“This Is Not A Bluff”: Putin’s Warning To Escalate The War In Ukraine

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Putin vowed to continue attack on Ukraine last week (File)

Moscow:

President Vladimir Putin called for a “partial mobilization” and called up 300,000 reservists in a major escalation of his flagrant invasion of Ukraine, which he depicted as a fight to the death with the US and its allies.

“If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all available means to protect Russia and our people,” Putin said in a nationally televised speech on Wednesday. “This is not a bluff.”

“Those who are trying to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the wind patterns can also spin in their direction,” the president said, accusing the US and allies of wanting to “destroy” Russia.

Putin’s threats come after a Ukrainian counter-offensive in recent weeks inflicted the worst defeats on his troops since the first months of the conflict, retaking more than 10 percent of Russia’s territory. The Kremlin had long resisted announcing steps toward mobilization in an effort to limit the impact of its seven-month invasion on the Russian population, but the latest battlefield losses have highlighted the manpower shortage.

WWII precedent

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told state television that the reservists would not all be called up at once under Putin’s partial mobilization. The order only applies to those with military experience and will not affect students or others who have not previously served in the military, he said.

“This is another bad and misguided step,” German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck, who is also the economy minister, told reporters in Berlin. “In any case, it is clear to me and to the federal government that we will continue to fully support Ukraine during this difficult time.”

The additional troops would be more than the roughly 180,000 the US estimated Russia had amassed on Ukraine’s borders before the February 24 invasion. Ukraine, which declared a mobilization early in the war, now has about 700,000 in the field with months of training and has said it is aiming for a million-strong army.

Putin made his threats a day after the Russian-installed occupation authorities in the regions of eastern and southern Ukraine that still control the Kremlin’s armed forces hastily announced plans for “referendums” over annexation starting this weekend. Putin said Russia will grant those requests to be part of its territory, extending its defense guarantees to those areas as well.

Ukraine and its allies labeled the planned votes a sham and pledged to continue fighting to retake the country, which covers parts of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

Once the annexation takes place, Russia will also be able to bolster its armed forces in Ukraine with conscripts doing their military service, who currently cannot be sent to the front line because it is outside Russia’s borders, said Igor Korotchenko, head of the Center for analysis of the world arms trade in Moscow.

Still, increasing the size of the Russian military involved in the campaign is not enough to reverse the momentum, Korotchenko said. “The problem is not the amount of (soldiers) but the capacity to provide them with weapons and equipment.”

Nuclear Threats

Russian military bloggers and influential pro-Kremlin figures have urged Putin to massively expand the scope of the struggling offensive in Ukraine, which the Kremlin continues to call a “special military operation.” Otherwise, Russia risks more setbacks if it faces a much larger Ukrainian force receiving billions of dollars in advanced Western weapons, they have warned.

But most of the Russian public has been largely isolated from the reality of the invasion since it began in February, and the Kremlin had spent months trying to minimize its impact. Even partial mobilization threatens to change that. Putin’s decree puts no limit on the number of troops that can eventually be called up if needed, leaving that to the Defense Ministry to decide.

Parliament will give its final approval on Wednesday to hastily proposed legislative changes that would increase criminal penalties for evading the call, as well as for desertion and surrender.

Putin last week pledged to continue the attack on Ukraine despite heavy losses, saying he is in no “rush” and ready to step up attacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure.

Russian officials have previously hinted at the possible use of nuclear weapons in the conflict. If they were actually fired, it would involve a direct conflict with the US and other nuclear powers, something both sides have tried to avoid.

US President Joe Biden said last weekend that any use by Russia of chemical or tactical nuclear weapons would elicit a “consistent” response. “They’re going to be more of a pariah in the world than they’ve ever been,” he told 60 Minutes. “And depending on the magnitude of what they’re doing will determine what reaction would occur.”



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