On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin addressed a rare address to the nation, issuing a nuclear warning to the West and organizing hundreds of thousands of new troops for his war in Ukraine.
The address followed two weeks of humiliating defeats for the Ukrainians, who in a dramatic counteroffensive recaptured thousands of square kilometers of occupied land in the northeast.
The Ukrainian defeat prompted condemnation of the war on Russian state television and among some of Putin’s loyalists, facing his authority with its greatest challenge to yet.
Here are five key takeaways from his Thursday talk.
Putin ordered on September 21 a partial mobilization that, according to his military minister, will call up some 300,000 reservists.
The action fell short of full mobilization or conscription, which would have forced people to participate in the war. However, it still carries the potential of bringing the fight closer to home for many Russians, posing a political risk for Putin, who earlier fanned hopes that the war might be won within days.
“As stated, we are discussing partial mobilization. Putin stated that only military reservists, specifically those with specified military occupational specializations and accompanying experience, will be mobilized.
Prior to being deployed to their units, soldiers called to active service will be required to complete additional military training based on their participation in the special military operation.
The decision is expected to satisfy Ukraine war hawks, who have been demanding that Putin increase manpower to halt Ukraine’s progress and alter the course of the conflict.
However, the revelation sent shockwaves throughout the country, with reports of small-scale anti-mobilization protests occurring around the country and flights out of Russia selling out rapidly.
Putin accused the West of “nuclear blackmail” and explicitly threatened to unleash Russia’s strong nuclear arsenal.
Putin stated, “When the territorial integrity of our nation is challenged, we will employ all available means to safeguard Russia and our people.”
There is no bluff here. Those who attempt to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should be aware that the weathervane can tip in their direction.”
Throughout the battle, the Russian commander has issued veiled nuclear threats, warning in February, when his invasion began, that western action “would lead to consequences you have never faced in your history.”
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However, U.S. officials have typically downplayed concerns that Putin may carry out his threat.
John Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council of the White House, stated on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Wednesday that the United States was taking Putin’s “reckless” threat “seriously.”
President Biden referenced Putin’s “reckless nuclear threats” in his Wednesday address to the United Nations General Assembly, adding that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”
West has “broken every rule.”
Putin constantly portrayed the Ukraine conflict as a worldwide confrontation with the western world, which he claimed had “broken every line” in its quest to obliterate Russia.
“The West has violated every boundary in its aggressive anti-Russian agenda. Constant threats are made against our nation and our people, he said.
“This West seeks to weaken, split, and ultimately destroy our nation.” They are already claiming that they were able to dismantle the Soviet Union in 1991, and that the time has come for Russia to dissolve as well. And they’ve been planning this for quite some time.”
As the battle has continued on, the Biden administration and European governments have become increasingly assertive in their backing for Ukraine, delivering increasingly powerful weapons used to inflict severe damage on Russian forces on the ground.
However, these arms were delivered under the strict condition that they not be used against Russian targets, for fear of sparking a wider conflict. In addition, the United States and its allies, like as Germany, have resisted requests for larger missile systems, tanks, and fighter jets.
Putin also claimed that Ukraine would have been happy to accede to Russia’s demands prior to the invasion, such as committing to never join NATO and ceding disputed territory, but that the West dragged Kyiv into the conflict.
He stated, “More weaponry were pushed into Ukraine.” The Kiev regime deployed new groups of foreign mercenaries and nationalists, as well as military formations trained to NATO standards and receiving commands from Western advisors.
Referenda in occupied territories
The Russian leader gave his complete support to the planned independence referendums in Russian-occupied regions, which are viewed as a pretext for annexation.
“Parliaments in the People’s Republics of the Donbas as well as the civil-military administrations in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia areas have agreed to organize referendums on the future of the territories and have requested Russia’s cooperation. Putin stated, “We will do everything possible to provide safe conditions for the referendums so that the people can express their views.”
“We will back the decision made by the majority of inhabitants in the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, Zaporizhia, and Kherson on their future.”
Tuesday, the White House referred to the ballots as “sham referendums” and stated that the United States would not recognize the results, should they materialize.
“We are aware that these votes will be manipulated. We are aware that Russia will use the phony referendums as a pretext to invade these territories, either immediately or in the future,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated at a press briefing.
“Let me be clear: if this occurs, the United States will never recognize Russia’s claims to any ostensibly seized regions of Ukraine. This land will never be recognized as anything other than a part of Ukraine. We vehemently denounce Russia’s conduct.”
Preemptive warfare was the ‘only choice’.
Putin said that Russia has no choice but to invade Ukraine due to the threat of annihilation posed by the West and a “nazi” dictatorship in Ukraine seeking nuclear weapons.
“After the Kiev regime publicly rejected a peaceful resolution to the Donbass conflict and even declared its desire to acquire nuclear weapons, it became clear that a new offensive in Donbass…was inevitable, and that it would be followed by an attack on Russia’s Crimea, that is, on Russia,” he said.
“In this context, the decision to launch a preemptive military operation was essential and the only viable choice. The primary objective of this operation, which is to free all of Donbas, has not changed.”
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Putin’s ultimate objectives in Ukraine remain obscure. However, Russia had intended to encircle and conquer Kiev, but was obliged to withdraw its forces due to supply line difficulties and high losses.
Since then, Moscow has focused its military efforts on the eastern region of Donbas, which is largely held by Russian rebels. Russia grabbed Crimea after its 2014 invasion. Observers envision the Kremlin employing the same script in its efforts to capture other occupied territories, as this move also followed an independence vote.
Putin was motivated to wage war in part to prevent NATO expansion into his backyard. In this regard, the invasion has backfired, increasing Ukraine’s application to join the security alliance and speeding Sweden and Finland’s efforts to join NATO.