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21Sep/220

Putin announces a partial military mobilization for Russian citizens

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a "partial mobilization" of Russia's armed forces on Wednesday morning — signing a decree that will send Russians who have gone through military training to join the fight in Ukraine while stopping short of an all-out draft.

"Only those citizens will be drafted to military service who are currently in the reserve and first of all those who have served in the army, who have certain professions and have necessary experience," will be recruited for the campaign, said Putin in a televised address to the nation.

The announcement came just a day after some Russian-controlled areas in Ukraine announced plans for referendums on becoming part of Russia. The choreographed series of events was reminiscent of the Russian leader's announcement to send tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in February.

Putin's Wednesday announcement also came as his country has struggled to replenish its fighting force in Ukraine and suffered setbacks on the battlefield amid a surging Ukrainian counteroffensive.

In a separate television interview, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia would immediately call up 300,000 reservists to "hold the line at the front" in Ukraine.

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U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink tweeted that Russia is showing "signs of weakness" and "failure" for escalating the war with Ukraine and vowed, "The United States will never recognize Russia's claim to purportedly annexed Ukrainian territory, and we will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes."

In his address, Putin said the larger force was necessary as Ukraine continued to receive heavy weaponry from a "collective West" intent on "weakening, isolating, and destroying Russia."

The Russian leader also insisted Russia had a moral obligation to protect civilians in partially Russian-occupied portions of Ukraine as they held a series of "referendums" aimed at joining the Russian Federation later this week.

Putin also accused Western powers of providing Ukraine with long-range weapon systems that can strike deep into Russian territory — and again accused Ukraine and its allies of menacing Russia with nuclear threats. Putin warned Russia and its people would use "all available means" in their defense — noting Russia had its own capable nuclear arsenal. "This is no bluff," Putin said.

"Those who are blackmailing us with nuclear weapons should know – the rose winds can change and blow in their direction."

The defense minister also provided new figures on Russian casualties — saying 5,937 Russian soldiers had died fighting in Ukraine. Western estimates run much higher.
Putin drafts up to 300,000 reservists, backs annexation amid war losses

Russian President Vladimir Putin declared a partial military mobilization Wednesday to call up as many as 300,000 reservists in a dramatic bid to reverse setbacks in his war on Ukraine, including Russia’s recent humiliating retreat in the northeastern Kharkiv region.

In a national address broadcast at 9 a.m. Moscow time, Putin lashed out at the West, backed staged referendums being planned as a precursor to annexation of occupied areas of Ukraine, and hinted ominously that he was ready to use nuclear weapons to defend Russian territory — as he defines it.

“In the face of a threat to the territorial integrity of our country, to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal,” Putin warned. “This is not a bluff,” he said, in a clear reference to Russia’s nuclear capabilities.

“I will emphasize this again — with all the means at our disposal,” he added.

Brimming with resentment and anger at the West’s backing of Ukraine, Putin called the war an effort by Western elites to destroy and dismember Russia, directly framing the war as a confrontation between Moscow and NATO countries.

Those comments were reinforced in a separate address by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, although Western leaders — including President Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz — urged Putin not to invade and have restricted support for Ukraine to signal that their nations are not directly fighting Russia.

Those comments were reinforced in a separate address by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, although Western leaders — including President Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz — urged Putin not to invade and have restricted support for Ukraine to signal that their nations are not directly fighting Russia.

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Putin’s blunt, uncompromising rhetoric underscored his growing isolation, as Russia’s war on Ukraine dominated discussions Tuesday at the annual U.N. General Assembly meetings, where world leaders condemned military violence and lamented the global hardship caused by chaos in food supply chains and soaring energy prices.

The staged referendums being organized by Kremlin proxies have been condemned by many Western officials as “sham votes.”

“The United States will never recognize Russia’s claims” to Ukrainian territories purportedly annexed by Russia, Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, said Tuesday. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, British Prime Minister Liz Truss and Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio also condemned the move.

But Putin has paid scant attention, leveraging Western condemnation to try to convince Russians that the West is out to destroy Russia.

