Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday announced a partial military mobilization in Russia, putting the country’s people and economy on a war footing as Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine continues.
In a rare, taped TV announcement, Putin said the West “wants to destroy our country” and claimed the West was trying to “turn the Ukrainian people into cannon fodder,” in comments translated by Reuters, echoing previous claims that in which he had accused Western nations of starting a proxy war with Russia.
Putin said the “mobilization events” would begin on Wednesday without giving any further details other than ordering an increase in funding to boost Russia’s arms production after receiving a large amount during the conflict that began in late February used (and lost) on weapons.
Partial mobilization is an unclear concept, but it could mean that Russian companies and citizens have to contribute more to the war effort. Russia has yet to declare war on Ukraine despite invading February, calling its invasion a “special military operation.”
Putin confirmed that military reservists would be called up for active duty, but insisted that broader conscription of Russian men of military age was not happening.
“I repeat, we are talking about partial mobilization, that is, only citizens who are currently in reserve are drafted, and most importantly, those who served in the armed forces have a certain military specialty and relevant experience. Conscripts, based on the experience of the special military operation, will be required to undergo additional military training before leaving for the units,” he said, according to an Associated Press translation.
In what was immediately hailed as an escalation speech, Putin also accused the West of complicity in nuclear blackmail against Russia and again warned that the country “has many weapons to respond to” what he described as Western threats – adding , that he does not bluff .
Putin has alluded to Russia’s nuclear weapons at various points during the conflict with Ukraine, but there are doubts whether Moscow would actually resort to using such a weapon, as analysts say it could be tantamount to the start of a third world war.
China’s Foreign Ministry has urged all parties to engage in dialogue to find a way to address their security concerns, while British Foreign Secretary Gillian Keegan told Sky News that Putin’s comments should not be taken lightly.
“It’s clearly something we should take very seriously because we’re not in control – I’m not sure he’s in control either, really. This is obviously an escalation,” she said.
Financial markets reacted negatively to Putin’s comments, with oil prices rising more than 2% and the Russian ruble falling about 2.6% against the dollar.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu added further details on the partial mobilization on Wednesday morning, saying that 300,000 additional personnel would be called up for military deployment in Ukraine.
In an interview with Russian state television, Shoigu said students and conscripts were not called up and that the majority of Russia’s reserves were not drafted, Reuters reported.
Russia under pressure
Putin’s comments come as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began in late February, nears the winter period, with momentum appearing to be on Ukraine’s side after it launched blitz counter-offensives in the northeast and south to retake lost territory.
Speculation mounted on Tuesday that Putin may be about to announce a full or partial mobilization of Russia’s economy and society, paving the way for possible conscription of Russian men of military age, after Moscow-installed officials in the occupied territories of the Ukraine had announced plans to immediately hold referenda on joining Russia.
The votes – due to take place this weekend in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia, the results of which would be broadly rigged for joining Russia – would allow the Kremlin to claim, albeit falsely, that it is “defending” its own territory and citizens, and that requires more workers.
Putin on Wednesday said Russia supported the referenda, saying the partial mobilization decision was “fully proportionate to the threats we face, namely to protect our homeland, its sovereignty and territorial integrity, to protect the security of our people and… of the people of the liberated territories.”
Plans to hold such votes have been widely condemned by Ukraine and its western allies, who said they would not recognize the ballots and efforts to annex more of Ukraine, as Russia did with Crimea in 2014.
Putin on Wednesday reiterated previous claims from Moscow that Russia’s goal is to “liberate” Donbass, a region in eastern Ukraine that is home to two self-proclaimed, pro-Russian republics, and said he had ordered the government to grant it legal status lend out to volunteers fighting in Donbass, Reuters reported.
Morale is believed to be low among Russian troops fighting in Ukraine, and on Tuesday Russia’s Duma, the country’s parliament, voted to tighten Russia’s penal code on military service — including increasing the penalty for Desertion and other “crimes committed under conditions of mobilization. Martial Law, Armed Conflict and Hostilities.”
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The UK Ministry of Defense commented on Twitter on Wednesday that the move was likely intended to limit the number of denials to fight and alleviate some of the immediate staffing “pressures”.
Timothy Ash, Senior Emerging Markets Sovereign Strategist at BlueBay Asset Management, said on Wednesday that “partial mobilization on the battlefield will make little difference in the short term. Equipment forces already being shoved into the meat grinder in Ukraine?” Ash wrote in emailed comments.
Ash added that he believes “the partial mobilization plus the announcement of a referendum in the Occupied Territories is more for external consumption, for Ukraine and its western allies – to signal that longer term, Putin is still in but that he wants to negotiate. “