Vladimir Putin today issued a chilling new threat to use nuclear weapons against the West, telling world leaders to back off Ukraine while warning: ‘I’m not bluffing’.
The desperate despot also ordered the mobilisation of 300,000 military reserves – a first in Russia since the Second World War – and gave the go-ahead for referendums to be held in occupied areas of Ukraine that would make them a part of Russia, in the Kremlin’s eyes at least.
He vowed to use ‘all means’ to defend the regions, saying: ‘If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will use all available means to protect Russia and our people – this is not a bluff… I shall stress – by all means available to us. Those trying to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the tables can turn on them.’
Putin’s gambit comes after Ukraine routed a large part of the Russian army last week, leaving him backed into a corner of his own making and facing the possible collapse of his so-called ‘special military operation’.
But rather than back down, the Russian leader has instead chosen to double down and hold the free world to ransom – putting Russia and its huge nuclear arsenal on direct collision course with Ukraine and its allies, who have already vowed not to accept the results of ‘sham’ referendums or to stop liberating occupied territory.
Speaking ahead of Putin’s speech last night, President Zelensky dismissed ‘noise’ from Russia and said it will not alter Ukraine’s resolve. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba likewise vowed: ‘The Russians can do whatever they want. It will not change anything. Ukraine has every right to liberate its territories and will keep liberating them whatever Russia has to say.’
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodrymyr Zelensky, spoke out this morning after Putin’s announcement – calling it ‘predictable’ and saying it show the war is not going to plan. President Joe Biden is expected to give a speech to the UN later today when he will rally Ukraine’s allies to stay the course.
Podolyak said mobilisation will prove extremely unpopular within Russia, and accused Putin of trying to shift the blame for starting an ‘unprovoked war’ and crashing the economy on to the West.
It is thought the mobilisation will press around 300,000 people into the Russian army – around twice the size of the force that Putin invaded with.
But it is unclear when exactly these men will become available, and the move will do nothing to solve Russia’s chronic lack of equipment, supplies and other logistical issues that have spelled disaster for its invasion so-far.
Putin and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu both stressed that the mobilisation is only partial, and will not affect ordinary citizens, conscripts or students.
Those called up to service – a move that will start today – will be those with experience of service and combat, they insisted.
However, the move spooked ordinary Russians with a spike in searches for plane tickets shortly after the announcement as the cost of one-way flights soared to tens of thousands of dollars each.
Putin had resisted declaring any kind of mobilistion until now, apparently fearing backlash from Russians who may have been supporting his ‘special military operation’ only because they had nothing to lose.
But the Russian leader dramatically changed tack under pressure from allies, propagandists and hardliners after another humiliating military defeat near Kharkiv last week which had sparked calls for him to resign.
Shoigu also gave a rare update on Russian casualty figures in his speech, preposterously claiming that only 6,000 Kremlin troops had been killed.
Ukrainian losses, he said, were ten times that: 61,000 dead and 49,000 wounded.
In a speech delayed for 13 hours overnight – triggering wishful rumours of a coup inside the Kremlin – Putin delivered his twisted interpretation of the war to date.
He attempted to rewrite history to paint the West and NATO as the aggressor – saying they had pushed Ukraine into a war with Russia, despite ordering an invasion of the country himself just seven months ago.
Ukraine began the war back in 2014, he said – referring to the date of Russia’s last invasion – when the ‘Nazi’ regime in Kyiv had turned the military on its own civilians in an attempted genocide following what he called a ‘coup’ to oust the country’s last pro-Kremlin leader.
In Putin’s retelling, the West ‘refused a peaceful solution’ and instead began rearming Ukraine for an attack on the Donbas – leaving him with no choice but to launch a pre-emptive war to protect people.
He falsely claimed that peace negotiations with Ukraine were deliberately undermined by Kyiv’s bloody-minded Western allies, who then began training and equipping its armed forces with the goal of destroying Russia.
Attacks on schools and hospitals are not the work of the Russian army, as reams of evidence suggests, but are in fact the work of Ukrainian Nazis and nationalists, he said.
Facing these threats, Putin said he has no choice but to accept the requests of his puppet leaders in occupied Ukraine to hold referendums on joining Russia, and no choice but to call up his military reserves.
He added: ‘In its aggressive anti-Russian policies, the West has crossed all lines… There are plans in Washington and Brussels to move the military action on to Russian territory.
‘They are not just talking about Russia being destroyed on the battlefield, they are talking about political, cultural, and all other types of sovereignty with complete pillage. Now they’re talking about nuclear blackmail.
‘Those who make such statements will be reminded that our country also has various weapons of destruction and with regard to certain components they are even more modern than the NATO ones.
‘If there is any threat to the territorial integrity of our country and to protect our people we will certainly use all means available to us. I’m not bluffing.
‘Russia citizens can be certain that the territorial integrity of our motherland, our independence and security will be assured. I shall stress – by all means available to us
‘And those trying to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the tables can turn on them
‘In our historic tradition our people had it in their destiny to stop those how are trying to subjugate our motherland and it will happen now.’
The allegations are an almost exact inversion of everything Russia has been accused of doing, and is a common trope of Kremlin propaganda.
Referendums will begin this week into next week, according to Russia occupation authorities, with the results expected to be announced shortly after.
Police and officials will go door-to-door to ensure people cast their votes, they said, leaving few doubts about which way they will be voting.
Ballot boxes will also be set up inside Russia itself, ostensibly to allow those who have already fled those regions a chance to cast a vote – but in all likelihood will be stuffed with fake ballots.
Early ‘polling’ released by Russian state media last night showed – unsurprisingly – that more than 80 per cent of people in the four regions want to join Russia.
In Donetsk and Luhansk – the focus of Putin’s war effort – the reported figure was over 90 per cent.