,000 troops called up in a dramatic escalation of the conflict.
In a televised address, the despotic leader unveiled his increase in force along with an unequivocal warning to the West over what he called “nuclear blackmail.”
“If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will use all available means to protect our people. This is not a bluff,” he said, adding that he had “lots of weapons to reply.”
The mobilization—the first ordered in Russia since World War II—stopped short of calling all of Russia’s 2 million reservists into action or instigating a full national draft. But the increase in manpower represents a significant moment in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine since Russian tanks first rumbled across the border in February.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said 300,000 people with some military experience would be included in the call-up, which has been widely reported as a “partial mobilization.” But experts have pointed out that the text ordering the mobilization says nothing about it being partial, nor is there any legal restriction on the Kremlin eventually being able to call up those without military experience. Fears of full-blown conscription may have been partially responsible for a spike in Google searches for “how to leave Russia” on Tuesday, Meduza reports.
Putin claimed the mobilization has been necessitated by the West pushing Kyiv to “transfer military operations to our territory” with the ultimate goal of the “complete plunder of our country.”
“Nuclear blackmail has also been used,” Putin added, referring to the Russian-occupied Zaporozhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, where nearby explosions have triggered concerns about a possible nuclear incident from international observers.
He also castigated NATO leaders for speaking about “the possibility and admissibility of using weapons of mass destruction against Russia—nuclear weapons.” Putin added: “To those who allow themselves such statements regarding Russia, I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction, and in some components more modern than those of the NATO countries.”
He said that his intention remained to “liberate” the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. “Russia can’t give up on people living close by to be torn apart by executioners and fail to respond to their desire to determine their own fate,” Putin added.
Western leaders and military officials derided Putin’s speech on Wednesday, saying the mobilization was a desperate move indicative of Russia’s invasion not going to plan. In a statement, Britain’s defense minister Ben Wallace said Putin had “sent tens of thousands of their own citizens to their deaths, ill-equipped and badly led.”
“No amount of threats and propaganda can hide the fact that Ukraine is winning this war, the international community are united and Russia is becoming a global pariah,” he added.
Putin’s speech comes after Russia’s State Duma passed legislation Tuesday which introduced draconian punishments for soldiers who “voluntarily” surrender in battle or who refuse to obey orders. It also added the concepts of “mobilization, martial law and wartime,” to Russia’s criminal code for the first time.
As fear spread that mobilization was imminent, four of the Kremlin’s proxy leaders in occupied regions of Ukraine announced that they would hold “referendums” on formally joining Russia this week.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, in a broadcast on Tuesday night, vowed to continue to resist the attempts to carve up his nation. “We enjoy the full support of our partners in this,” he said. “So let’s maintain the pressure. Let’s preserve unity. Let’s defend Ukraine. We are liberating our land. And we are not showing any signs of weakness.”