Ukraine: Putin mobilizes reserve, Washington “takes seriously” its nuclear threat
Vladimir Putin on Wednesday mobilized hundreds of thousands of reservists to restart his offensive in Ukraine and threatened to resort to nuclear weapons, which the United States says it “takes seriously.”
In an address to the nation, Putin said he was ready to use “all means” in his arsenal against the West, which he accused of wanting to “destroy” Russia. “It’s not a bluff,” he assured.
The White House immediately denounced “irresponsible rhetoric by a nuclear power” and indicated that it took the threat “seriously.”
China, courted by Russia, appeared to distance itself by demanding a ceasefire and respect for states’ territorial integrity, a reference to Russia’s project to annex part of Ukraine.
The mobilization of reservists has been described in Europe as an “admission of weakness” by Moscow, whose army has suffered setbacks against Ukrainian forces in recent weeks.
It certainly marks a new escalation of the conflict, the day after Russia announced “referendums” aimed at annexing four regions of eastern and southern Ukraine partially controlled by Moscow.
Careful not to announce a general mobilization feared by millions of Russians, Mr Putin on Wednesday decreed a “partial” measure deemed “urgent and necessary”.
According to the Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, 300,000 reservists are initially affected.
In a sign of concern from many Russians, airline websites were stormed after Mr Putin’s speech and an online petition against the mobilization garnered more than 230,000 signatures.
Jailed Kremlin opponent Alexei Navalny has criticized the measure, saying it would lead to “a huge tragedy”.
– “Dangerous Rhetoric” –
In an interview with German broadcaster Bild TV, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he “doesn’t believe” in Moscow using nuclear weapons. “I don’t think the world will allow that,” he added.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg denounced Putin’s “dangerous nuclear rhetoric” and added that the Atlantic Alliance would continue to “support Ukraine”.
With his speech on Wednesday, the Kremlin master also took a new step in his speech against the West, accusing him of wanting to “divide and destroy” Russia by arming Ukraine and subjecting Moscow to “nuclear blackmail”.
His defense minister, Mr. Choigou, bluntly claimed that Russia was not fighting “Ukraine” so much as it was fighting the West.
Given the breathlessness of his offensive in Ukraine, which is about to enter its eighth month, Mr Putin is trying to raise the bar.
Indeed, in the face of Ukrainian counter-offensives in the Kharkiv (northeast) and Kherson (south) regions, their forces have been forced to withdraw in recent weeks, causing Moscow to bewildered.
If the effects of a partial mobilization do not change the situation in the near future, this measure will mark a break with the Kremlin’s previous approach to protecting the Russian population from the consequences of the conflict.
Several Western capitals viewed the move as an “admission of failure.” It shows Mr. Putin’s “mess”, estimated the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell.
Even China, which Moscow is seeking rapprochement with, called for a “ceasefire” and respect for “the territorial integrity of all countries” the day after Moscow announced annexation “referendums.”
– Bombed nuclear power plant –
Because even before the partial mobilization, the announcement on Tuesday of “referendums” on annexation in the Moscow-controlled regions of Ukraine from September 23 to 27 had signaled a hardening.
Russian military doctrine provides for the possibility of resorting to nuclear strikes when Moscow attacks areas considered Russian, which could be the case with annexed areas.
These elections will take place in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, which form the Donbass (east), and in the occupied areas of Kherson and Zaporizhia in the south.
These polls have been criticized by Kyiv and its Western allies, who have labeled them a “simulacra” of ballots with no legal value.
On the ground, the mobilization at the beginning of the 8th month of the conflict could herald an increase in violence.
Ukrainian authorities have accused Russia of again bombing the Zaporizhia power plant (southern Ukraine), the largest in Europe, on Wednesday.
In Kharkiv (northeast), Ukraine’s second largest city near the Russian border, Svetlana, 63, called on the Russians to ignore the mobilization order and “finally wake up”. Around them, residents are clearing away the rubble of a building that was hit by a rocket during the night.
Galina, a 50-year-old neighbor, is angry at the Russians who want to “liberate” her. “What do you want to free us from?” she asks. “Of our houses? From our relatives? From our friends?”
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