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Riot police detain demonstrators during a protest against mobilization in Moscow on Sept. 21. Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a partial mobilization of reservists in Russia, effective immediately.Alexander Zemlianichenko/The Associated Press

Russian President Vladimir Putin has doubled down on his war against Ukraine, ordering a partial mobilization of reservists and warning that his country is willing to use its nuclear arsenal if Russian territory is attacked.

Mr. Putin’s definition of what is and isn’t Russian territory is about to change to include large swaths of Ukraine. He used a televised speech on Wednesday to declare his support for stage-managed referendums that Russian-installed officials are planning to carry out later this week in the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

Though the Russian military only partly controls those four regions, the sham votes open the way for Mr. Putin to illegally annex the areas, as he did in 2014 after a similar process in Russian-occupied Crimea.

Mr. Putin’s speech followed weeks of battlefield defeats that have seen the Ukrainian army drive Russian forces completely out of the eastern Kharkiv region. Ukrainian officials have signalled their intent to continue the counteroffensive into parts of eastern and southern Ukraine that Russia still occupies. The snap referendums will raise the stakes by allowing the Kremlin to take new measures to defend soil it claims as its own.

“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,” Mr. Putin said in a prerecorded speech that was broadcast on all Russian TV channels Wednesday morning Moscow time. He was originally supposed to make a live address on Tuesday night, but the speech was held instead until all regions of Russia were awake.

Mr. Putin cast his country as being locked in a struggle – though he again avoided the use of the word “war” – with not just Ukraine, but with the “collective West.” He alleged that the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization were directing the Ukrainian military and said there was a plan to break Russia apart the same way the Soviet Union had collapsed into 15 separate countries at the end of the Cold War.

“In Washington, London and Brussels they are directly pushing Kyiv to shift the military action to our territory … they talk about how all available means should be used to destroy Russia on the battlefield with the ensuing loss of political, economic, cultural and all types of sovereignty and the total plundering of our country,” Mr. Putin said.

The dangerous logic behind Russia’s plans to formally annex occupied Ukrainian regions

He said the West had raised the spectre of “nuclear blackmail” – pointing to the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which is under Russian military control, and which went into a cold shutdown earlier this month. Russia and Ukraine accuse each other of risking a disaster by firing artillery shells near the plant. Mr. Putin said Western leaders had also spoken about possibly using nuclear weapons against his country, though no major figure has publicly made such comments.

“To those who allow themselves such statements regarding Russia, I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction, and in some components more modern than those of the NATO countries,” Mr. Putin said.

The speech swiftly drew sharp criticism from Ukraine and the West.

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York, U.S. President Joe Biden warned Mr. Putin that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Mr. Biden said the Russian leader had “made overt nuclear threats against Europe” with a “reckless disregard” for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He accused Mr. Putin of wanting to destroy Ukraine, invoking recently discovered mass graves and bodies of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians that showed signs of torture.

“This war is about extinguishing Ukraine’s right to exist as a state, plain and simple.” Mr. Biden said. “Wherever you live, whatever you believe, that should make your blood run cold.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky drew a standing ovation at the UN later in the day, saying he would “rule out” making concessions in exchange for Mr. Putin stopping his invasion. Mr. Zelensky said the only peace terms Ukraine would agree to would see Russian forces driven out of all Ukrainian territory, Moscow forced to pay Kyiv compensation and Ukraine’s security guaranteed by the international community.

“Russia wants war, it’s true, but Russia will not be able to stop the course of history. Mankind and the international world are stronger than one terrorist state. Russia will be forced to end this war, the war it has started,” Mr. Zelensky, clad in a military T-shirt, said in a prerecorded video address.

Opinion: Vladimir Putin is running out of options in Ukraine

The Ukrainian leader, who called for Russia to lose its veto at the UN Security Council, said Moscow should face “punishment” over war crimes during the invasion.

