Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a partial mobilization to reinforce his troops in Ukraine following major combat setbacks this month.
In the announcement he said Russia was directly threatened with "disintegration" by the Western powers backing the Ukrainian government. He also warned NATO that nuclear-armed Russia could use any weapons in its armory against what he called Western "nuclear blackmail".
Watch Putin's address to the nation Wednesday morning:
‘This is not a bluff’ Putin threatens to use any weapons in its armory against Ukraine | RawStory.TV‘This is not a bluff’ Putin threatens to use any weapons in its armory against Ukraine | RawStory.TV
The mobilization means Russian citizens who are in the reserve could be called up, and anyone with military experience would be subject to conscription. The necessary decree has been signed and took effect on Wednesday. The announcement comes as Russia is believed to face shortages of manpower.
The Russian president also said Russia will use “all the instruments at its proposal to counter a threat against its territorial integrity — this is not a bluff.”
While Putin’s most loyal allies rallied around the leader with calls for unity and defense officials stretched over backwards to provide dubious assurances to the general public, ordinary Russians rushed for the exits and took to the streets.
Airline tickets out of the country sold out within a matter of hours. There were myriad reports of men of conscription age being barred from buying bus and airline tickets, and human rights groups reported that draft notices were already being handed out to people at bus stations and train stops in some areas.
The calling up of potentially 300,000 reservists would mark the largest Russian mobilization of troops since World War II “and all but ensures that there will be no near-term off-ramp for the military conflict, which has already left thousands dead and is imposing ruinous economic costs on Europe,” said Helima Croft, head of global commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, in a note.
The move underlines jitters among administration officials that Russia’s setbacks in Ukraine could lead an increasingly desperate Putin to pursue an increasingly dangerous escalation of the conflict, Croft said.
Some NATO leaders have dismissed Putin’s announcement as a sign of panic in the Kremlin. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Wednesday, “You see that Ukraine is increasingly able to turn the tide, has conquered big chunks. You also see that Western support is starting to work, so our help with weapons systems and other things, we need to really continue with that. Russia cannot win this war. But this is a kind of panic reaction.”
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace also chimed in saying, “No amount of threats and propaganda can hide the fact that Ukraine is winning this war, the international community are united and Russia is becoming a global pariah.”
Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly, Biden said Putin’s effort to stage “sham” referendums in occupied territory was an “extremely significant violation” of the UN charter.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz earlier called Putin’s announcement an “act of desperation.”