More than 200 days after the start of the invasion of Ukraine and amid a major counter-offensive by Kiev forces, Russian President Vladimir Putin has decreed partial military mobilisation. "Citizens who are currently in reserve and first of all those who were in the army and have military experience will be recruited," Putin said, accusing the West of trying to "destroy, weaken and divide" Russia. The Russian leader also blamed the West for "pushing Ukraine to war". "The Ukrainian people have been turned into cannon fodder," he said.
During his speech, Putin also alluded to nuclear weapons, assuring that in the event of a "threat to the territorial integrity" of Russia, "all available means" will be used. "This is not a bluff," he warned. This threat comes just days before several referendums on annexation to Russia are due to be held in Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson and Zaporiyia. Therefore, should Moscow annex these territories, any attack against them will be considered an attack against Russia.
BREAKING: Putin declares partial mobilization, the decree has been signed.— Ragıp Soylu (@ragipsoylu) September 21, 2022
“Only citizens who are currently in the reserve and, above all, those who served in the Armed Forces, have certain military specialties and relevant experience, will be subject to conscription.“ pic.twitter.com/97TrW0EvWV
International reactions to the Kremlin's new order have been swift. German Vice Chancellor and Economics Minister Robert Habeck called Putin's decision "a wrong step" in Der Spiegel. Chancellor Olaf Scholz accused Russia of "imperialism" at the UN General Assembly. "Self-determination and political independence do not count for it," he said.
Also at the UN headquarters, French President Emmanuel Macron - who has held several talks with Putin since the start of the war - announced that referendums in Ukrainian territories "will not be recognised by the international community".
"This is imperialism, plain and simple."— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) September 21, 2022
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called on other countries to condemn Putin's decision to invade Ukraine https://t.co/tP4ctZ4pW1 pic.twitter.com/cOYx28fY0l
The UK has described the latest developments as "a worrying escalation" and called Putin's warnings "chilling". "It's a serious threat, but he's done it before," foreign secretary Gillian Keegan told the BBC. For Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, the mobilisation shows that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is "failing". "No amount of threats and propaganda can hide the fact that Ukraine is winning this war, the international community is united and Russia is becoming a global pariah," he said in a statement.
The US has also referred to Putin's threats, saying they "must be taken seriously". "It is irresponsible rhetoric from a nuclear power. But it's not atypical for how he's been talking for the last seven months and we take it very seriously," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told ABC. Meanwhile, the US ambassador to Ukraine has indicated that the partial military mobilisation is a sign of Moscow's "weakness".
Similarly, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podoliak said the war "does not go according to Russia's plan", according to Reuters. "It looks like an attempt to justify its own failure," he said.
For the EU, the decision to mobilise reservists is a move that shows "desperation" on the part of the Russian president. "Putin is not interested in peace, he is interested in escalating his war of aggression", said Peter Stano, spokesman for the head of EU diplomacy, Josep Borrell, at the European Commission's daily press conference, according to EFE.
The latest map update from @criticalthreats and @TheStudyofWar shows that Ukraine's counteroffensive has driven Russian forces almost entirely out of Kharkiv Oblast. pic.twitter.com/gGXLVPMlTH— Brady Africk (@bradyafr) September 12, 2022
There are also voices within the continent calling for calm after Putin's speech. "His rhetoric about nuclear weapons is something we have heard many times before," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told Reuters. "I would advise staying calm," he added.
China, one of Russia's main trading allies, has also spoken out about the military mobilisation and the latest developments in Ukraine. Foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin has called for "dialogue" and a "ceasefire" to find "a solution" to the war, reports AFP.
The announcement of Russia's military mobilisation - the first since World War II - has also affected the economy and energy markets. Following Putin's announcement, the Moscow Stock Exchange (MOEX) fell by as much as 10%, while shares in energy giants Rosneft and Gazprom fell by 12%. The Russian rouble also experienced its lowest level in more than two months, according to The Moscow Times.
Primeras manifestaciones contra la guerra en Novosibirsk, donde ya son las nueve de la noche. “¡No voy a morir por Putin ni por ti!”, grita un joven. La policía les recuerda que están en una concentración sin permiso. Al final se lo llevan detenido.— Xavier Colás (@xaviercolas) September 21, 2022
Vídeo: telegram-AST54Black pic.twitter.com/tepHiN1ApK
Russian citizens have predictably also reacted to the new decree. 300,000 troops will join the war in Ukraine according to Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, who also gave a new death toll among Russian troops. "Our losses in the special operation amounted to 5,937 people," Shoigu announced on Russia's Rossiya-24 channel.
A few hours after Putin's speech, all flights from Russia to foreign destinations that do not require visas for Russian citizens, such as Georgia, Turkey and Armenia, were sold out. Subsequently, direct flights from Moscow to Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan were also sold out.
Just had a look now, and all I can find are tickets to a couple of Central Asian cities - and they're selling out too. https://t.co/cDbHhCPiGS pic.twitter.com/y68YSVwvZW— Felix Light (@felix_light) September 21, 2022
This has led to fears of a possible border closure, although Russian Railways and Aeroflot Airlines announced that they had "not yet" received the order to ban men aged 18-65 from buying tickets, reports The Moscow Times. However, a Telegram channel has reported several cases of border guards banning military-age men from leaving the country.
The desperation among Russian men is also reflected in Google search rankings. "How to get out of Russia" or "how to break an arm" are among the most typed phrases by Russians hours before and after Putin's speech.