Speaking from a wood-paneled operating room, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued another stark warning to the West on Wednesday after his country’s military suffered a series of embarrassing setbacks in Ukraine.
Putin announced the partial mobilization of reservists it could increase the number of available troops to 300,000 and represented a thinly veiled threat to Moscow’s readiness to use nuclear weapons.
Here’s a look at the key takeaways from that speech and the West’s reaction to it.
WHY DID PUTIN THREATEN NOW?
Putin’s military call and possible nuclear threat comes days after Ukraine’s military launched a surprise counteroffensive to retake territory around its second-largest city, Kharkiv, in the east.
“I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction… and when the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal,” Putin said. in a televised address, adding with a lingering stare into the camera: “It’s not a bluff.”
But his seven-minute address was also broadcast as Russia prepares to hold referendums in the Ukrainian regions it now occupies, including areas captured by Moscow-backed separatist forces after fighting broke out in 2014. The votes begin on Friday and have already been dismissed as illegitimate by Ukraine and its Western allies.
THE NEWS VOWS TO STAY THE COURSE
President Joe Biden led Western condemnation of Putin’s remarks at the United Nations General Assembly, arguing that Western nations should continue their determination to support Moscow’s aggression.
“We will stand in solidarity against Russian aggression. Period,” he said, denouncing Moscow’s plans to hold “fake” referendums in Ukraine, as well as Putin’s “open nuclear threats to Europe.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg echoed Biden’s theme. “This is a further escalation of Putin’s war. The international community must condemn this blatant violation of international law and step up support for Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said in a tweet.
Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, added: “The threat of nuclear weapons is unacceptable and a real danger to everyone… World peace is at risk.”
NO CHANGE IN THE OBJECTIVES OF UKRAINE
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country remains committed to reclaiming all of its sovereign territory, describing Putin’s remarks as a demonstration of Russia’s failure on the battlefield.
“We will act in accordance with our plans, step by step. I am sure that we will liberate our territory,” Zelenski said in a TV interview for the German newspaper Bild.
Zelensky’s spokesman called the Russian mobilization a “great tragedy” for the Russian people. In a statement to The Associated Press, Sergiy Nikiforov said the recruits sent to the front line in Ukraine would suffer a similar fate to the ill-prepared Russian forces that were repulsed in the attack on Kiev in the early days of the war.
“This is a recognition of the incompetence of the Russian professional army, which has failed in all its tasks,” Nikiforov said.
HOW WILL THE RUSSIANS REACT?
Despite the Kremlin’s tight grip on Russian media, some criticism of the war in Ukraine has been broadcast in Russia since the recent troop withdrawal.
Small anti-war protests were held in more than 30 Russian cities on Wednesday, according to a report by monitoring group OVD-Info, which said more than 530 protesters were arrested, including 200 in St. Petersburg and 150 in Moscow.
Russian political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin argues that Putin’s mobilization will make the Russian military’s failures in the war personal for many Russians.
“Until recently (Russians participated) with pleasure, sitting on the couch, (watching) TV. And now the war has entered their home,” he told AP. “People will avoid this mobilization by any means possible, bribe their way out of this mobilization, leave the country.”
Russian media on Wednesday reported a rush of people buying plane tickets to leave the country, which is why ticket prices are rising.
Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine