Putin calls up reservists; US takes his threats ‘seriously’

Thursday, Sep 22, 2022

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin called up Russian military reservists on Wednesday, saying his promise to use all military means in Ukraine was "no bluff," and hinting that Moscow was prepared to use nuclear weapons.

His mobilisation call comes as Moscow-held regions of Ukraine prepare to hold annexation referendums this week, dramatically upping the stakes in the seven-month conflict by allowing Moscow to accuse Ukraine of attacking Russian territory.

A senior US official said Washington was taking Putin’s "irresponsible" veiled threat to use nuclear weapons "seriously" and warned it could alter its "strategic posture" if need be. Four Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine -- Donetsk and Lugansk in the east and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia in the south -- said on Tuesday that they would hold the votes over five days beginning on Friday.

In a pre-recorded address to the nation early on Wednesday, Putin accused the West of trying to "destroy" his country through its backing of Kyiv. Russia needed to support those in Ukraine who wanted to "determine their own future", he said.

The Russian leader announced a partial military mobilisation, with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu telling state television that some 300,000 reservists would be called up. "When the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people. This is not a bluff," Putin said.

"Those who are trying to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the wind can also turn in their direction," Putin added. But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a interview with Germany’s Bild media group released Wednesday, he did not think Putin would resort to nuclear weapons.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz denounced the call-up as "an act of desperation" in a "criminal war" he said Russia could not win. Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said it would result in a "massive tragedy, in a massive amount of deaths".

Putin said that through its support for Ukraine, the West was trying to "weaken, divide and ultimately destroy our country". Shoigu said Moscow was "fighting not so much Ukraine as the collective West" in Ukraine. In the wake of their announcements flights to neighbouring ex-Soviet countries were booked up for days to come, airline data showed, in what appeared to be a rush to quit the country. Prices for remaining seats skyrocketed.

The sudden flurry of moves by Moscow this week came with Russian forces in Ukraine facing their biggest challenge since the start of the conflict. Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told German media on Wednesday he does not believe Russia will use nuclear weapons, after President Vladimir Putin said Moscow would use all means to protect its territory.

"I don’t believe that he will use these weapons," Zelensky told the TV station of Germany’s Bild newspaper, referring to nuclear arms. "I don’t believe that the world will allow him to use these weapons." The Ukrainian leader warned against giving in to Putin’s threats.