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Ukraine war latest: Putin orders mobilization, West plays it down as sign of desperation

by Asami Terajima September 21, 2022 11:18 PM 5 min read
Ukrainian soldiers sit on infantry fighting vehicles as they drive near liberated Izium in northeastern Kharkiv Oblast on Sept. 16, 2022. (Photo by Juan Barreto/AFP via Getty Images)
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Latest developments on Sept. 21
  • Putin declares ‘partial mobilization’ in Russia
  • Shoigu says 300,000 reservists to be drafted
  • Russia launches 5 missile strikes, 11 airstrikes across Ukraine
  • 338 bodies exhumed so far at Izium’s mass burial site

Ukraine and its Western allies played down Moscow’s mobilization announcement, calling it a move to make up for its battlefield losses.

In a rare televised address, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sept. 21 called for a “partial mobilization” of Russians with military experience.

While Putin stopped short of declaring a national draft that some expected, it is the first mobilization introduced in Russia since World War II. Just a week earlier, the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov had claimed that the administration wasn’t considering mobilization at all. After the Sept. 21 announcement, Peskov claimed his earlier answer had referred to general mobilization.

Putin claimed that additional manpower is needed to secure the invaded Ukrainian territories that he claims belong to Russia. According to Russian legislation, men and women aged 18 to 60 years old may be called up as reservists.

After an increasingly tense showdown between Moscow and the West, President Volodymyr Zelensky showed that he wasn’t intimidated – or surprised.

Intelligence shows that Putin “has been mobilizing for the past month” and his speech was "nothing new to me," Zelensky said in an interview with Bild.

The mobilization, which signifies the Kremlin’s biggest escalation of its war in Ukraine since Feb. 24, comes hand in hand with the announcement of sham referendums in the occupied territories in four Ukrainian regions, which came a day before and aim to give a pretext for the annexation of these territories.

Meanwhile, Russia’s military advance in Ukraine remains stalled, with Kyiv’s lightning counteroffensive in Kharkiv Oblast being a potential turning point of the war.

Zelensky told Bild that the partial mobilization shows that Russia has “problems with officers and other military personnel,” adding that many of its troops had run away. He also emphasized that those Moscow mobilized earlier turned out to be inexperienced soldiers who couldn’t fight.

Also on Sept. 21, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia will draft 300,000 reservists to support its military in Ukraine. According to him, they are needed to “reinforce territories” along the more than 1,000-kilometer-long front line in Ukraine.

“He (Putin) wants to drown Ukraine in blood, also the blood of his own soldiers,” Zelensky told Bild.

Earlier on Sept. 20, the Russian parliament toughened punishments for acts of disobedience related to military service. One such measure includes reserve forces being subject to criminal prosecution if they avoid or desert service.

Domestic mobilization reactions

Flights abroad from Russia in upcoming days quickly sold out following Putin’s “partial mobilization” announcement.

Independent Russian news site Meduza soon published an article titled “Where to run from Russia right now,” including a list of countries Russians can temporarily stay without a visa.

While Putin and Shoigu stressed the newly-introduced concepts of mobilization won’t affect ordinary Russians, Kremlin critics warned that there is a catch.

Opposition leader Alexey Navalny's attorney Vyacheslav Gimadi said that this was in fact a general mobilization, regardless of what the Kremlin chooses to call it. He explained that the new decree allows authorities to draft any Russians up to the age of 60 who don’t have health issues.

Russian human rights lawyer Pavel Chikov pointed out that the decree is phrased as vaguely as possible, without giving any details about the “partial mobilization.” He explained that there will likely be a system where each region in Russia will need to fulfill quotas of conscripts to send for mobilization.

Meduza also reported there was a missing clause in the decree published on the Kremlin’s official website, which according to Peskov is supposed to indicate the number of people to be mobilized, leaving Russians to trust their government’s claims that 300,000 people will be drafted.

Mobilized citizens are likely to lose their jobs as well, Alexei Venediktov, former editor-in-chief of Ekho Moskvy, said, citing a clarification he got from Russia’s defense ministry.

In an interview with Russian state-controlled TV channel Russia 24, Shoigu said that his country has an “enormous mobilization resource” of about 25 million people. He claimed that the “partial mobilization” will only affect 1.1% of them and that students won’t be called up for service.

Peskov said that Moscow will determine categories of citizens that won’t be affected by the mobilization “as soon as possible.”

Much remains uncertain about how the “partial mobilization” will work, including the number of troops Russia aims to call up for service.

A few hours following Putin’s address, St. Petersburg’s Governor Alexander Beglov said a conscription commission for partial mobilization has been established in the second-largest Russian city.

At least 1,314 people have been detained so far at anti-mobilization demonstrations held in 38 cities across Russia as of 10:45 p.m. on Sept. 21, according to OVD-Info, a Russian monitoring group. Over half of them were reportedly detained in Moscow or St. Petersburg.

International reactions

World leaders publicly dismissed Putin’s latest escalation as signs that panic and desperation are building up in Russia amid its stalled war efforts in Ukraine.

U.S. President Joe Biden condemned Russia at the United Nations on Sept. 21, saying that it “shamelessly violated” the UN charter with its "brutal, needless war” in Ukraine.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin called for a “ceasefire through dialogue and consultation,” underscoring that all countries’ “territorial integrity” needs to be respected.

Also at the UN General Assembly, French President Emmanuel Macron said Putin's declaration of a partial mobilization is a "mistake" that will further isolate the country.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called it an “act of desperation."

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said it was a sign of “panic” at the Kremlin and the West shouldn't take it as a direct threat.

Workers at the scene of a mass burial site in liberated Izium, Kharkiv Oblast on Sept. 19, 2022. (Kostyantyn Chernichkin/The Kyiv Independent)


The General Staff reported that Russia fired five missile strikes and 11 airstrikes across Ukraine on Sept. 21.

The exhumation continues at liberated Izium’s mass burial site. Head of the Kharkiv Oblast Prosecutor's Office Oleksandr Filchakov told Suspilne that 338 people had been exhumed so far, which include the bodies of 320 civilians and 18 military personnel.

The bodies exhumed are difficult to examine and identify because they are heavily decomposed, according to Dmytro Shevchuk, the National Police’s chief of the investigative department. He added that more detailed information will follow after forensic medical examinations.

Also in Kharkiv Oblast, two Russian missiles hit a dam in the Chuhuiv District, located about 40 kilometers southeast of Kharkiv, its governor Oleh Synyehubov said. The attack caused damage but there are no dangers of the dam flooding the territories, according to the official.

Across the northeastern region, 4,890 houses and 2,959 high-rise residential buildings were damaged, said Kyrylo Tymoshenko, deputy head of the President's Office.

In eastern Donetsk Oblast, its governor Pavlo Kyrylenko reported that another six civilians were killed and 20 more were wounded within a day.

“Russians continue to fire along the entire front line in Donetsk Oblast,” Kyrylenko said.

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