Putin calls on reservists, warns that Russia will use ‘all means’ for defense

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President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial military mobilization and vowed Wednesday to use “all available means” to protect Russian territory after Moscow-occupied regions of Ukraine suddenly announced annexation referendums.

The votes, already labeled a “sham” by Kiev and the West, will dramatically increase the stakes in Ukraine’s seven-month-old conflict by giving Moscow the opportunity to accuse Ukrainian troops of attacking its own territory.

Four Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine — Donetsk and Lugansk to the east and Kherson and Zaporizhia to the south — said Tuesday they will vote for five days from Friday.

In a pre-recorded address to the nation early Wednesday, Putin accused the West of trying to “destroy” his country through his support of Kiev, saying that Russia should support those in Ukraine who wanted to “determine their own future.”

The Russian leader announced a partial military mobilization, with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu telling state television that some 300,000 reservists would be called up.

– ‘No bluff’ –

“If 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.

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“Those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the wind can also turn in their direction,” Putin added.

Putin said that by supporting Ukraine, the West was trying to “weaken, divide and eventually destroy our country”, while Shoigu said Moscow “was fighting not so much against Ukraine as against the collective West” in Ukraine.

The sudden wave of moves from Moscow this week came with Russian forces in Ukraine facing their greatest challenge since the start of the conflict.

In a rare admission of military losses from Moscow, Shoigu said 5,937 Russian soldiers had died in Ukraine on Wednesday since the launch of the military intervention in February.

A large-scale Ukrainian counter-offensive in recent weeks has seen Kiev’s forces recapture hundreds of towns and villages that had been under Russian control for months.

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The referenda follow a pattern first established in 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula after a similar vote.

As in 2014, Washington, Berlin and Paris condemned the latest referendums and said the international community would never recognize the results.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said they were a “sham”, French President Emmanuel Macron called them a “travesty”, and White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said they were “an affront to the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

“Sham referendums and mobilization are signs of weakness, of Russian failure,” US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink said on Twitter.

“I thank all of Ukraine’s friends and partners for their massive and strong condemnation of Russia’s intentions to organize even more pseudo-referendums,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in response.

– Strike at nuclear power plant –

Kiev said the referendums were futile and promised to “eliminate” Russia’s threats, saying its troops would continue to retake territory regardless of what Moscow or its proxies announced.

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Political analyst Tatiana Stanovaya said the vote announcements were a direct result of the success of Ukraine’s eastern counter-offensive.

“Putin does not want to win this war on the battlefield. Putin wants to force Kiev to surrender without a fight,” she said.

Ukrainian nuclear operator Energoatom, meanwhile, accused Russia of attacking the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine again.

The strike damaged a power line, shutting down several transformers of the plant’s reactor number six and forcing a brief start of emergency generators, Energoatom said.

“Even the presence of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) does not stop the Russians,” it said, calling on the agency for “resolute action” against Moscow.

Europe’s largest nuclear facility, located on Russian territory, has become a hot spot of concern after tight-knit claims of attacks there.

drill/ymm

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