Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday announced a partial military mobilization following recent setbacks in his war against Ukraine. Putin addressed the nation in his first appearance since he announced the Russian offensive in Ukraine on February 24, which he described then as a “special military operation.” Seven months later, in response to the recent success of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, he has decreed a partial mobilization that will see around 300,000 reservists called up to serve in Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine.
Putin told fellow citizens that the West wants to see “the disintegration of Russia” and warned that Moscow would use “all means at its disposal to defend Russia if its territorial integrity is threatened.” Insisting that he was not bluffing, he said that “those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the prevailing winds can turn in their direction.”
“The liberation of the entire territory of Donbas remains the immovable goal of the operation,” said Putin in his speech, referring once again to that eastern Ukrainian region as “the historical territory of Novorossiya [New Russia].” The president also ordered a decree to equalize the status of the paramilitary groups that support his military campaign with that of the soldiers of the Russian armed forces.
“Only citizens in the reserve will be subject to the call for partial mobilization,” said Putin. The Russian president has already signed the decree and promised that the reservists will receive “additional training” before being sent to the front. The decree will also extend soon-to-expire contracts of Russian soldiers in Ukraine until “the end of the partial mobilization period.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also appeared in the national address, in which he announced the first official death toll of Russian soldiers since March. “Our losses to date are 5,937 deaths,” he said, saying the number pales in comparison to the “more than 100,000 deaths” suffered by the Ukrainian armed forces. The official figure, however, is 10 times lower than Western estimates.
Shoigu said that around 300,000 reservists would be called up according to need, out of a pool of around 25 million.
Additionally, the State Duma on Tuesday approved a series of amendments to the criminal code that include scenarios of mobilization and war. The reform will mean that reservists who do not respond to the mobilization call, or soldiers who refuse to fight or who surrender, can be punished with jail time.
The partial mobilization order comes after Putin announced plans to hold independence referendums in Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine. “Sham referenda and mobilization are signs of weakness, of Russian failure,” said Bridget A. Brink, the US ambassador to Ukraine, in a message on Twitter following Putin’s announcement on Wednesday. “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.”