Putin announces partial military mobilization, drafting reservists into immediate action and escalating Ukraine war
- Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced the partial mobilization of his country's reservists.
- According to Russian officials, 300,000 reservists will be drafted immediately.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for the "partial mobilization" of the country's military reservists, in a move that is likely to escalate Moscow's ongoing war with Ukraine.
In a televised address on Wednesday morning, Putin said the mobilization would begin immediately and that those called up would be granted the same status as regulars in the armed forces.
The mobilization will see 300,000 reservists drafted, The Washington Post reported, citing officials. Conscripts and students will not be called up and will affect only those with combat experience, according to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.
In his speech, Putin reiterated that the goal of Russia's invasion of Ukraine was the liberation of the Donbas region.
Per the BBC, the Russian leader also accused the West of trying to blackmail Russia and vowed to "use all resources we have to defend our people."
"The territorial integrity of our motherland, our independence, and freedom will be secured, I repeat with all the means we have," Putin said, per the outlet.
"Those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the prevailing winds can turn in their direction," he added, the BBC reported.
Pro-Russian separatist officials in four occupied regions in eastern and southern Ukraine announced on Tuesday that they would hold referendums on joining Russia within the next few days. Ukrainian officials in response slammed the referendum as a "sham" and said it won't change anything.
"Russia has been and remains an aggressor illegally occupying parts of Ukrainian land. Ukraine has every right to liberate its territories and will keep liberating them whatever Russia has to say," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in response.
Ukraine's defense ministry said: "Ruscist reconstructionists in the occupied territories never tire of repeating the Nazi referendum on the Anschluss of Austria. They are expecting 1938 results. Instead, they will get Hitler's 1945 outcome."
Western officials on Tuesday expressed similar sentiments. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the referendums are a "further escalation in Putin's war" and said they carry no legitimacy. And Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters that the votes are "meant to distract from the difficult state that the Russian military currently finds itself in right now," adding that the US won't recognize the outcome of any vote.
The referendums come after several weeks of Ukrainian advances along the war's eastern and southern fronts — including a punishing counteroffensive in Ukraine's northeastern Kharkiv region, which has seen the liberation of thousands of square miles of territory previously under the occupation of Russian troops.
In the face of major battlefield defeats, Putin's military continues to face a tremendous personnel shortage. A senior US defense official said on Monday that Russia is struggling to find volunteers to fight in Ukraine because significant casualties and poor battlefield performance have led to refusals to go into combat.
Even the notorious Wagner Group — private mercenaries with close Kremlin ties who have been fighting alongside Russian troops in Ukraine for months — is experiencing its own staffing problems. The official said Wagner has tried recruiting prisoners to take up arms in Ukraine in exchange for their freedom, but many are refusing the offer.
Britain's defense ministry highlighted these shortcomings in a recent intelligence assessment, noting that Wagner's issues and shortened training courses at Russian military academies indicate that the "impact of Russia's manpower challenge has become increasingly severe."
Some Russia watchers have expressed concerns that the annexation of captured Ukrainian territories by Moscow would be exploited by the Kremlin as a means of escalating the war and solving the Russian military's manpower issues.
Retired US Army Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan, a former defense attaché to Russia and senior fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, recently told Insider that if the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk asked for accession into Russia and were accepted, then it would mean — in the eyes of the Kremlin — that "the fighting that is currently going on in Ukraine will suddenly be 'in Russia.'"
Ryan warned that this could have a number of immediate implications.
"For one, Putin could solve his military-manpower problem because now all the conscripts (35+% of the force) can be used — since it's no longer a war abroad," Ryan said.
"A second development will be that the red lines against fighting on Russian territory will be suddenly crossed," Ryan added. "NATO weapons will be fighting and shooting inside Russia. And most importantly, the Russian state will be under direct attack. And as we know, that is a trigger for using nuclear weapons."
Western officials have consistently warned that the use of nuclear weapons by Russia cannot be ruled out, particularly if Putin feels pushed into a corner. That said, some Russia experts are still skeptical that Moscow would use weapons of mass destruction given the potential consequences — including a possible direct confrontation with NATO. Multiple members of the military alliance, which is comprised of 30 countries, are nuclear powers.
"I don't think that Putin would use tactical nukes in this situation — even if he's losing, even if he lost everything in Ukraine," Robert Orttung, a professor of international affairs at George Washington University, told Insider last week.
Orttung said that using such a weapon would "take the war to the next level" and that the Russian president would be "too afraid of what the response would be."
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