Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial military mobilization of 300,000 reserve troops, in a major sign of escalation in the ongoing war in Ukraine. The Russian leader also made veiled threats to use nuclear weapons if Russian territorial integrity is threatened.
Putin announced the mobilization on Wednesday morning, stating “only military reservists, primarily those who served in the armed forces and have specific military occupational specialties and corresponding experience, will be called up.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said 300,000 people will be called up for service in the partial mobilization. Putin’s order falls short of a full mobilization of the Russian military, with a full-scale draft.
France 24 reported that in an interview with Russian state television, Shoigu said students and those who already served as conscripts would not be called up and the majority of Russia’s reserve forces would not be drafted.
During his announcement, Putin said western nations “have even resorted to the nuclear blackmail.” Putin said he referred to “the statements made by some high-ranking representatives of the leading NATO countries on the possibility and admissibility of using weapons of mass destruction – nuclear weapons – against Russia.”
“I would like to remind those who make such statements regarding Russia that our country has different types of weapons as well, and some of them are more modern than the weapons NATO countries have.” he said. “In the event of a threat to the territorial integrity of our country and to defend Russia and our people, we will certainly make use of all weapon systems available to us. This is not a bluff.”
The mobilization comes as Russia has seen setbacks in its war in Ukraine. Ukrainian forces have begun to retake territory captured by Russian forces earlier in the year. Last week, Ukrainian forces claimed they retook around 1,000 square miles in a matter of days.
The mobilization of 300,000 reservists suggests a Russian effort to fend off the Ukrainian offensive and prolong the fighting in Ukraine.
In an apparent prelude to Putin’s decision, Russian lawmakers pushed through new legislation on Tuesday that would increase the penalties for crimes committed during a period of military mobilization. Reuters reported the bill passed in its second and third readings in the lower house of the Russian legislature, the Duma, on Tuesday. The bill increases criminal penalties for acts of desertion, damage to military property and insubordination during a military mobilization period.
In addition to the military mobilization efforts, Putin announced a series of referendums in territories captured by Russian forces. He said the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, Luhansk People’s Republic and the military-civilian administrations of the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions will hold votes on whether to become parts of Russia.
“I would like to emphasize that we will do everything necessary to create safe conditions for these referendums so that people can express their will,” Putin said. “And we will support the choice of future made by the majority of people in the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics and the Zaporozhye and Kherson regions.”
The referendums votes are scheduled to take place this weekend. In a Tuesday press briefing, White House National Security Jake Sullivan referred to the votes as “sham referenda.”
“Russia is rushing to hold these referenda in response to Ukraine’s gains on the battlefield as well as to prepare for potential mobilization measures,” Sullivan said.
The referendums are expected to go in favor of the territories joining Russia and Russia could use this ploy to retroactively justify its invasion as a defense of Russian territory.