Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization of reservists in Russia on Wednesday, in a measure that appeared to be an admission that Moscow’s war against Ukraine isn’t going according to plan. The Russian leader, in a televised address to the nation, also made what appeared to be a veiled reference to Russia’s nuclear capability.
Accusing the West of engaging in “nuclear blackmail,” Putin claimed, without identifying anyone specifically, that there had been, “statements of some high-ranking representatives of the leading NATO states about the possibility of using nuclear weapons of mass destruction against Russia.”
“To those who allow themselves such statements regarding Russia, I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction. … And when the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal,” Putin said. “It’s not a bluff.”
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace described Putin’s mobilization announcement as “an admission that his invasion is failing.”
“He and his defense minister have sent tens of thousands of their own citizens to their deaths, ill-equipped and badly led,” Wallace said in a statement. “No amount of threats and propaganda can hide the fact that Ukraine is winning this war, the international community are united and Russia is becoming a global pariah.”
In another signal that Russia was digging in for a protracted and possibly ramped-up conflict, the Kremlin-controlled lower of house of parliament voted Tuesday to toughen laws against desertion, surrender and looting by Russian troops. Lawmakers also voted to introduce possible 10-year prison terms for soldiers refusing to fight. If approved, as expected, by the upper house and then signed by Putin, the legislation would strengthen commanders’ hands against failing morale reported among soldiers.
Putin’s address, which followed a critical Russian battlefield defeat in northeastern Ukraine, fuelled speculation about the course of the war, the 69-year-old Kremlin chief’s own future, and showed Putin was doubling down on what he calls his “special military operation” in Ukraine.
In essence, Putin is betting that by increasing the risk of a direct confrontation between the U.S.-led NATO military alliance and Russia — a step towards World War Three — the West will blink over its support for Ukraine, something it has shown no sign of doing so far.
Putin’s war in Ukraine has killed tens of thousands, unleashed an inflationary wave through the global economy and triggered the worst confrontation with the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, when many feared nuclear war imminent.