In a speech, Putin said he would use “every means at our disposal” and would even raise the specter of nuclear weapons if he deemed Russia’s “territorial integrity” to be endangered.
The mobilization means the possibility of calling up citizens who are in reserve and subjecting those with military experience to compulsory conscription, Putin said, adding that the necessary decree had already been signed and entered into force on Wednesday.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Russian television on Wednesday morning that his country would call up 300,000 reservists. “These are not some people who have never heard of the military,” Shoigu said. These are those who have served and have a specialization in military registration and have military experience.
“Our country also has various means of destruction and in some components are more modern than those of NATO countries, and if the territorial integrity of our country is endangered, we will certainly use all the means available to us to protect Russia and our people,” Putin said in his speech on Wednesday, indicating a possible new chapter in the conflict. Continuing for months.
Turning to the possibility of escalation and use of nuclear weapons, Putin said: “Those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the prevailing winds can turn in their direction.”
The announcement comes as Russia is believed to be facing a manpower shortage and after amendments to Russia’s law on military service announced on Tuesday, which lifted resistance penalties related to military service or coercion for violating an official military order during a period of mobilization or martial law. .
“They are already saying directly that they managed to divide the Soviet Union in 1991, and now it’s time for Russia to split into several regions and regions that are fatally hostile to each other,” Putin said.
But NATO leaders dismissed the announcement as a sign of panic in the Kremlin, and reiterated their commitment to supporting the Ukrainian army.
“Russia cannot win this war. But this is a kind of panic,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Wednesday.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace added: “No amount of threats and propaganda can hide the fact that Ukraine is winning this war, that the international community is united and that Russia has become a global pariah.”
The referendums, which Putin endorsed during his Wednesday speech, may pave the way for Russia’s annexation of the regions, allowing Moscow to frame the current Ukrainian counter-offensive there as an attack on Russia itself, thus providing Moscow with a pretext to escalate its military response.
In what appeared to be a coordinated declaration, the Russia-appointed leaders in the occupied Kherson and Zaporizhia regions, the Luhansk People’s Republic and the Donetsk People’s Republic said they intended to hold “elections” beginning on September 23.
The four regions that announced their plans for a referendum make up about 18% of Ukraine’s territory. Russia does not control any of the four in its entirety.
The expected referendums, contrary to international law supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty, were announced as world leaders arrived in New York for a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, as the war and its aftermath were about to loom.
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that “Fake referendums and mobilization are signs of Russian weakness and failure. The United States will never recognize Russia’s claim to Ukraine’s allegedly annexed territory, and we will continue to stand by Ukraine for whatever it costs.”
Putin said on Wednesday that Russia had asked the “people’s republics” and the Kherson and Zaporizhzhya regions to provide support for the referendums and pledged to do “everything to ensure safe conditions for people to express their will.”
The ads have already received swift support from Russian politicians. Former Russian President and Deputy Chairman of the Russian National Security Council Dmitry Medvedev publicly supported the referendums in the unilaterally declared Donbass republics, saying that this would be of “great importance” for the “systemic protection” of the population.
“The encroachment on Russian territory is a crime that allows you to use all self-defense forces,” Medvedev said on his Telegram channel, clearly referring to the possibility of a military escalation.
“Don’t do. Don’t. It will change the face of war unlike anything since World War II,” Biden said, adding that the US response to such actions would be “accordingly.”
The bill provides for a prison sentence of up to 15 years for military service-related resistance or coercion to violate an official military order, including violence or threat to use it, during a period of mobilization or martial law.
CNN’s Josh Pennington, Aliana Pavlova, Jennifer Hansler, Anna Chernova and Tim Lister contributed to this report.