1 of 2 | Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a televised address on Wednesday in Veliky Novgorod, Russia. He announced plans to mobilize up to 300,000 military reservists to fight in Ukraine after Russian forces lost ground. Photo by Kremlin POOL/ UPI | License Photo
Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday announced a "partial mobilization" of reservists to bolster Moscow's military ranks in Ukraine, saying the move is necessary "to protect our motherland" from the West.
Putin said in a rare national address that he signed a decree conscripting reservists and those with military experience into the military. Those who are conscripted will undergo additional military training before they're deployed.
Putin announced the conscription drive while accusing the West of having crossed "all the lines" with an "aggressive anti-Russian policy."
"We constantly hear threats against our country, our people," he said in his address. "Some irresponsible politicians in the West are doing more than just speaking about their plans to organize the supply of long-range offensive weapons to Ukraine -- systems that allow strikes on Crimea and other regions of Russia."
The partial mobilization of Russian troops, which is believed to be the country's first since World War II, is an acknowledgement from the Kremlin that Russia's war in Ukraine isn't going to plan. The fighting began with an invasion in February and thousands of Russian troops have been killed over the past seven months. A Ukrainian counteroffensive this month has retaken thousands of square miles of Russian-held territory.
In his address, Putin directly accused the United States, Britain, the European Union and Ukraine of attempting to push hostilities into Russia.
"Without concealing, they say that Russia must be defeated by all means on the battlefield with the subsequent deprivation of political, economic, cultural, and any other sovereignty, with the complete looting of our country," he said.
He also accused the countries of nuclear blackmail, a charge that has been often thrown at Moscow over its stationing of troops at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, and hinted that Russia would consider using nuclear weapons.
"To those who allow themselves such statements against Russia, I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction, and some components are more modern than those of the NATO countries," he said.
"And at the threat to the territorial integrity of our country, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people. It's not a bluff."
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said as many as 300,000 Russian reservists will be called up for the mobilization, according to state-run news agency TASS.
"We will destroy everyone who comes to our land with weapons, whether voluntarily or due to mobilization," said Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Army Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi in a statement in response.
Putin invaded Ukraine Feb. 24 in what he described as a "special military operation" to de-Nazify and demilitarize Ukraine. Democratic countries called it an illegal incursion that threatened the sovereignty of Kyiv and responded with sanctions and other punitive measures while arming the Ukrainian military in its fight.
The mobilization of troops reflects the Kremlin's struggle on the battlefield, the unpopularity of the war in Russia and Putin's weakness, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
"President Putin is not operating from a position of strength; rather, this is another sign of his failing mission," the United States' top diplomat said in a statement. "We have every confidence that the people of Ukraine will continue to demonstrate resolve and bravery on the battlefield in support of their sovereignty and independence."
British intelligence has said that Russian forces in Ukraine continue to experience personnel shortages and that on Tuesday the Russian Duma, the lower house of its federal assembly, amended a law to punish defaulting troops.
"This is likely intended to limit the number of desertions and refusals and thereby to mitigate some of the immediate pressures," the Defense Intelligence update said.
The announcement also comes after four regions in south and east Ukraine are set to hold referendums later this week on whether to become part of Russia.
The referendums will be held in the Luhansk, Kherson, Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions, which are home to substantial pro-Russia separatist populations and are under the control of Russia proxy officials. The referendums are similar to one that Russia held before it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
The United States has been warning for months that the Kremlin might hold "sham" referendums that would include disinformation campaigns, voter falsification and fraud for Russia to take more territory.
"Sham referenda and mobilization are signs of weakness, or Russian failure," U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink said in a statement. "The United States will never recognize Russia's claim to purportedly annexed Ukrainian territory, and we will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes."
A woman eats food given to her by volunteers at a food delivery station run by a Hare Krishna group in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on May 20, 2022. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo