Vladimir Putin’s threats to the West and new military mobilisation are a “worrying escalation” of the Ukraine crisis, the UK believes.
The Russian president used a televised address to issue a nuclear threat, warning that his country would use all means at its disposal to protect its territory, adding: “It’s not a bluff.”
Russia’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu said 300,000 reservists will be mobilised as Moscow seeks to reverse setbacks which have seen Kyiv’s forces liberate previously occupied territory in parts of Ukraine.
Mr Putin accused the West of “nuclear blackmail” and claimed “high-ranking representatives of the leading Nato states” had talked about the possibility of using weapons of mass destruction against Russia.
“To those who allow themselves such statements regarding Russia, I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction,” Mr Putin said.
Moscow-controlled regions in eastern and southern Ukraine are set to hold referendums on becoming parts of Russia, which could give the Kremlin the pretext for a wider war because Mr Putin would be able to claim parts of his state were being attacked.
Foreign Office minister Gillian Keegan questioned whether Mr Putin was “in control”.
Watched Putin’s speech. He still refuses to understand Ukraine. Partial mobilisation and sham referenda don’t change that essential weakness.
— Melinda Simmons (@MelSimmonsFCDO) September 21, 2022
She told Sky News: “Some of the language there was quite concerning at the end and obviously we would urge for calm.”
The Chichester MP also said: “It’s something that we should take very seriously because, you know, we’re not in control.
“I’m not sure he’s in control either, really. I mean, this is obviously an escalation and, of course, for the Russian people now they will be conscripted into this war.”
Melinda Simmons, the UK’s ambassador to Ukraine, tweeted: “Watched Putin’s speech. He still refuses to understand Ukraine.
Putin is accepting greater political risk by undermining the fiction that Russia is neither in a war nor a national crisis in the hope of generating more combat power.
— Ministry of Defence 🇬🇧 (@DefenceHQ) September 21, 2022
“Partial mobilisation and sham referenda don’t change that essential weakness.”
A British defence intelligence update suggested Mr Putin was being forced to undermine his own public position that the war in Ukraine was a “special military operation” rather than a full-scale conflict.
“These new measures have highly likely been brought forwards due to public criticism and mark a further development in Russia’s strategy,” the Ministry of Defence said.
“Putin is accepting greater political risk by undermining the fiction that Russia is neither in a war nor a national crisis in the hope of generating more combat power.”