Slamming “aggressive” Western elites and their “pseudo-values,” Putin accused the West of trying to orchestrate a Soviet-style collapse of Russia itself.

“The purpose of this West is to weaken, divide and ultimately destroy our country,” he said in a speech that was clearly aimed at shifting public ambivalence into stronger national support for the war effort. “They are already directly saying that in 1991, they were able to split the Soviet Union, and now the time has come for Russia itself, that it should disintegrate into many mortally hostile regions.”

“They made total Russophobia their weapon, including for decades purposefully cultivating hatred for Russia,” he said, adding that the West was using Ukraine as an “anti-Russian beachhead.”

Putin reiterated his false claims that Russia is eliminating “Nazis” from eastern Ukraine; repeated his denunciation of Ukraine’s democratically elected government, led by former comedian and television actor Volodymyr Zelensky, as a “Nazi regime”; and made sweeping assertions, without evidence, about the allegiance to Russia of residents of Ukraine’s Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

By mobilizing reservists, Putin bowed to intense pressure from pro-war hard-liners, taking a path likely to be deeply unpopular in Russia. The move also quickly drew new international condemnation and renewed pledges from Ukrainian officials in Kyiv to reclaim all territory occupied by Russian forces. The Ukrainians derided Putin’s moves as a desperate attempt to salvage Moscow’s failing war effort.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Putin’s decision to announce a partial mobilization was a “predictable step” that highlighted the reality that the war is not going according to the Kremlin’s plan.

“Russians who demanded the destruction of Ukraine ended up getting: 1. Mobilization. 2. Closed borders, blocking of bank accounts. 3. Prison for desertion. Everything is still according to the plan, right? Life has a great sense of humor,” Podolyak tweeted.

The pivot to swift referendums, annexation and partial mobilization was an implicit admission of the failures and setbacks in what the Kremlin insists on calling a “special military operation,” despite Putin’s insistence as recently as last Friday that no changes were needed.

“No, the plan is not subject to correction,” he told journalists in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, at the end of a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, where he faced “questions and concerns” about the war from his most powerful ally, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and a public rebuke from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In his decree Wednesday, Putin stopped short of a full mobilization, which would entail a full-scale national draft, and he did not rebrand his “special military operation” as a war.

The call-up of reservists, nonetheless, will bring the grim reality of the war home to millions more Russians whose family members may now have to fight. And military analysts question the short-term benefits, saying it is not clear that Russia is capable of training and quartering 300,000 reservists, given how much of its military resources are tied up in Ukraine and recent significant losses in its officer corps.

A recent recruitment drive failed to turn the tide of the war, underscoring the unease in Russia about high casualty numbers.

New casualty figures announced by Shoigu on Wednesday — including 5,937 dead — will only heighten the fears of ordinary Russians, although Western estimates put Russia’s death toll much higher.

In July, CIA Director William J. Burns estimated that approximately 15,000 Russian soldiers had been killed and some 45,000 wounded.

The last time Russia announced its casualties was at the end of March, when the Defense Ministry claimed that 1,351 soldiers had died. A tally compiled by Russian outlet Mediazona and the BBC Russian service from open-source materials such as social media posts, official announcements and obituaries found that at least 6,200 Russian service members have been killed.

As it tries to regain momentum in the war, the Kremlin faces the task of energizing the mass of largely apathetic Russians, by amplifying hatred of Ukraine and the West. Otherwise, it risks a social backlash as military casualties grow.

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In a sign of disquiet over the call-up, air tickets out of Russia were selling fast, with many flights fully booked.

One Moscow millionaire who lives in Italy but had returned to Russia for a few days described growing disenchantment with Putin and fear for the future among business executives. The millionaire said he was afraid that he could be stranded in Moscow, even though he is not in the military reserve.

“There are no tickets, and it is getting more and more difficult to leave by road,” he said. “If there are additional restrictions due to the partial mobilization, it might not be possible to leave.” The millionaire, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisal, said many in the business elite and intelligentsia saw the war as “a stupid mistake,” with few convinced by Putin’s argument that he is defending Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine.