“Ukraine demands punishment for trying to steal our territory. Punishment for the murder of thousands of people. Punishment for the torture and humiliation of women and men,” he said.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the 30-country Western alliance would remain calm and not respond to Mr. Putin’s nuclear rhetoric. “The only way to end this war is to prove that President Putin will not win on the battlefield. When he realizes that, he has to sit down and negotiate a reasonable agreement with Ukraine.” Mr. Stoltenberg said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a tweet that Canada “strongly condemns” Russia’s actions and would continue to stand by Ukraine, which Canada has supported with almost $2-billion in financial assistance and another $626-million in military aid. “Putin’s military mobilization and nuclear threats represent an irresponsible and dangerous escalation in his illegal war,” Mr. Trudeau wrote on Twitter.

Russia orders partial military mobilization

Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced a partial

mobilization of military reservists, as Moscow continues

to lose ground in Ukraine

Military strength before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Sept. 21: Russia orders

partial mobilization of

300,000 reservists

900,000

Active personnel

(includes army,

navy and

air force)

Active personnel

196,600

Total

2,900,000

2 million

Total

1,096,600

Reserves –

people who have

completed their

military service*

Reserves

900,000

RUSSIA

UKRAINE

*All Russian men aged 18-27 are subject to conscription for one year of military service

Mobilization

Involves assembling

and preparing troops

for active service.

Russia’s call-up will

apply only to reserve

personnel with

previous military

experience

Deployment

Troops to be given

additional training

before being sent to

Ukraine. Mobilization

will not include

students and those

currently serving

as conscripts

Resources

Russia could in theory

call upon 25 million

people for military

service. Current partial

mobilization covers

about one per cent of

that number

graphic news: Source: BBC; Reuters

Russia orders partial military mobilization

Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced a partial

mobilization of military reservists, as Moscow continues

to lose ground in Ukraine

Military strength before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Sept. 21: Russia orders

partial mobilization of

300,000 reservists

900,000

Active personnel

(includes army,

navy and

air force)

Active personnel

196,600

Total

2,900,000

2 million

Total

1,096,600

Reserves –

people who have

completed their

military service*

Reserves

900,000

RUSSIA

UKRAINE

*All Russian men aged 18-27 are subject to conscription for one year of military service

Deployment

Troops to be given

additional training

before being sent to

Ukraine. Mobilization

will not include

students and those

currently serving

as conscripts

Mobilization

Involves assembling

and preparing troops

for active service.

Russia’s call-up will

apply only to reserve

personnel with

previous military

experience

Resources

Russia could in theory

call upon 25 million

people for military

service. Current partial

mobilization covers

about one per cent of

that number

graphic news: Source: BBC; Reuters

Russia orders partial military mobilization

Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced a partial mobilization of military reservists,

as Moscow continues to lose ground in Ukraine

Military strength before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Sept. 21: Russia orders

partial mobilization of

300,000 reservists

900,000

Active personnel

(includes army,

navy and air force)

Active personnel

196,600

Total

2,900,000

Total

1,096,600

2 million

Reserves –

people who have

completed their

military service*

Reserves

900,000

RUSSIA

UKRAINE

*All Russian men aged 18-27 are subject to conscription for one year of military service

Deployment

Troops to be given additional

trainingbefore being sent to

Ukraine. Mobilization will not

include students and those

currently serving as conscripts

Mobilization

Involves assembling and

preparing troops for active

service. Russia’s call-up will

apply only to reserve person-

nel with previous military

experience

Resources

Russia could in theory call

upon 25 million people for

military service. Current partial

mobilization covers about one

per cent of that number

graphic news: Source: BBC; Reuters

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a regularly scheduled news conference that “all countries’ legitimate security concerns should be taken seriously, and all efforts conducive to the peaceful settlement of the crisis should be supported.”

While China was initially seen as supportive of Russia’s justifications for invading Ukraine, Mr. Putin said Chinese President Xi Jinping had “questions and concerns” about the conflict when the two leaders met in Uzbekistan earlier this month.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow initially planned to call up 300,000 reservists who already had combat experience, from a much larger pool estimated at two million. A presidential order posted on the Kremlin website put no restriction on the number of people who could be called up.

Mr. Shoigu said Russia had 25 million potential conscripts, but said the military would not be dragging people unwillingly off the street, as happened during Russia’s two wars in Chechnya in the 1990s and early 2000s. However, Moscow residents said call-up notices were already being sent out on Wednesday.

