Russian President Vladimir Putin called up 300,000 reservists to fight in Ukraine and said Moscow would respond with the force of its huge arsenal if the West pursued what he called its “nuclear blackmail” over the conflict there.
This was the first Russian mobilization of this kind since World War II and led to a significant escalation of the war, and is now in its seventh month.
It came on the heels of recent setbacks for Russian forces, which were driven out of areas they captured in northeastern Ukraine in a Ukrainian counter-offensive this month and faltered in the south.
In response, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade [DFAT] She said she was “extremely concerned” by Putin’s announcement.
“Russia must immediately withdraw from Ukraine and stop its illegal and immoral aggression against the Ukrainian people,” a Russian spokesman said on Wednesday evening.
Australia continues to stand shoulder to shoulder with the government and people of Ukraine.
“This is not a hoax”
In a televised address to the Russian nation on Wednesday, Putin said: “If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will use all available means to protect our people – this is not a hoax.”
He said Russia had “a lot of weapons to respond”.
A DFAT spokesperson said Mr Putin’s threats to use “all means” at his disposal were an “irresponsible escalation of rhetoric”, calling his claims to defend Russia’s territorial integrity “incorrect”.
The Russian Defense Minister said that the partial mobilization will see the recall of 300,000 reserve soldiers and will apply to those with previous military experience.
Although Russia has been embroiled in a number of conflicts since World War II, this was the first such recall since then. Participated in the Soviet Union’s long war in Afghanistan conscripts.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said 5,397 Russian soldiers had been killed since the conflict began.
The United States said last month that it believed between 70,000 and 80,000 Russian soldiers had been killed or wounded.
“Perfectly predictable attraction”
Adviser to the Ukrainian President, Mikhailo Podolyak, said that the Russian mobilization was an expected move that would prove very unpopular, and stressed that the war would not go according to Moscow’s plan.
“The attraction is quite predictable, which looks more like an attempt to justify their failure,” Podolyak told Reuters. “It is clear that the war will not go according to the Russian scenario.”
Ahead of Mr Putin’s speech, world leaders meeting at the United Nations in New York denounced the Russian invasion of Ukraine and plans for four occupied territories to hold referendums in the coming days on whether to join Russia.
In an apparently coordinated move, pro-Russian regional leaders on Tuesday announced that referendums would be held from September 23 to 27 in Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhia provinces, which account for about 15 percent of Ukraine’s territory.
Russia already considers Luhansk and Donetsk, which together make up the Donbass region that was partially occupied by Moscow in 2014, as independent countries. Ukraine and the West consider all parts of Ukraine occupied by Russian forces to be illegally occupied.
Russia now owns about 60 percent of Donetsk and has captured almost all of Luhansk by July after a slow advance through months of heavy fighting.
Those gains are now threatened after Russian forces were expelled from neighboring Kharkiv province this month, losing control of key supply lines to most of the front lines in Donetsk and Luhansk.
Nuclear blackmail was used
In his speech, Putin said that the partial mobilization of the two million military reservists was to defend Russia and its territory. He said the West did not want peace in Ukraine.
He said that Washington, London and Brussels were pressuring Kyiv to “transfer military operations to our territory” with the aim of “total looting of our country.”
The Ukrainian military has intermittently struck targets inside Russia throughout the conflict, using long-range weapons supplied by the West.
“Nuclear blackmail has also been used,” Putin said, citing Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, the largest in Europe. Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of endangering the plant in the fighting.
He accused officials in NATO countries of making statements about “the possibility and permissibility of using weapons of mass destruction against Russia – nuclear weapons.”
“To those who allow themselves such statements regarding Russia, I would like to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction, and in some components it is more modern than those of the NATO countries.”
Putin reiterated that his goal was to “liberate” Donbas, Ukraine’s industrial heartland, and said that most people there did not want to return to what he called Ukraine’s “yoke.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, speaking at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, said Putin would not give up his “imperial ambitions” unless he realized he could not win the war.
“That is why we will not accept any peace dictated by Russia and that is why Ukraine should be able to repel Russia’s attack,” Schultz said.
His conquest failed
Czech Prime Minister Petr Viala said the mobilization was “further evidence that Russia is the only aggressor”.
“There is a need to help Ukraine, and it is in our own interest that we must continue to do so,” he said.
Britain’s defense minister, Ben Wallace, said the mobilization was an admission by Mr Putin that his “conquest had failed”.
US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink said Russia had shown weakness by announcing the mobilization of reserves and the start of referendums in the territories occupied by Russia.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry urged all parties to engage in dialogue and consultation and find a way to address all parties’ security concerns.
Putin’s words also hit global markets, which have seen sharp fluctuations since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24. The euro fell 0.7 percent against the dollar, European stock markets opened sharply lower, and investors piled on safe-haven bonds, lowering German and US government debt yields.
Putin describes Russia’s action in Ukraine as a “special military operation” to root out dangerous nationalists and “discredit” the country. The West says it is a land grab and an attempt to reoccupy a country freed from Moscow’s rule with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The war killed thousands, destroyed cities and forced millions to flee their homes.