“The trust of business, of the cultural and academic elite in the regime has disappeared. Everyone understands that all the words about the defense of the Russian-speaking population [in Ukraine] and the fight for our brothers bear no relation to reality,” he said. “Everyone sees this as a stupid mistake.”

A Russian state official said that 300,000 reservists would be enough to buy time and “hold the line,” but not to mount new offensives. The official, who declined to be named in order to discuss sensitive issues, said the Kremlin still hopes that Western support for Ukraine would crumble over the winter, forcing Ukraine to accept Russian terms of surrender.

“It is clear that for both sides, the conflict is existential,” the official said. “All will depend on the decisiveness of the West after the winter. After the winter, the West may not be so united.” He expressed optimism that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, France’s Macron and Germany’s Scholz would press Kyiv to accept a cease-fire that cements Russia’s territorial gains.

Such hopes, however, seem misplaced, as support for Ukraine among Western leaders apparently has only increased in the days since the successful counteroffensive.

Speaking at the United Nations on Tuesday, Macron delivered a clear and scathing condemnation of the war and Putin’s political machinations. “Russia must now understand that it cannot impose any will by military means, even by cynically adding mock referendums in bombed and now occupied territories,” Macron said in his address.

Before his formal speech, Macron told reporters: “Russia declared war, it invaded this region, it bombed it, it killed people, it made other people flee, and now it explains that, in this same region, it is going to organize a referendum. If this were not tragic, we could laugh.”

Putin’s position, however, appears weak, the Russian state official said, referring to the concerns and criticisms of China’s Xi and India’s Modi in meetings last week in Samarkand.

“It seems to me his position is fragile. We saw how it was in Samarkand. In all these months we have heard that half the world is on our side. But neither Modi nor Xi supported this.”

With Russia’s conventional army facing repeated setbacks and battlefield failures, Moscow has enlisted prisoners, some sent into battle with a week’s training, in an effort to address its manpower problem.

Military summonses were sent out in recent days, even before Putin’s speech. On Tuesday, Russia’s State Duma, the lower house of parliament, adopted legislation to toughen punishments for soldiers deserting, surrendering or refusing to fight, after many enlisted soldiers repudiated their contracts in recent months and declined to fight.

Fearful and lacking motivation, these soldiers likely will now be forced into battle, with their contracts extended indefinitely.

Putin’s partial mobilization for the first time threatens that the war will seriously impact men in the major cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg, where the potential for an antiwar backlash is highest, although students will not be summoned.

Until now, the burden of fighting has fallen mainly on contract soldiers from Russia’s most impoverished regions, many of whom enlisted because of a lack of employment opportunities, or to get out of debt.

Within hours of the announcement, 180,000 Russians had signed an online anti-mobilization petition launched in the spring by an activist group, “Soft Power.”

Jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who survived poisoning in 2020 by Russian security agents, said Putin was smearing more Russians with blood in what he called a criminal war.

“It is clear that the criminal war is getting worse, deepening, and Putin is trying to involve as many people as possible in this,” Navalny said in a video message that his lawyers recorded in prison. “He wants to smear hundreds of thousands of people in this blood.”

Russia’s far worse than expected military performance in Ukraine leaves Moscow relying on its nuclear arsenal to reinforce its status as a global military power, but Putin’s hint Wednesday about his willingness to resort to weapons of mass destruction was his sharpest since invading Ukraine.

Putin, who sees Russians and Ukrainians as “one people” and denies that Ukraine is a genuine sovereign state, insisted Wednesday that Russia was obliged to assist people in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. And despite the thousands of Ukrainians killed in the war, the millions displaced and evidence of atrocities, he insisted that referendums in areas Russia invaded and occupied would reflect legitimate public opinion.

“We cannot, we have no moral right to hand over people close to us to be torn to pieces by executioners,” Putin said. “We cannot but respond to their sincere desire to determine their own fate.”

Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia, contributed to this report.

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