“For sure people are worried because no one understands who can be among those to be mobilized,” said one draft-age Russian male, who said one of his co-workers had already received a summons from the military. The Globe and Mail is not naming the individual because of the possibility that he could face repercussions for speaking about the process.

World nuclear forces

As of January, 2022

= 10 warheads

Total 2022: 12,705

1986: 70,000

Russia: 5,977

Britain:

225

North

Korea:

20

U.S.: 5,428

Israel:

90

India: 160

France: 290

Pakistan: 165

China: 350

graphic news: Source: Stockholm International

Peace Research Institute

World nuclear forces

As of January, 2022

= 10 warheads

Total 2022: 12,705

1986: 70,000

Russia: 5,977

Britain:

225

North

Korea:

20

U.S.: 5,428

Israel:

90

India: 160

France: 290

Pakistan: 165

China: 350

graphic news: Source: Stockholm International

Peace Research Institute

World nuclear forces

= 10 warheads

As of January, 2022

Russia: 5,977

Total 2022: 12,705

1986: 70,000

Britain:

225

North

Korea:

20

U.S.: 5,428

Israel:

90

India: 160

France: 290

Pakistan: 165

China: 350

graphic news: Source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

Mr. Putin’s speech, and the passing of legislation allowing conscription, caused an immediate run on one-way tickets out of the country. Flights to Turkey, Georgia and Armenia – three countries that do not require visas for Russians – were sold out within minutes of Mr. Putin’s address.

“It’s a panic,” said Ilya Krasilshchik, a Russian exile who runs Help Desk Media in Georgia, a non-profit organization that was set up in June to help Russians leave the country.

Mr. Krasilshchik said his group received inquiries from 5,000 Russians over the entire summer. On Wednesday, he had 5,000 requests in less than seven hours.

Mr. Krasilshchik said each land border crossing had a separate chat group on Telegram where people were sharing information. On Wednesday, 56,000 people had joined the chat for the single land border crossing between Russia and Georgia. “When the war started, people were waiting for days to cross that border,” he said. “Right now, situation is worse. They feel much more insecure right now.”

The Kremlin is believed to have waited to declare a partial mobilization out of fears of backlash from Russian society, which broadly supports the war but has so far been largely unaffected by it. Immediately after Mr. Putin’s speech on Wednesday, the Vesna youth movement called for protests across Russia.

“Thousands of Russian men – fathers, brothers and husbands – will be thrown into the meat grinder of war. What will they die for? Why will mothers and children shed tears? For Putin’s palace? Now the war will truly come to every home and every family,” Vesna said in a statement posted to its Telegram channel.

Police experts examine the location of a Russian missile strike at a freight railway station in Kharkiv on Sept. 21.SERGEY BOBOK/AFP/Getty Images

Videos posted to social media Wednesday evening showed hundreds of people, most of them young, marching down St. Petersburg’s famed Nevsky Prospekt shouting “No war!” Later, Vesna said protesters had been surrounded by police in front of the city’s St. Isaac’s Cathedral and that many had been beaten with truncheons and dragged away.

A similar scene unfolded on Moscow’s Old Arbat pedestrian mall, where videos showed lines of helmeted riot police arresting protesters and passersby, seemingly at random.

According to OVD-Info, a Russian group that tracks political detentions, at least 1,312 people were arrested at anti-war rallies across 20 cities on Wednesday.

Criticizing the war, or “discrediting the armed forces,” was made a crime in Russia earlier this year. Convictions on certain charges can lead to sentences of up to 15 years in prison.

Mr. Putin’s bellicose speech took place after weeks of Russian military defeats in eastern Ukraine that have led to escalating criticism of the war at home.

On Sunday, Russia’s most famous pop star, 73-year-old Alla Pugacheva, requested that she be named a “foreign agent” after her husband, comedian Maxim Galkin, was given the designation after criticizing the war during a stand-up tour.

Ms. Pugacheva, who shot to superstardom during the Soviet era, has repeatedly received awards from Mr. Putin himself. She wrote on Instagram that she and her husband wanted Russia “to flourish in peace, with freedom of speech, and … an end to our boys dying for illusory goals, which have turned our country into a pariah state and made life a burden for our citizens.”

With reports from James Griffiths

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