Ukraine.- Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization of reservists in Russia, a move that appeared to be an admission that Moscow’s war against Ukraine is not going according to plan after almost seven months of fighting and in the face of the latest losses of the forces. of the Kremlin on the battlefield.
In a televised address to the nation Wednesday morning, Russia’s president also warned the West not to be kidding when he says his country will use all means at its disposal to protect its territory, in what appeared to be a veiled reference to his nuclear capacity.
Putin has previously warned his rivals not to put Moscow against a wall and criticized NATO nations for supplying Ukraine with weapons.
In the first Russian mobilization since World War II, the total number of reservists called up will be 300,000, according to officials.
The mobilization, however partial, is likely to increase discontent and perhaps sow doubts among Russians about the war in Ukraine. Shortly after Putin’s speech, Russian media reported a sharp increase in demand for air tickets abroad, although since the start of the conflict they are less available and much more expensive.
A spokesman for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called Putin’s move a “great tragedy” for the Russian people.
Speaking to The Associated Press, Sergii Nikiforov said conscripts sent to the front lines in Ukraine will meet the same fate as ill-prepared Russian troops who were forced back from their push for kyiv in the first days of the invasion.
“This is an acknowledgment of the incapacity 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 they stop doing this, the fewer sons of Russia will go to die at the front.”
Only those with relevant combat and service experience will be called up, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said. Across the country, there are about 25 million people who meet these criteria, but only about 1% will be called, he added.
The Russian president’s announcement coincides with the holding of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, where the invasion launched by Russia in February has been the subject of widespread international criticism.
Zelenskky is scheduled to deliver a pre-recorded speech later on Wednesday. Putin will not attend the event.
Britain’s Defense Secretary Ben Wallace described Putin’s call as “an admission that the invasion is failing”.
“He and his defense minister have sent tens of thousands of their citizens to their deaths, poorly equipped and misdirected,” Wallace said in a statement. “No threat or propaganda can hide the fact that Ukraine is winning this war, that the international community is united, and that Russia is becoming a global pariah.”
The partial mobilization was called a day after Moscow-controlled regions in eastern and southern Ukraine announced plans to hold referendums on their integration into Russia, a move that could lay the groundwork for the Kremlin to escalate the war after recent Ukrainian advances.
The referendums, expected since the first months of the war, will start on Friday in the Luhansk, Kherson, Donetsk and Zaporizhia regions. The last two provinces are not entirely in Russian hands.
The war, which has already claimed the lives of thousands of people, is driving up the price of food around the world as well as the cost of energy. In addition, it has fueled fears of a catastrophe at Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, located in the southeast of the country, which is now occupied by Russian troops.
In his speech, Putin accused the West of “nuclear blackmail” and drew attention to “statements by some high-level representatives of leading NATO states about the possibility of using nuclear weapons of mass destruction against Russia.”
The Russian leader did not identify the authors of those comments.
“To those who allow themselves such statements towards Russia, I want to remind you that our country also has several means of destruction, and different 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.
“This is not a bluff,” he added.
Putin said he had signed a decree for the partial deployment of reservists, which is scheduled to start on Wednesday. A large-scale mobilization could be unpopular in the country and could further undermine the leader’s standing after recent military setbacks on Ukrainian soil.
“We are talking about a partial mobilization, that is, only citizens who are currently in the reserve will be subject to recruitment, and above all, those who have served in the armed forces and have a certain military specialty and relevant experience,” said the president. .
As for the plans for the consultations, Putin noted that Russian-backed authorities in the occupied areas have asked the Kremlin for support in their efforts to become part of Russia.
“We will do everything possible to offer security during the referendums, so that people can express their will,” he said.
Foreign leaders have described the votes as illegitimate and non-binding, while Zelenskyy called them “farce” and “noise” to distract public attention.
So far, 5,937 Russian soldiers have been killed in the military operation in Ukraine, Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, said. The figure is a far cry from Western estimates of tens of thousands of casualties in their ranks.
In his late-night speech, Zelenskyy said there were many questions surrounding the announcements, stressing that they would not change kyiv’s commitment to regain control of areas occupied by Russian troops.
“The situation at the front clearly indicates that the initiative belongs to Ukraine,” he said. “Our position is not changed by noise or announcements in some parts. And we have the full support of our partners in this.”
The opposition movement Vesna called for protests across the country on Wednesday, saying “Thousands of Russian men, our fathers, brothers and husbands, will be thrown into the meat grinder of war.
Why are they going to die? Why will mothers and children cry?
It is unclear how many people will dare to take to the streets to protest the Kremlin’s widespread crackdown on opposition and harsh laws against discrediting soldiers and the military operation in Ukraine.
Almost certainly, the referendums will favor Moscow.
In another sign that Russia is bracing for a long and possibly more intense conflict, the Kremlin-controlled lower house of parliament on Tuesday approved tougher laws against defection, surrender and looting in the Russian troops. Lawmakers also voted to introduce possible 10-year prison sentences for soldiers who refuse to fight.
Meanwhile, in the occupied Ukrainian city of Enerhodar, shelling continued around Europe’s largest nuclear power plant. Ukrainian energy operator Energoatom said Russian strikes again damaged infrastructure at the Zaporizhia plant and briefly forced operators to turn on two diesel generators to run cooling pumps at one of the reactors.
These mechanisms are essential to prevent a meltdown even though all six of the plant’s reactors are shut down. Energoatom later said power was restored and generators were turned off.
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