Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday announced Russia’s first mobilisation since World War II as the war in Ukraine reaches nearly seven months and Moscow loses ground on the battlefield.
Putin also warned the West that “it’s not a bluff” that Russia would use all the means at its disposal to protect its territory. “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will use all available means to protect our people – this is not a bluff,” Putin said in a televised address to the nation, adding Russia had “lots of weapons to reply”.
Russia’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu said the partial mobilisation will see 300,000 reserves called and would apply to those with previous military experience.
Also read: Ukraine, using captured Russian tanks, firms up its lines
Putin accused the West in engaging in “nuclear blackmail” and noted “statements of some high-ranking representatives of the leading Nato states about the possibility of using nuclear weapons of mass destruction against Russia.”
Russia’s referendum plans
The Russian leader’s televised address to the nation released Wednesday came a day after Russian-controlled regions in eastern and southern Ukraine announced plans to hold votes on becoming integral parts of Russia.
Putin’s remarks also come against the backdrop of the UN General Assembly in New York at which Moscow was warned about its referendum plans. The Kremlin-backed efforts to swallow up four regions could set the stage for Moscow to escalate the war following Ukrainian successes.
The referendums, which have been expected to take place since the first months of the war, will start Friday in the Luhansk, Kherson and partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions.
Russia already considers Luhansk and Donetsk, which together make up the Donbas region Moscow partially occupied in 2014, to be independent states. Ukraine and the West consider all parts of Ukraine held by Russian forces to be illegally occupied.
Russia now holds about 60 per cent of Donetsk and had captured nearly all of Luhansk by July after slow advances during months of intense fighting.
Those gains are now under threat after Russian forces were driven from neighbouring Kharkiv province this month, losing control of their main supply lines for much of the Donetsk and Luhansk front lines.
Zelenskyy dismisses referendum
Earlier on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy dismissed the referendum plans as “noise” and thanked Ukraine’s allies for condemning the votes scheduled to start Friday.
In his nightly address, Zelenskyy said there were lots of questions surrounding the announcements but stressed that they would not change Ukraine’s commitment to retake areas occupied by Russian forces. “The situation on the front line clearly indicates that the initiative belongs to Ukraine,” he said. “Our positions do not change because of the noise or any announcements somewhere. And we enjoy the full support of our partners in this.”
Also read: Ukraine war thrusts German climate action into spotlight
Putin’s speech was a worrying escalation and the threats he made in it must be taken seriously, British foreign office minister Gillian Keegan told Sky News. “Clearly it’s something that we should take very seriously because, you know, we’re not in control — I’m not sure he’s in control either, really. This is obviously an escalation,” she said.
Russia’s rouble fell and global oil prices surged after Putin’s comments. The war has already caused a spike in fuel and food prices around the world.
Meanwhile, in the Russian-occupied city of Enerhodar, shelling continued around Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. Ukrainian energy operator Energoatom said Russian shelling again damaged infrastructure at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and briefly forced workers to start two diesel generators for emergency power to the cooling pumps for one of the reactors.
The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has been a focus for concern for months because of fears that shelling could lead to a radiation leak. Russia and Ukraine blame each other for the shelling.
(With agency inputs)