Russian media on Wednesday broadcast a pre-recorded speech from Russian President Vladimir Putin announcing a "partial mobilization" of military reservists for his war in Ukraine, effective immediately. "Only citizens who are currently in the reserve will be subject to conscription, and above all, those who served in the armed forces have a certain military specialty and relevant experience," he said. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, speaking after Putin, said about 300,000 reservists will be called up.
Shoigu tried to "dampen down the fears of Russian men across the country about this sudden 'partial mobilization' to Ukraine," BBC Eastern Europe correspondent Sarah Rainsford writes. But despite his assurances, "the war that many Russians have been trying, largely, to ignore, has now been brought much closer to home for tens of thousands of them."
"Putin's gambit has a strong element of risk — it could backfire, by making the Ukraine war unpopular at home and hurting his own standing, and it exposes Russia's underlying military shortcomings" while providing no boost on the battlefield for months, The Associated Press notes. Russia's stock market took a dive after Putin's announcement. Russians started searching for ways to get out of the country as soon as rumors of the speech spread Tuesday.
Putin's mobilization bombshell capped a speech in which he blamed the West for his invasion, welcomed the upcoming "referendums" in four Russian-controlled regions of Ukraine, and threatened NATO countries with nuclear retaliation. "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 — this is not a bluff," he said. "Those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the prevailing winds can turn in their direction."
"The threat is clear," The Economist's Oliver Carroll tweeted. "'We will annex Ukrainian territories with bombs and referenda. If you try to take them back, we reserve the right to nuke you.' Fundamentally, doesn't change much on the battlefield. The aim, I'd suggest, is to test Western support of Ukraine."
"Putin's breaking of his own promise not to mobilize parts of his population" is an "admission that his invasion is failing," British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace responded. "No amount of threats and propaganda can hide the fact that Ukraine is winning this war" and "Russia is becoming a global pariah."