Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Putin Orders Draft of Reservists for War in Ukraine, Threatens Nuclear Response

A big day in great power politics.

At the Wall Street Journal, "The Russian president’s move sought to bolster his faltering military, while China urged the Kremlin to de-escalate":

MOSCOW—Russian President Vladimir Putin raised the threat of a nuclear response in the conflict and ordered reservists to mobilize, an escalation of the war in Ukraine as Moscow seeks to buttress its army’s flagging manpower and regain the offensive following stinging losses on the battlefield.

“Russia will use all the instruments at its disposal to counter a threat against its territorial integrity—this is not a bluff,” Mr. Putin said in a national address that blamed the West for the conflict in Ukraine, where he said his troops were facing the best of Western troops and weapons.

The speech is the clearest sign yet that seven months into the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II, Russia is unable to counter Ukraine and the West, which has largely united in the face of the Russian invasion. It also raises the stakes for Ukraine’s backers, which have sent billions of dollars of military aid since the beginning of the conflict.

Without providing evidence, Mr. Putin said top officials at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization had said that it would be acceptable to carry out nuclear strikes on Russia. He also blamed Ukraine for strikes against the nuclear-power plant in the Zaporizhzhia region, which has been occupied by Russian troops since near the start of the war.

“To those who allow themselves such statements, I would like to remind them, Russia also has many types of weapons of destruction, the components of which in some cases are more modern than those of the countries of NATO,” said Mr. Putin.

In his speech, Mr. Putin cast the partial mobilization—Russia’s first since World War II—as a response to what he called a decadeslong Western plot to break up Russia. He repeated false accusations that the West had stirred rebellion inside the country’s borders, armed terrorist rebels in the Muslim-dominated south, arranged a coup in Ukraine in 2014 and transformed Ukraine into an “anti-Russian bridgehead, turning the Ukrainians themselves into cannon fodder.”

The bellicose address to the nation comes after officials in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine on Tuesday announced plans for Russia to annex four regions in the country’s east and south. The move would allow Mr. Putin to describe a Ukrainian offensive on that territory as tantamount to an attack on Russia.

“He has been pushed into a corner and his only hope is to demonstrate resolve and readiness for escalation to compel the Ukrainians to sit down at the negotiating table,” said Abbas Gallyamov, a Russian political analyst and a former speech writer for Mr. Putin. “I don’t think he believes in victory any longer. He wants to show Ukrainians that victory will be too expensive and it’s better to negotiate.”

Shortly after Mr. Putin’s speech, China urged the Kremlin to de-escalate.

“We call on the parties concerned to achieve a cease-fire and an end to the war through dialogue and negotiation, and find a way to take into account the legitimate security concerns of all parties as soon as possible,” said Wang Wenbin, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry. “We also hope that the international community will create conditions and space for this.”

Western leaders expressed their resolve to continue supporting Ukraine despite Mr. Putin’s threat.

The partial mobilization and annexation of parts of Ukraine are “an admission that [Mr. Putin’s] invasion is failing,” U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said in a tweet Wednesday. “No amount of threats and propaganda can hide the fact that Ukraine is winning this war, the international community are united and Russia is becoming a global pariah.”

Mr. Putin has sought to avoid a full mobilization of troops, fearing that the broad support for the war could become fragile once average Russians are forced to serve.

While both state-run and independent polls show that most Russians support the war, the enthusiasm has been more subdued than eight years ago, when Mr. Putin ignited the conflict with Ukraine by seizing the southern peninsula of Crimea and announcing its annexation to great fanfare in a Kremlin ceremony.

In its mobilization efforts, the Kremlin has so far taken a calibrated approach, avoiding a widespread call-up that would be a shock to Russian society.

The decision, however, is likely to silence nationalist critics of Mr. Putin’s approach, which has seen him stop short of declaring war.

“Nuclear signaling is directed to the West and Ukraine, but it’s also meant to satisfy radical domestic critiques that are turning into a serious opposition,” said Dmitry Adamsky, a Russian expert at the School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Reichman University in Herzliya, Israel...