Putin Announces Major War Escalation

Some flights out of Russia sell out after it's announced 300K reservists will be called up
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 21, 2022 7:05 AM CDT
Putin Announces Major War Escalation
In this image released by the Russian Presidential Press Service, Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the nation in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022.   (Russian Presidential Press Service via AP)

Following a retreat in Ukraine's northeast, Russia on Wednesday signaled the "biggest escalation" of its war in the country since the Feb. 24 invasion, per Reuters. President Vladimir Putin approved a plan to annex 15% of Ukraine's territory, called up 300,000 reservists, and toyed with the idea of a nuclear conflict, warning the West that he was ready to use nuclear weapons to defend the homeland. "If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will without doubt use all available means to protect Russia and our people. This is not a bluff," the 69-year-old said in a rare televised address to the nation. In the eyes of Putin, Russia's territory could soon include the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine’s east, Kherson in the south, and Zaporizhzhia in the southeast.

Putin said Russia would support the result of referendums in those areas, which the West and Ukraine see as a fraud. He also said the West had "crossed every line" in encouraging Ukraine to push military operations into Russia, with the goal to "weaken, divide, and eventually destroy" the country. "Those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the weathervane can turn and point towards them," he added. Putin is essentially betting that the risk of direct confrontation between NATO and Russia—"a step towards World War Three"—will cause the West to abandon Ukraine, per Reuters. Arguing that Russian soldiers are already facing the full force of the "collective West," Putin signed a decree partially mobilizing Russia's reserves for the first time since World War II, effective immediately.

Estimates suggest there are 200,000 Russian troops. Russia's defense minister, Sergei Shoigu—who said 6,000 troops have been lost in Ukraine, though analysts suggest the true number is in the tens of thousands—said another 300,000 people with military experience would be called up, but no students or conscripts would be sent to combat, per the New York Times. Amid skepticism of that claim and fears that men of fighting age would be banned from leaving, one-way flights out of Russia were selling out Wednesday, per Reuters. A day earlier, Russia's parliament imposed criminal penalties on soldiers who desert, surrender, or refuse to follow orders during mobilization. An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky predicted the moves would only speed "the collapse" of Putin's Russia, per the Times. (Read more Russia-Ukraine conflict stories.)

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