Putin sets partial military call-up, won’t ‘bluff’ on nukes

Kyiv, Ukraine — Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization of reservists in Russia, to an extent that appeared to be an admission that Moscow’s war against Ukraine is not going as planned after nearly seven months of fighting.

It is the first mobilization in Russia since World War II and comes amid recent battlefield casualties for Kremlin forces.

The Russian leader, in a seven-minute televised address to the nation aired Wednesday morning, also warned the West that he was not bluffing by using any means at his disposal to protect Russian territory, in what appeared to be a veiled reference to Russia’s nuclear capability. Putin has previously warned the West not to support Russia against the wall and blamed NATO countries for supplying weapons to help Ukraine.

The total number of reservists to be called up could reach 300,000, officials said.

Even a partial mobilization is likely to increase dismay, and perhaps sow doubt, among Russians about the war in Ukraine. Shortly after Putin’s speech, the Russian media reported a sharp increase in demand for air tickets abroad, although these have been much lower since the start of the war and that are much more expensive than before.

A spokesman for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the partial mobilization of Russian reservists a “great tragedy” for the Russian people.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Sergii Nikoforov said conscripts sent to the front line in Ukraine would suffer the same fate as ill-prepared Russian forces that were repelled in an attack on Kyiv in the early days of the invasion.

“It is a recognition of the inability of the Russian professional army, which has failed in all its tasks,” Nikoforov said. “As we can see, the Russian authorities intend to compensate for this with violence and repression against their own people. The sooner it stops, the fewer Russian sons will go to the front to die.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said only those with relevant combat and service experience will be called up. He added that there are about 25 million people who meet these criteria, but only about 1% of them will be mobilized.

Another clause in the decree prevents most professional soldiers from terminating their contract and leaving the service until partial mobilization is no longer in place.

Putin’s announcement came against the backdrop of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where Moscow’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine was the target of widespread international criticism that kept diplomatic pressure high. on Moscow.

Zelenskky is to address the rally in a pre-recorded address on Wednesday. Putin did not visit New York.

Putin’s scheme carries a strong element of risk – it could backfire, making the war in Ukraine unpopular at home and damaging his own reputation, and it exposes Russia’s underlying military shortcomings.

Mobilization is unlikely to have battlefield consequences for months due to a lack of training facilities and equipment.

US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink tweeted that the mobilization is a sign of “weakness, Russian failure”.

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace echoed that assessment, describing Putin’s decision as “an admission that his invasion is failing.”

“He and his defense minister sent tens of thousands of their own citizens to their deaths, ill-equipped and misdirected,” Wallace said in a statement. “No amount of threats and propaganda can hide the fact that Ukraine is winning this war, the international community is united and Russia is becoming a global pariah.”

Russian political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin said Putin’s announcement looked like “an act of desperation”. He predicted that the Russians would resist mobilization through “passive sabotage”.

“People are going to escape this mobilization any way they can, bribe them out of this mobilization, get out of the country,” Oreshkin told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday.

The announcement will not be well received by the general public, Oreshkin said, describing it as “a huge personal blow to Russian citizens, who until recently (took part in hostilities) happily sitting on their sofas, (watching) television And now the war has entered their house.

The partial mobilization order came a day after Russian-controlled regions in eastern and southern Ukraine announced their intention to hold votes to become integral parts of Russia – a move that could pave the way for Moscow to escalate the war after the Ukrainian successes.

The referendums, which have been due since the first months of the war, will begin on Friday in the regions of Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk, partly controlled by Russia.

The ballots are almost certain to go Moscow’s way.

The war, which killed thousands of people, drove up food prices around the world and caused energy prices to soar. It also raised fears of a potential nuclear disaster at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine, now occupied by Russia. Investigations are also underway into possible atrocities committed by Russian forces in Ukraine.

In his address, which was much shorter than previous speeches on the war in Ukraine, Putin accused the West of engaging in “nuclear blackmail” and noted “the statements of some high-ranking representatives of the main states of the NATO on the possibility of using nuclear weapons of mass destruction against Russia.

He did not identify who made such comments.

“To those who allow themselves such statements about Russia, I want to remind that our country also has various means of destruction, and for separate and more modern components 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 means at our disposal,” Putin said.

He added: “It’s not a bluff.”

Foreign leaders have described the polls as illegitimate and non-binding. Zelenskyy said it was a “sham” and “noise” to distract the public.

Putin said he had already signed the partial mobilization decree, which is due to start on Wednesday. A large-scale mobilization would likely be unpopular in Russia and could further hurt Putin’s position after recent military setbacks in Ukraine.

“We are talking about partial mobilization, that is, only citizens who are currently in the reserve will be subject to conscription, and above all, those who have served in the armed forces have a certain military specialty and relevant experience “, Putin said.

Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, also said 5,937 Russian troops died in the Ukraine conflict, far below Western estimates that Russia lost tens of thousands.

The opposition movement Vesna on Wednesday called for nationwide protests, saying “thousands of Russian men – our fathers, our brothers and our husbands – will be thrown into the meat grinder of war. Why will they die? Why will mothers and children cry?”

It was unclear how many would dare to protest against Russia’s wholesale suppression of opposition and harsh laws against discredited soldiers and the military operation.

In another signal that Russia is digging for a protracted and possibly intensified conflict, the Kremlin-controlled lower house of parliament voted on 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.


Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

ABC News

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