Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the partial mobilization of his country’s military Wednesday, calling up reservists in a significant escalation of his war in Ukraine after battlefield setbacks left the Kremlin facing growing pressure to act.
The speech came just a day after after four Russian-controlled areas announced they would stage votes this week on breaking away from Ukraine and joining Russia, in a plan Kyiv and its Western allies dismissed as a desperate “sham” aimed at deterring a successful counteroffensive by Ukrainian troops.
In a rare pre-recorded televised announcement, Putin said the West “wants to destroy our country” and claimed the West had tried to “turn Ukraine’s people into cannon fodder,” in comments translated by Reuters, repeating earlier claims in which he has blamed Western nations for starting a proxy war with Russia.
Vowing that Russia would use all the means at its disposal to protect what it considers its territory, Putin accused the West of nuclear blackmail and warned: “I am not bluffing.”
Putin said “mobilization events” would begin Wednesday without providing further details, aside from saying that he had ordered an increase in funding to boost Russia’s weapons production, having committed (and lost) a large amount of weaponry during the conflict, which began in late February.
A partial mobilization is a hazy concept, but it could mean that Russian businesses and citizens have to contribute more to the war effort. Russia has not yet declared war on Ukraine, despite having invaded it in February, and it calls its invasion a “special military operation.”
Putin confirmed that military reservists would be called-up into active service, but insisted a wider conscription of Russian men of fighting age was not taking place.
“I reiterate, 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. Conscripts will obligatorily go through additional military training based on the experience of the special military operation before departing to the units,” he said according to an AP translation.
Bridget Brink, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said in response: “Sham referenda and mobilization are signs of weakness, of Russian failure.”
“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,” she said.
Putin has resisted calls from nationalist supporters and pro-military bloggers for a general mobilization since launching his full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
On Wednesday, the Russian leader stopped short of that step — which could have significantly boosted his ailing forces, but would likely take time and could also have proven unpopular with a public the Kremlin has sought to insulate from the effects of the war.
It remains to be seen how the announcement of partial mobilization will be received by regular Russians.