(Reuters) – Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Wednesday that President Vladimir Putin’s decree on partial mobilisation would see 300,000 additional personnel called up to serve in Russia’s military campaign in Ukraine.
In an interview with Russian state television, Shoigu said that students and those who served as conscripts would not be called up, and that the majority of Russia’s millions-strong reserves would not be drafted.
President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered Russia’s first mobilisation since World War Two, warning the West that if it continued what he called its “nuclear blackmail” that Moscow would respond with the might of all its vast arsenal.
“If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will use all available means to protect our people – this is not a bluff,” Putin said in a televised address to the nation, adding Russia had “lots of weapons to reply”.
Russia’s defence minister said the partial mobilisation will see 300,000 reserves called and up would apply to those with previous military experience.
Putin’s partial mobilisation significantly escalates the conflict over Ukraine and comes as Russia battles a Ukrainian counter-offensive that has forced its troops to retreat and surrender some occupied territory.
Putin said the partial military mobilisation of its 2 million-strong military reserves was to defend Russia and its territories, claiming the West did not want peace in Ukraine.
Putin’s speech was a worrying escalation and the threats he made in it must be taken seriously, British foreign office minister Gillian Keegan told Sky News.
“Clearly it’s something that we should take very seriously because, you know, we’re not in control – I’m not sure he’s in control either, really. This is obviously an escalation,” she said.
Russia’s rouble fell and global oil prices surged after Putin’s comments. MKTS/GLOB The war has already caused a spike in fuel and food prices around the world.
Putin restated his aim was to “liberate” east Ukraine’s Donbas industrial heartland region and that most people in the region did not want to return to what he called the “yoke” of Ukraine.
Russia already considers Luhansk and Donetsk, which together make up the Donbas region Moscow partially occupied in 2014, to be independent states. Ukraine and the West consider all parts of Ukraine held by Russian forces to be illegally occupied.
Russia now holds about 60% of Donetsk and had captured nearly all of Luhansk by July after slow advances during months of intense fighting.
Those gains are now under threat after Russian forces were driven from neighbouring Kharkiv province this month, losing control of their main supply lines for much of the Donetsk and Luhansk front lines.
Ahead of Putin’s speech, in an apparently coordinated move on Tuesday, Moscow-installed leaders in occupied areas of four Ukrainian regions announced plans to hold referendums on joining Russia in coming days.
QUOTES: Russian President Vladimir Putin announces ‘partial mobilisation’
Putin spoke in Russian. The quotes below were translated into English by Reuters.
FIGHTING THE WEST
“Today our armed forces are operating across a frontline that exceeds 1,000 km, opposing not only neo-Nazi formations but the entire military machine of the collective West.”
“In such a situation, I consider it necessary to make the following decision, which is fully appropriate to threats we face. Namely, in order to protect our motherland, its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to ensure the safety of our people and people in the liberated territories, I consider it necessary to support the proposal of the defence ministry and the General Staff to conduct a partial mobilisation in the Russian federation.”
“We are talking about partial mobilisation. That is, only citizens who are currently in the reserves and, above all, those who have served in the armed forces, have military skills and relevant experience. Only they will be subject to conscription.”
“Parliaments in the People’s Republics of the Donbas as well as the civil-military administrations in Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions have decided to hold referendums on the future of the territories and have appealed to Russia to support such a step. We will do everything to ensure safe conditions to hold the referendums, so that people can express their will.
“We will support the decision on their future, which will be made by the majority of residents in the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.”
WEST TRYING TO ‘DESTROY’ RUSSIA
“The purpose of this West is to weaken, divide and ultimately destroy our country. They are already saying that in 1991 they were able to break up the Soviet Union, and now the time has come for Russia itself, that it should disintegrate. And they have been planning it for a long time.”