Kyiv, Ukraine — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered a partial mobilization of reservists in Russia, risking a deeply unpopular move that follows a series of humiliating setbacks for his troops nearly seven months after the invasion of Ukraine.
It is the first mobilization in Russia since World War II and is sure to fuel tensions with Ukraine’s Western backers, who derided the move as an act of weakness. The move also caused Russians to scramble to buy airline tickets out of the country.
The Russian leader also warned the West in a seven-minute televised address to the nation that aired Wednesday morning that he would not be bluffing by using any means at his disposal to protect Russian territory, in a seemingly veiled reference to Russia nuclear capability. Putin has previously warned the West not to put Russia against the wall and has rebuked NATO countries for supplying arms to support Ukraine.
The total number of reservists to be called up could be as many as 300,000, officials said.
Even a partial mobilization is likely to increase Russian dismay or doubts about the war in Ukraine. Shortly after Putin’s address, Russian media reported a sharp increase in demand for airline tickets abroad amid an apparent scramble to leave despite exorbitant airfares.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, asked what has changed since he and others previously said no mobilization was planned, argued that Russia is effectively fighting NATO’s combined potential because of the alliance’s members supplying arms to Kyiv had.
Only those with relevant combat and service experience will be mobilized, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said. He added that there are around 25 million people who meet these criteria, but only around 1% of them are mobilized.
Another clause in the decree prevents most professional soldiers from terminating their contracts and leaving service until partial mobilization is no longer in place.
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Putin’s announcement came against the backdrop of the UN General Assembly in New York, where Moscow’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine was the subject of widespread international criticism, which kept intense diplomatic pressure on Moscow.
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskky will address the gathering in a pre-recorded address on Wednesday. Putin did not go to New York.
Putin’s move carries a strong element of risk – it could backfire by making the war in Ukraine unpopular at home and hurting his own image, and it exposes Russia’s underlying military flaws.
A Ukrainian counter-offensive launched this month has wrested the military initiative from Russia and seized large areas that the Russians once held. The rapidity of the counteroffensive meant that Russian forces abandoned armored vehicles and other weapons as they made hasty retreats.
A spokesman for Zelenskyi called the mobilization a “great tragedy” for the Russian people.
In a statement to The Associated Press, Sergii Nikiforov said conscripts sent to the front lines in Ukraine would suffer a similar fate to ill-prepared Russian forces who attacked Kyiv in the early days of the invasion last February were repelled.
“This is a recognition of the incompetence of the Russian professional army, which has failed in all its tasks,” Nikiforov said.
On the battlefield, the mobilization is unlikely to have any consequences for months due to a lack of training facilities and equipment.
US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink tweeted that the mobilization was a sign of “weakness, Russian failure”.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace echoed this assessment, describing Putin’s move as an “admission that his invasion is failing”.
Russian political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin said Putin’s announcement reeked of “an act of desperation”. He predicted that the Russians would resist mobilization through “passive sabotage.”
“People will dodge this mobilization in any way they can, bribe themselves out of this mobilization and leave the country,” Oreshkin said in an interview with the AP on Wednesday.
The announcement will not go down well with the general public, Oreshkin said, describing it as “a major personal blow to Russian citizens who until recently (participated in hostilities) happily sat on their couches (and watched TV). . And now the war has come to their homeland.”
According to Russian media reports, the chairman of the Duma Defense Committee Andrei Kartapolov said that as a result of this mobilization there will be no additional restrictions on reservists leaving Russia. Kartapolov said he wanted to “reassure” people about the mobilization.
The partial mobilization order came a day after Russian-controlled regions in eastern and southern Ukraine announced plans to hold votes on becoming integral parts of Russia – a move that could pave the way for Moscow to escalate the war following Ukrainian successes.
Referendums, which have been expected since the first months of the war, begin on Friday in the Luhansk, Kherson and partially Russian-controlled Zaporizhia and Donetsk regions.
The ballots will almost certainly go to Moscow.
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The war, which has claimed thousands of lives, has pushed up food prices around the world and fueled energy bills. It has also raised fears of a possible nuclear catastrophe at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in now Russian-occupied south-eastern Ukraine. Investigations are also ongoing into possible atrocities committed by Russian forces in Ukraine.
In his speech, which was much shorter than in earlier speeches on the Ukraine war, Putin accused the West of “nuclear blackmail” and referred to “statements by some high-ranking representatives of the leading NATO states about the possibility of using nuclear weapons for mass destruction against Russia.”
He did not identify who had made such comments.
“Those who allow themselves such statements about Russia, I would like to remind that our country also has various means of destruction, and separate and more modern components than those of the NATO countries, and when the territorial integrity of our country is threatened Russia and ours We will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect the people,” Putin said.
He added, “It’s not a bluff.”
Foreign leaders have called the ballots illegitimate and non-binding. Zelenskyy said they were a “deception” and “noise” to distract public attention.
Putin said he had already signed the decree for partial mobilization, which is due to begin on Wednesday. A full-scale mobilization would likely be unpopular in Russia and could further tarnish Putin’s standing after recent military setbacks in Ukraine.
“We are talking about partial mobilization, that is, only citizens who are currently in reserve are drafted, and most importantly, those who served in the armed forces have a certain military specialty and relevant experience,” Putin said.
Russian Defense Minister Shoigu also said 5,937 Russian soldiers had died in the Ukraine conflict, far fewer than Western estimates that Russia had lost tens of thousands.
Opposition movement Vesna called nationwide protests on Wednesday, saying: “Thousands of Russian men – our fathers, brothers and husbands – are being thrown into the meat grinder of war. What will they die for? What will mothers and children cry?”
It was unclear how many would dare to protest against the general repression of the opposition in Russia and the harsh laws against discrediting soldiers and the military operation.
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https://6abc.com/putin-address-today-speech-russian-mobilization-to-declare-war/12246319/ Putin address today: Partial Russian mobilization called up; Russia president says he won’t ‘bluff’ on nukes