Kyiv – President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s first military mobilisation since World War II on Wednesday.
He warned the West that if it continued what he called its “nuclear blackmail” that Moscow would respond with the might of all its vast arsenal.
“If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will use all available means to protect our people – this is not a bluff,” Putin said in a televised address to the nation, adding Russia had “lots of weapons to reply”.
Russia’s defence minister said the partial mobilisation meant 300 000 reservists were called up and would apply to those with previous military experience.
Putin’s partial mobilisation significantly escalates the conflict over Ukraine and comes as Russia battles a Ukrainian counter-offensive that forced its troops to retreat and surrender some occupied territory.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters Russia’s mobilisation was a predictable step that will prove extremely unpopular and underscored that the war was not going according to Moscow’s plan.
Putin said the partial military mobilisation of its two million-strong military reservists was to defend Russia and its territories, arguing the West did not want peace in Ukraine.
He said Washington, London, and Brussels were pushing Kyiv to “transfer military operations to our territory” with the aim of the “complete plunder our country”.
Ukraine’s military sporadically struck targets inside Russia throughout the conflict, using long-range weapons supplied by the West.
“Nuclear blackmail has also been used,” Putin said, citing Ukraine’s Zaporozhzhia nuclear power plant, the biggest in Europe.
Both Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of endangering the plant in the fighting.
He accused high-ranking officials of leading NATO nations of making statements about “the possibility and admissibility of using weapons of mass destruction against Russia – nuclear weapons”.
“To those who allow themselves such statements regarding Russia, I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction, and in some components more modern than those of the NATO countries,” Putin said.
The Russia president restated his aim was to “liberate” east Ukraine’s Donbas industrial heartland region and that most people in the region did not want to return to what he called the “yoke” of Ukraine.