In a terrifying deepening of the war in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that he was not bluffing on the potential use of nuclear weapons. He also ordered the mobilisation of 300,000 reservists as a response to recent defeats for his forces.
Small protest demonstrations involving handfuls of individuals took place immediately in several cities soon after Putin’s announcements. The Vesna anti-war movement, among others, then encouraged opposition. It said, “You don’t have to die for Putin. You are needed in Russia by those who love you. For the authorities, you are just cannon fodder, where you will be squandered without any meaning or purpose.”
“We call on the Russian military in units and at the frontline to refuse to participate in the ‘special operation’ or to surrender as soon as possible.”
Anti-war groups called protests for Wednesday evening in dozens of cities. The ones in Moscow and St Petersburg saw thousands take part, and police responded with assaults and mass arrests.
In Moscow, people chanted “Life for our children”, “Russia without Putin” and “No to war”. The OVD-Info civil rights group said that over 1,300 people were detained across the country yesterday. This includes over 500 in both Moscow and St Petersburg. The scale of the arrests shows that large numbers of people took to the streets.
The Russian president has for months assured Russians that the war will be fought only by professional soldiers. The military has relied largely on existing soldiers and recruits from impoverished regions who were lured to join the army by the prospect of increased pay.
The new call-up stops short of using all reservists. But it is an admission that Russia does not have enough troops volunteering to fight—and quite possibly die—in Ukraine.
Putin said in a televised speech that fighting in Ukraine now threatens the very existence of Russia.“The goal of the West is to weaken, tear apart and destroy our country in the end,” he said. He insisted partial mobilisation was necessary to “protect sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of Russia.”
He added that as the West increases arms shipments to Ukraine, he wanted to remind everyone that Russia “also has various high-impact weapons”. He said that they’re “in some ways more powerful than those of Nato countries and in case of a threat against our country’s territorial integrity, we will certainly use all means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people. This is not a bluff.”
Putin also made clear that the annexation of parts of eastern and southern Ukraine was in the pipeline. He’s organised referendums for this weekend to rubber-stamp the annexation.
Former president and deputy head of the security council Dmitry Medvedev said that the referendums will turn these regions into part of Russian territory. If Ukraine attacks them after that, the Russian army would reserve the right to deploy nuclear weapons.
The use of “tactical nuclear weapons” has been part of Russian military doctrine since the late 1990s. It is the deadly action of a weaker imperialist power competing with the stronger and expanding Nato alliance. But Russia has never for decades discussed their use so flagrantly.
Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defence minister, said after Putin’s speech that Russia aims to mobilise hundreds of thousands. The mobilisation will draw on those who have served as conscripts, have combat experience or have military specialist skills.
The authorities will set quotas for different parts of the country, with the big cities such as Moscow treated lightly and the more rural areas used more heavily. This, hopes Putin’s regime, will lessen opposition.
The government backed up the mobilisation decree with a new bill. For the first time in modern history, it puts the words “martial law” and “wartime” into the Russian criminal code.
Russians in reserve units will face criminal prosecution if they avoid or desert military service. For civilians, the bill adds an aggravating circumstance to any crime committed “in the period of mobilisation or under conditions of martial law, and in times of war.”
Soldiers who are judged to have voluntarily become prisoners of war will be punished with between three and ten years in prison. And there are also new punishments directed at workers. Failure to fulfil state orders for military production will result in up to ten years in prison.
Putin’s escalation of the war has to be utterly condemned. But it is part of the infernal logic of rival imperialisms using Ukraine as a proxy war.
As the West pours in arms and urges on Ukrainian offensives, it makes such developments almost inevitable.
Even on the brink of the possible use of nuclear weapons, Nato has not paused for a moment. It is highly dangerous to assume that Putin could never carry out his threat.
Resistance to the war and all imperialisms—East and West—must continue. Hope lies in the Russian anti-war protests growing and linking with the working class, not in Nato weaponry
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