Russian president threatens west with nuclear retaliation, saying ‘we will use all the means at our disposal’

President Putin has announced a partial mobilisation in Russia in a significant escalation that places the country’s people and economy on a wartime footing.

The president also threatened nuclear retaliation, saying that Russia had “lots of weapons to reply” to what he called western threats on Russian territory and added that he was not bluffing.

In a highly anticipated televised address, Putin said the “partial mobilisation” was a direct response to the dangers posed by the west, which “wants to destroy our country”, and claimed the west had tried to “turn Ukraine’s people into cannon fodder”.

“Military service will apply only to citizens who are currently in the reserve, especially those who have served in the armed forces, have certain military professions and relevant experience,” he said.

Shortly after Putin’s announcement, the country’s defence ministry, Sergei Shoigu, said 300,000 Russians would be called up as part of the mobilisation that will apply to “those with previous military experience”.

“These are not people who’ve never seen or heard anything about the army,” he said, adding that students can “keep going to class”.

According to the decree signed by Putin on Wednesday, the contracts of soldiers fighting in Ukraine will also be extended until the end of the partial mobilisation period.

The Russian leader’s televised address to the nation comes a day after Russian-controlled regions in eastern and southern Ukraine announced plans to hold “referendums” this weekend on becoming part of Russia. Kremlin’s plans to annex four regions are likely to further escalate the war following Ukrainian recent successes on the battlefield.

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“To those who allow themselves such statements regarding Russia, I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction, and for separate components and more modern than those of Nato countries and 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,” Putin said.

He added: “It’s not a bluff.”

The Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Putin’s decision to announce a partial mobilisation was a “predictable step” that highlights that the war was not going according to the Kremlin’s plan.

Putin’s speech was also swiftly condemned by western leaders on Wednesday. The British Foreign Office minister Gillian Keegan called the Russian president’s speech an “obvious escalation”.

“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,” Keegan told Sky News.

Germany’s vice-chancellor, Robert Habeck, said Russia’s decision to announce a partial mobilisation was “another bad and wrong step from Russia”.

Putin’s national address was planned initially for Tuesday evening, hours after the four Ukrainian regions announced “referendums” on joining Russia. However, the speech was postponed without explanation, causing a flurry of speculation.

Some observers proposed that the Kremlin had changed its mind on its decision to announce a mobilisation, while others pointed to Putin’s habit of keeping his audience waiting. Those close to the Kremlin, however, said the decision to postpone the speech indicated Putin was planning a major escalation.

“The longer the announced appearance of President Putin is delayed, the more serious the announcements in it will be,” the pro-Kremlin analyst Sergei Markov wrote on his Telegram late on Tuesday.

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Putin in his speech also said he would support the votes scheduled for this weekend to join Russia in the parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions that are under its control.

The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, slammed Russian plans to stage referendums in the occupied regions as a “noise” and thanked Ukraine’s allies for denouncing the votes.

In his nightly address, Zelenskiy said Russia’s plans to hold referendums would not change Ukraine’s plans to retake areas occupied by Russian forces.

“The situation on the frontline clearly indicates that the initiative belongs to Ukraine,” he said. “Our positions do not change because of the noise or any announcements somewhere. And we enjoy the full support of our partners in this.”

The Kremlin is likely to closely orchestrate the upcoming votes in the parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions that are currently under its control which are but certain to go Moscow’s way.

Western leaders quickly slammed the votes as illegitimate and have vouched to continue their military support of Ukraine.

“I thank all friends and partners of Ukraine for today’s mass principled firm condemnation of Russia’s attempts to stage new sham referenda,” Zelenskiy said.

The partial mobilisation announced by Putin will widely be seen as a major admission of the Kremlin’s military failures in Ukraine. Shoigu in his speech admitted that conditions in Ukraine were “difficult”, saying Russia was at war with “the collective west”.

Shoigu on Wednesday also gave the first official estimate of Russia’s battlefield losses since late March, announcing that 5,937 Russian soldiers had been killed in Ukraine since the start of the fighting. Western intelligence as well as independent media reports suggest the real figure is significantly higher, with up to 80,000 Russian soldiers been killed or wounded since the start of the war.

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