- Putin announces partial mobilization
- Warns of Western ‘nuclear blackmail’
- Says Russia will use all means to defend itself
- Putin says it’s not a bluff
- Russia begins annexing large swathes of Ukraine
LONDON, Sept 21 (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered Russia to mobilize for the first time since World War II and back plans to annex large swathes of Ukraine, warning the West that he was not bluffing when he said he was ready to use nuclear weapons. Defend Russia.
This is the biggest escalation of the Ukrainian war since Moscow on February 2. With the 24th invasion, Putin clearly raised the specter of a nuclear conflict, approved a plan to annex Ukraine’s swathe of Hungary and called in 300,000 reservists.
“If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will undoubtedly use all available means to protect Russia and our people – this is not bluff,” Putin said in a nationally televised address.
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Citing NATO’s expansion to Russia’s borders, Putin said the West was plotting to destroy his country, “nuclear blackmail” by allegedly discussing the possibility of Moscow’s use of nuclear weapons, and accused the United States, the European Union and Britain of encouraging Ukraine to push military action toward Russia itself.
“The West has crossed every line in its aggressive anti-Russian policy,” Putin said. “This is not bluff. Those trying to blackmail us with nukes should know that the weather vane can be turned and pointed at them.”
The speech after Russia’s fiasco on the battlefield in northeastern Ukraine sparked speculation over the course of the war, the 69-year-old Kremlin chief’s own future, and suggested Putin was doubling down on what he called “special military operations” in Ukraine.
Essentially, Putin is betting that by increasing the risk of a direct confrontation between the U.S.-led NATO military alliance and Russia — a step toward World War III — the West will fight against it. Ukrainian support blinked, which has shown no signs so far.
Putin’s war in Ukraine has killed tens of thousands, unleashed a wave of inflation in the global economy and sparked the worst confrontation with the West since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, when many feared a nuclear war was looming.
Putin signed a decree on the partial mobilization of Russian reserves, arguing that Russian soldiers are actually facing the full force of the “collective West”, which has been supplying troops in Kyiv with advanced weapons, training and intelligence.
Shortly after Putin’s speech, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia would send about 300,000 additional personnel from the roughly 25 million potential fighters at Moscow’s disposal.
It was the first mobilization since the Soviet Union fought Nazi Germany in World War II and began immediately.
Such a move would be risky for Putin, who has so far tried to maintain a semblance of peace in the capital and other major cities where support for war is lower than in the provinces.
Since Boris Yeltsin handed Putin the nuclear briefcase on the last day of 1999, his priority has been to restore at least the great power status Moscow lost when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
Putin has repeatedly slammed the U.S. for pushing NATO eastward, especially its wooing of former Soviet republics such as Ukraine and Georgia, which Russia sees as part of its sphere of influence, an idea both countries oppose.
Putin said senior government officials from several unnamed “major” NATO countries had spoken about the possible use of nuclear weapons against Russia.
He also accused the West of risking a “nuclear catastrophe” by allowing Ukraine to shell the Russian-controlled Zaporozhye nuclear power plant, which Kyiv denies.
Putin has explicitly backed a referendum to be held in the coming days on a swathe of Ukraine controlled by Russian troops — the first step toward formally annexing a swath of Ukraine the size of Hungary.
The self-proclaimed Donetsk (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republics (LPR), which Putin recognized as independent before the invasion, and Russian-installed officials in the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions demanded a vote.
“We will support their future decisions, which will be made by the majority of residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, Zaporozhye and Kherson,” Putin said.
“We cannot and have no moral right to hand over those around us to executioners, we can only respond to their sincere desire to determine their own destiny.”
This paved the way for the official annexation of about 15 percent of Ukraine’s territory.
The West and Ukraine denounced the referendum plan as an illegal hoax and vowed never to accept its results. French President Emmanuel Macron said the plans were “copycats”. Kyiv denies persecuting ethnic Russians or Russian speakers.
But by formally annexing Ukrainian territory, Putin has given himself a potential excuse to use the world’s largest Russian nuclear arsenal.
If weapons of mass destruction are used against Russia, or if the Russian state faces an existential threat from conventional weapons, Russia’s nuclear doctrine allows such weapons to be used.
“It is in our historical tradition, in the destiny of our people, to stop those world rulers who threaten to dismember and enslave our homeland, our homeland,” Putin said.
“We do it now and we will do it,” Putin said. “I trust your support.”
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Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Andrew Osborne
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