President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russia’s first military mobilization since World War II and warned the West that if Moscow continued its “nuclear blackmail” it would respond with the might of its vast arsenal.
- Vladimir Putin said his goal was to “liberate” eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region and that he was defending Russian lands
- He said citizens who are currently in reserve or have military experience will be subject to conscription
- Mr Putin said if Russia’s territorial integrity was threatened, he would “use all available means to protect our people”.
In a televised address, Mr Putin said his goal was to “liberate” the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine and that most people in the region did not want to return to what he called the “yoke” of Ukraine.
He said he was defending Russian territory and that the West wanted to destroy the country.
“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.
Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said 300,000 reservists would be mobilized.
Mr Putin said the partial mobilization decision was “fully proportionate to the threats we face, namely to protect our homeland, its sovereignty and territorial integrity, to ensure the security of our people and the people of the liberated areas”.
“When the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we use all available means to protect our people – this is not a bluff.”
Mr Putin accused Western leaders of complicity in nuclear blackmail and vowed to respond to any threats against Russia.
“I would like to remind those who venture such statements about Russia that our country also has various means of destruction, and for separate components and more modern than those of NATO countries,” he said.
“If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people.”
Russia already considers Luhansk and Donetsk, which together form the Donbass region partially occupied by Moscow in 2014, as independent states.
Ukraine and the West consider all parts of Ukraine held by Russian forces to be illegally occupied.
Russia now holds about 60 percent of Donetsk and by July had captured most of Luhansk after months of intense fighting.
Those gains are now under threat after Russian forces were driven out of neighboring Kharkiv province this month and lost control of their main supply lines for much of the Donetsk and Luhansk front lines.
Ukraine’s presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters that Russia’s mobilization was a predictable move that would prove hugely unpopular and underscored that the war was not going according to Moscow’s plan.
Mr Podolyak said Mr Putin was trying to blame the West for the start of an “unprovoked war” and Russia’s deteriorating economic situation.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace described Putin’s mobilization announcement as “an admission that his invasion is failing”.
“He and his secretary of defense sent tens of thousands of their own citizens to their deaths, ill-equipped and ill-managed,” Wallace said in a statement.
“No amount of threat and propaganda can hide the fact that Ukraine is winning this war, the international community is united and Russia is becoming a global pariah.”
In another sign that Russia is embarking on a protracted conflict, the Kremlin-controlled lower house of parliament on Tuesday voted to tighten laws against desertion, surrender and looting by Russian troops.
Politicians also voted to introduce possible 10-year prison sentences for soldiers who refuse to fight.
If the law were approved by the House of Lords as expected and then signed by Mr Putin, the law would strengthen commanders’ hands against the reported declining morale among soldiers.
Putin’s address to the nation comes a day after the Russian-controlled regions of eastern and southern Ukraine announced plans to hold votes on becoming an integral part of Russia.
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.