March 21, 2023

Speaking from a wood-paneled operations room, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued another stark warning to the West on Wednesday after his country’s military suffered a series of embarrassing setbacks in Ukraine.

Putin announced partial solidarity with the conservatives That could increase the number of available troops to 300,000 and provide a thinly veiled threat of Moscow’s willingness to use nuclear weapons.

Here’s a look at the key takeaways from that speech and Western reactions.

Why Putin threatened now?

Days after Putin’s military call-up and possible nuclear threat, the Ukrainian army pulled off a surprise counteroffensive to retake territory around Kharkiv, its second-largest city in the east.

“I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction … and when the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, in order to protect Russia and our people, we must use all the means at our disposal,” Putin said. In a televised address, he added, staring straight into the camera: “It’s not a bluff.”

But his seven-minute speech was also broadcast as Russia prepares to hold referendums in its occupied Ukrainian territories, including areas held by Moscow-backed separatist forces since the outbreak of war in 2014. Voting began on Friday and has already been ruled invalid. by Ukraine and its Western allies.

Pledge to have a western course

President Joe Biden led Western condemnation of Putin’s comments At the UN General Assembly, Moscow’s aggression should be matched by the continued determination of Western countries to support Ukraine.

“We will stand in solidarity against Russian aggression. period,” he said, condemning Moscow’s plans to make “open nuclear threats against Europe” alongside Putin’s “sham” referendum in Ukraine.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg echoed Biden’s theme. “This is a further escalation in Putin’s war. The international community must condemn this blatant violation of international law and step up support for Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said in a tweet.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell added: “The threat of nuclear weapons is unacceptable and a real danger to all… World peace is under threat.”

There is no change in Ukraine’s goals

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his country was committed to regaining all its sovereign territory, describing Putin’s comments as a demonstration of Russia’s battlefield debacle.

“We will work step by step according to our plan. I am sure that we will liberate our territory,” Zelensky said in a TV interview with German newspaper Bild.

A spokesman for Zelensky called it a “huge tragedy” for the Russian people. In a statement to The Associated Press, Sergei Nikiforov said conscripts sent to Ukraine’s front lines would face the same fate as ill-prepared Russian forces rejected in their assault on Kiev in the early days of the war.

“This is a recognition of the inability of the Russian professional army, which has failed in all its tasks,” Nikiforov said.

How will the Russians respond?

Despite the Kremlin’s tight grip on Russian media, some criticism of the war in Ukraine has circulated in Russia since the recent troop withdrawal.

Smaller anti-war protests were held in more than 30 Russian cities on Wednesday, with more than 530 protesters arrested, including 200 in St. Petersburg and 150 in Moscow, according to monitoring group OVD-Info.

Russian political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin argued that Putin’s mobilization would make Russia’s military failure in the war more personal to many Russians.

“Until recently (Russians participated) happily, sitting on their couches (watching TV). And now the war has come home to them,” he told the AP. “People will avoid these gatherings by any means possible, bribe their way out of these gatherings, leave the country.”

Russian media on Wednesday reported a run on people buying airline tickets to leave the country. Ticket prices are increasing.


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