“When the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal — this is not a bluff,” Putin said in the speech, aired live on state television this morning.
His comments came after Moscow-installed officials in the Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhya regions of Ukraine said they would stage referendums in the coming days on splitting away from Ukraine and joining Russia.
Terrified Russians simultaneously took to the streets in protest against being sent to the front lines, and last night many more joined the throng. More than 1,500 demonstrators holding “no to mobilisation” signs and chanting anti-war slogans were dragged away by armed police trying to stamp out the unrest across the country, while others desperately try to flee the country by snapping up one-way tickets from Moscow.
The disobedience and the exodus are driven by fears that Russia’s borders could soon close or that a broader call-up might send many men of fighting age to the war after Putin ordered the call-up of 300,000 military reserves today – a first in Russia since the Second World War.
Today’s protests began in Siberia, with demonstrators risking jail under draconian laws forbidding criticism of the armed forces, and more unrest is expected to spread to Moscow and St Petersburg.
One protester was hauled into detention in Novosibirsk after shouting at police and FSB officers at a rally: ‘I am not going to die for Putin, or for you!’
He told the armed law enforcement: ‘You know too well everything is f…..d up!’
The man was loudly clapped by other protesters at the anti-war rally in Siberia’s unofficial capital police officer bellowed at him: ‘I demand you to stop this illegal activity.’
A protester’s voice is heard saying ‘What are you doing?’ as he is detained, while another asks: ‘Are you animals?’
One more voice said: ‘They are [protesting] so as not to be sent there [to the war in Ukraine].’
Anger has also erupted on social media and a new word was even invented to describe the hell Putin has unleashed – ‘Mogilisation’, from the Russian word ‘Могила’ [Mogila] – or grave, the morbid fate awaiting thousands drafted into the army.
While some took to the streets, others tried to flee the regime and ticket prices duly skyrocketed, with a family of three having to fork out £44,000 to fly to Johannesburg, while the cheapest flights to Dubai were costing more than £8,000 – about ten times the average monthly wage, for a one-way economy fare.
Helsinki’s airport has suddenly acquired dozens of cars with Russian licence plates as tourists are using Finland as a transit country between Russia and the European Union. Since Russia’s COVID-19 restrictions on travel eased in July, there has been an increase in the number of Russian tourists attempting to enter the EU.
The bloc has shut its airspace to Russian planes, so, as a workaround, tourists are entering Finland by car and travelling internally within the Schengen zone. “Finland is the first Schengen country for many,” said Pekka Haavisto, Finland’s foreign affairs minister. This loophole is being shut, fast.
The Guardian’s daily round-up:
- Joe Biden has denounced Vladimir Putin’s threats to use nuclear weapons as “reckless” and “irresponsible” and called Russia’s planned annexation of more regions of Ukraine as “an extremely significant violation” of the UN charter. The US president was speaking to the UN general assembly where he sought to galvanise the outrage of UN member states at the threat which Putin’s actions and “imperial ambitions” posed to the founding values of the UN.
- Earlier on Wednesday, Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilisation in Russia in a significant escalation that places the country’s people and economy on a wartime footing. In a highly anticipated televised address, Putin said the “partial mobilisation” was a direct response to the dangers posed by the west. According to the decree, the contracts of soldiers fighting in Ukraine will also be extended until the end of the partial mobilisation period.
- The Russian president also threatened nuclear retaliation, saying that Moscow had “lots of weapons to reply” to what he called western threats on Russian territory. Putin added: “It’s not a bluff.” Ukrainian officials responded by calling on world leaders to warn Putin that any attempt to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine would result in catastrophic consequences for Russia.
- Russia’s defence minister Sergei Shoigu said 300,000 Russians would be called up as part of the mobilisation that will apply to “those with previous military experience”. The Russian government will announce “very soon” which categories of citizens will be exempted from the mobilisation of reservists to serve in Ukraine, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said.
- Putin’s decision to announce a partial mobilisation sent shockwaves across Russia, with the war set to enter the household of many families across the country. Hundreds of protesters have been arrested after taking to the streets following the Russian president’s speech. In Russia’s third-largest city Novosibirsk, video published to social media showed a protester shouting “I don’t want to die for Putin or for you!” Google searches for “how to break an arm” reportedly surged in Russia.
- Putin’s speech was swiftly condemned by western leaders. NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg criticised the Russian leader for using “dangerous and reckless” nuclear rhetoric. Germany’s chancellor Olaf Scholz described the announcement as an “act of desperation”. A European Commission spokesperson said Putin was making a “very dangerous nuclear gamble” and must “stop such reckless behaviour”. Putin’s announcement is a “clear admission” his invasion of Ukraine is failing, Downing Street said.The British Foreign Office minister Gillian Keegan called the Russian president’s speech an “obvious escalation”.
- Lithuania’s defence minister Arvydas Anušauskas has said the country is to put its rapid reaction force on high alert, as the mobilisation will also occur on its border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Latvia’s foreign minister Edgars Rinkēvičs said his country will not offer refuge to any Russians fleeing Moscow’s mobilisation of troops.
- Britain’s new prime minister, Liz Truss, and European Commission president, Ursula Von der Leyen, said Putin’s speech on Wednesday was “a statement of weakness”. In a joint statement following a meeting between the pair in New York, they said Putin’s calls for partial mobilisation were “a sign that Russia’s invasion is failing”.
- Nearly all flights out of Russia were sold out just hours after Putin declared a partial mobilisation of reservists. Flights from Moscow to the capitals of Georgia, Turkey and Armenia, all destinations that allow Russians to enter without a visa, were sold out within minutes of Putin’s announcement, according to flight sales data. Direct flights from Moscow to Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan also became unavailable.
- Russian stock market tumbled after Putin’s speech. The Russian president’s announcement sent the Moscow stock exchange’s MOEX index plunging by as much as 10%, marking a second day in falling stocks. On Tuesday, the rouble-denominated MOEX index fell by 8.7% to hit its lowest point since 16 August.
- Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have warned their citizens against participating in the war in Ukraine after Moscow passed a decree that guaranteed Russian citizenship to foreigners who signed a contract with the Russian armed forces. On Tuesday, Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin opened a military recruitment centre for foreign citizens – a move widely seen as an attempt to lure migrant workers from Central Asia, to whom a Russian passport is often seen as a prized possession, to fight in Ukraine.
- Putin’s televised address to the nation came a day after Russian-controlled regions in eastern and southern Ukraine announced plans to hold “referendums” this weekend on becoming part of Russia. In his speech on Wednesday, Putin said he would support the votes scheduled for this weekend to join Russia in the parts of Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions that are under its control.
- Russia fired a series of long-range missiles at Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv early on Wednesday, hours after the Kremlin announced plans to annex Ukrainian territory and to carry out a partial mobilisation. Explosions were heard across Kharkiv at around 2am. At least one missile struck a high-rise apartment in the western Zalutino district. Ten residents were injured.
- US President Biden’s speech on Wednesday morning will be followed a few hours later by a video address delivered by the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
- Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said there was a shrinking likelihood of holding talks with Vladimir Putin to end the war, adding that it could only happen if the Russian leader withdrew his forces from Ukrainian territory. In an interview with Bild TV, the Ukrainian president urged the west not to be blackmailed by Putin’s threat of nuclear retaliation and warned that to do so would invite Russia to attempt to take more territory.