Russian President Vladimir Putin mobilized hundreds of thousands of reservists on Wednesday to relaunch his offensive in Ukraine and again threatened to resort to nuclear weapons, something the United States “takes seriously.”
This mobilization of reservists generated improvised demonstrations in at least 38 Russian cities and the arrest of at least 1,332 people. These are the largest demonstrations in Russia since those that followed the announcement of Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine in February.
For his part, US President Joe Biden, from the rostrum of the United Nations General Assembly, directly attacked Russia, a permanent member of the Security Council, saying that it “blatantly violated” UN principles.
Biden also criticized Putin for a veiled threat to resort to nuclear weapons. The US president warned that “a nuclear war cannot be won and should never be fought.”
Putin said hours earlier in a speech to the nation that he was ready to use “all means” in his arsenal against the West, which he accused of wanting to “destroy” Russia. “It’s not a bluff,” he assured.
The mobilization announced by Putin was described in Europe as an “admission of weakness” by Moscow, whose army has suffered military setbacks against Ukrainian forces.
The foreign ministers of the European Union (EU) would meet urgently on Wednesday in New York on the subject of Ukraine. New sanctions would be discussed, according to head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell.
Avoiding announcing a general mobilization, feared by millions of Russians, Putin declared a “partial” measure deemed “urgent and necessary”.
According to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, 300,000 reservists will be called up at first.
In one sign of concern among Russians, airline websites were clogged after Putin’s speech and an online petition against the mobilization has already collected 230,000 signatures.
More than 1,300 people were arrested in the demonstrations against Putin’s reservist call, according to OVD-Info, an organization specializing in arrest counts.
In Moscow, AFP journalists witnessed at least 50 arrests on one of the main roads of the Russian capital. In St. Petersburg, Russia’s second city, an entire bus of detained people was driven by the Police.
The demonstrators shouted: “No to war!”, “No to mobilization!”. “Everyone is afraid. I am for peace and I don’t want to have to shoot. But it is very dangerous to go out now, otherwise there would be a lot more people,” explained Vassili Fedorov, a protester in St. Petersburg.
Before announcing the partial mobilization, annexation “referendums” were announced on Tuesday in the Moscow-controlled regions of Ukraine, to be held from September 23 to 27.
The ballots will take place in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, which form the Donbas (east) as well as the areas of Kherson and Zaporizhia, in the south.