NEW DELHI: As the Ukraine war approaches its 7th month, President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered a partial mobilization of troops in Russia — the country’s first such move since World War II.
Putin, who has found himself in a corner after Ukraine reclaimed key northeastern cities, has warned that if the West continued its “nuclear blackmail”, then Moscow would respond with the might of all its vast arsenal.
Putin’s address to the nation comes a day after Russian-controlled regions in eastern and southern Ukraine announced plans to hold votes on becoming integral parts of Russia.
Putin said he has signed a decree on the partial mobilization, which is due to start on Wednesday.
“We are talking about partial mobilization, that is, only citizens who are currently in the reserve will be subject to conscription, and above all, those who served in the armed forces have a certain military specialty and relevant experience,” Putin said.
Putin said the decision to partially mobilize was “fully adequate to the threats we face, namely to protect our homeland, its sovereignty and territorial integrity, to ensure the security of our people and people in the liberated territories.”
‘Won’t bluff on nukes’
In his televised address, the Russian leader warned the West that he isn’t bluffing over using all the means at his disposal to protect Russia’s territory.
“If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we use all available means to protect our people – this is not a bluff,” Putin said.
This was a veiled reference to Russia’s nuclear capability.
“Those who are trying to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the wind patterns can also turn in their direction,” the president said.
His defence minister later said as many as 300,000 troops would be called up.
Putin has previously warned the West not to back Russia against the wall and has rebuked Nato countries for supplying weapons to help Ukraine.
Russian officials have hinted at possible use of nuclear weapons in the conflict before.
Actually firing them would risk a direct conflict with the US and other nuclear-armed powers, something both sides have sought to avoid.
US President Joe Biden over the weekend said any use by Russia of chemical or tactical nuclear weapons would draw a “consequential” response.
“They’ll become more of a pariah in the world than they ever have been,” he told 60 Minutes. “And depending on the extent of what they do will determine what response would occur.”
Putin also gave his explicit support to referendums that will be held between September 23-27 in swathes of Ukraine controlled by Russian troops.
The referendums, which have been expected to take place since the first months of the war, will take place in the Luhansk, Kherson and partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions. Together, the regions represent around 15% of Ukrainian territory, or an area about the size of Hungary.
The Kremlin-backed efforts to swallow up four regions could set the stage for Moscow to escalate the war following Ukrainian successes.
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% 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.
The upcoming votes are all but certain to go Moscow’s way. But they were quickly dismissed as illegitimate by Western leaders who are backing Kyiv with military and other support that has helped its forces seize momentum on battlefields in the east and south.
Digging in for long haul
In another signal that Russia is digging in for a protracted and possibly ramped-up conflict, the Kremlin-controlled lower of house of parliament voted Tuesday to toughen laws against desertion, surrender and looting by Russian troops. Lawmakers also voted to introduce possible 10-year prison terms for soldiers refusing to fight.
If approved, as expected, by the upper house and then signed by Putin, the legislation would strengthen commanders’ hands against failing morale reported among soldiers.
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.
Such pumps are essential for avoiding a meltdown at a nuclear facility even though all six of the plant’s reactors have been shut down. Energoatom said the generators were later switched off as main power weas restored.
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 inputs from agencies)