Vladimir Putin’s defense minister sent a clear message to the people of Russia on Wednesday: Their country is at war not just with Ukraine, but with the entirety of the West.
“I cannot but emphasize the fact that today, we are at war not so much with Ukraine and the Ukrainian army as with the collective West,” Sergei Shoigu said in a televised speech, according to TASS.
“At this point, we are really at war with the collective West, with NATO,” Shoigu added.
Shoigu’s warning comes as Putin announces that Russia will be running a “partial mobilization” to better tackle the war in Ukraine, days after a series of resounding defeats on the battlefield in Ukraine as Ukrainian forces have run successful counteroffensives in the south and northeast. In a speech announcing the move Wednesday morning, Putin suggested that the West had been considering using nuclear weapons against Russia and threatened nuclear weapons use in return—without providing any evidence of the West's supposed threats.
“To those who allow themselves such statements regarding Russia, I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction,” Putin said. “It’s not a bluff.”
“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 added.
Shoigu’s rhetoric melds well with the Kremlin line about the war in Ukraine; Russia has consistently sought to blame the West for provoking Russia.
President Joe Biden lambasted Putin in a speech before the United Nations General Assembly Wednesday in an attempt to remind global leaders that although Moscow’s narrative is that the United States and NATO pushed Russia into invading Ukraine, Putin chose to invade Ukraine unprovoked.
“Putin claims he had to act because Russia was threatened,” Biden said. “But no one threatened Russia. No one other than Russia sought conflict.”
Shoigu on Wednesday boasted about just how well the war is going for Russia. He sought to couch the idea that 300,000 Russian reservists are participating in the “partial mobilization” due to that success—regardless of the fact that since the early days of the war Russian troops have failed to achieve key objectives, including failing to capture Kyiv and needing to downsize their goals several times.
“We’re killing, killing, and killing, and that time has come: We’re at war with the collective West,” Shoigu said.
The move may not be all Putin and Shoigu are cracking it up to be. The flurry of action in Russia—from Russia’s Duma announcing increased penalties for desertion or evading conscription alongside the announcement of a partial mobilization and nuclear threats—is a dead giveaway that Putin’s plans in Ukraine are not going well, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday.
In a curious effort to convince Russians that the war is going well, Shoigu suggested that only approximately 6,000 Russian troops have perished in the war, but insisted that more troops would be necessary to come out victorious.
The reality is far worse. The Pentagon has estimated, as recently as August, that somewhere between 70,000 and 80,000 Russian troops have been wounded or killed.