Putin wants to partially mobilize the military as the war in Ukraine stalls

The mobilization could add another 300,000 men to the Russian forces.

Kyiv, Ukraine — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered a partial mobilization of reservists to bolster his military forces in Ukraine, a deeply unpopular move that sparked rare protests across the country and led to nearly 1,200 arrests.

The risky order follows humiliating setbacks for Putin’s troops almost seven months after they invaded Ukraine. The first such conscription in Russia since World War II heightened tensions with Ukraine’s Western supporters, who derided it as an act of weakness and desperation.

The move also prompted some Russians to buy plane tickets to flee the country.

In his 14-minute nationwide televised address, Putin also warned the West that he would not bluff to use everything at his disposal to protect Russia – an obvious reference to his nuclear arsenal. He has previously rebuked NATO countries for supplying arms to Ukraine.

With heavy battlefield casualties, expanding frontlines and a conflict that has raged longer than expected, the Kremlin has been struggling to increase its troops in Ukraine, and reportedly even widespread recruitment in prisons.

The total number of reservists to be called up could be as many as 300,000, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said. However, Putin’s decree authorizing partial mobilization, which went into effect immediately, contained few details, raising suspicions that the draft could be expanded at any time. One clause in particular was kept secret.

Despite Russia’s strict laws against criticism of the military and the war, demonstrators outraged by the mobilization overcame fears of arrest to protest in cities across the country. According to the independent Russian human rights group OVD-Info, nearly 1,200 Russians have been arrested during anti-war demonstrations in cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Associated Press journalists in Moscow witnessed at least a dozen arrests in the first 15 minutes of a nighttime protest in the capital, in which police officers in heavy body armor tackled protesters outside shops and dragged some away while shouting “No to the war!”

“I’m not afraid of anything. The most valuable thing they can take from us is our children’s lives. I won’t give them my child’s life,” said one Muscovite, who declined to give her name.

When asked if protesting would help, she said: “It won’t help but it is my civic duty to speak my mind. No to war!”

In Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, police bussed some of the 40 demonstrators arrested at an anti-war rally. A woman in a wheelchair called out, in a reference to the Russian President: “Damn bald ‘madman’. He’s going to drop a bomb on us and we’re all still protecting him. I’ve said enough.”

Opposition movement Vesna called for protests, saying: “Thousands of Russian men – our fathers, brothers and husbands – are being thrown into the meat grinder of war. What will they die for? What will mothers and children cry for?”

The Moscow Prosecutor’s Office warned that organizing or participating in protests could be punished with up to 15 years in prison. Authorities have issued similar warnings ahead of other protests. On Wednesday were the first nationwide anti-war protests since fighting began in late February.

Other Russians responded by trying to leave the country, and flights were quickly booked.

In Armenia, Sergey arrived with his 17-year-old son and said they were preparing for such a scenario. Another Russian, Valery, said his wife’s family lives in Kyiv and he would not mobilize “just for moral reasons”. Both men declined to give their last names.

The state communications watchdog Roskomnadzor warned the media that access to their websites would be blocked for transmitting “false information” about the mobilization.

Residents in Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, appeared despondent at the mobilization as they watched rescue workers clear debris from Russian rocket attacks on two apartment buildings.

“You just don’t know what to expect from him,” said 66-year-old Olena Milevska from Kharkiv. “But you understand that it’s something personal for him.”

In calling for mobilization, Putin cited the length of the front line, which he says exceeds 1,000 kilometers (more than 620 miles). He also said that Russia is effectively fighting the combined military might of Western countries.

Western leaders said the mobilization was in response to Russia’s recent battlefield losses.

President Joe Biden told the UN General Assembly that Putin’s new nuclear threats would be on display “reckless disregard” for the responsibility of Russia as a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Hours later, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on world leaders the Assembly To strip Russia of its voice in international institutions and its veto in the UN Security Council by saying that aggressors must be punished and isolated.

Zelenskyi said via video that his forces “can bring back the Ukrainian flag to our entire territory. We can do it by force of arms. But we need time.”

Putin did not attend the meeting.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said the mobilization means the war is “getting worse, deepening and Putin is trying to involve as many people as possible. … It is only done to keep a person in control of personal power.”

The partial mobilization order came two days before the Russian-controlled regions in eastern and southern Ukraine planned to hold referendums on incorporation into Russia – a move that could allow Moscow to escalate the war. Voting begins Friday in the Luhansk, Kherson and partially Russian-controlled Zaporizhia and Donetsk regions.

Foreign heads of state and government are already describing the votes as illegitimate and non-binding. Zelenskyy said they were a “deception” and a “noise” to distract the public.

Michael Kofman, head of Russian studies at the Washington-based CNA think tank, said Putin had put his regime on war and that annexation was “a point of no return,” as was mobilization “to a degree.”

“The partial mobilization affects everyone. And everyone in Russia understands … they could be the next wave, and this is just the first wave,” Kofman said.

Russia’s Defense Minister Shoigu said only some of those with relevant combat and service experience would be mobilized. He said about 25 million people meet these criteria, but only about 1% of them are mobilized.

It was not clear how many years of combat experience or what level of training soldiers need to mobilize. Another clause in the decree prevents most professional soldiers from terminating their contracts until after partial mobilization.

Putin’s mobilization move could backfire, making the war unpopular at home and hurting his own reputation. It also acknowledges Russia’s underlying military shortcomings.

A Ukrainian counter-offensive this month took over Russia’s military initiative and seized large areas of Ukraine from Russian forces.

Russian mobilization will have no impact on the battlefield for months due to a lack of training facilities and equipment.

Russian political scientist Dmitry Oreshkin said it appeared to be “an act of desperation”.

“People will dodge this mobilization in any way they can, bribe themselves out of this mobilization and leave the country,” he said.

He described the announcement as “a major personal blow to Russian citizens who until recently (participated in the hostilities) enjoyed sitting on their sofas and watching TV. And now the war has come to their homeland.”

In his speech, Putin accused the West of “nuclear blackmail” and cited alleged “statements by some high-ranking representatives of the leading NATO states about the possibility of using nuclear weapons of mass destruction against Russia.”

“If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people,” Putin said.

In other developments, relatives of two US military veterans who disappeared while fighting with Ukrainian forces against Russia said they were released after about three months in captivity. They were part of a Saudi Arabia-arranged exchange of 10 prisoners from the US, Morocco, the UK, Sweden and Croatia.

And in another publication early Thursday, Ukraine announced it had won the freedom of 215 Ukrainian and foreign citizens from Russian detention, including militants who had spent months defending a besieged steel mill in the city of Mariupol. Zelenskyy posted a video showing an official briefing on freeing citizens in exchange for pro-Russian opposition leader Viktor Medvedchuk and 55 other people held by Ukraine.

https://www.kvue.com/article/news/nation-world/putin-partial-military-call/507-722662eb-2469-4464-9392-8c7d0d354421 Putin wants to partially mobilize the military as the war in Ukraine stalls

Laura Coffey

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