Russian soldiers in Mariupol in the “Donetsk People’s Republic” in southeast Ukraine, April 12, 2022 (Alexander Nemenov/AFP)
Source: Institute for the Study of War
UPDATE 1630 GMT:
More than 100 protesters have reportedly been detained across Russia today, according to the independent OVD-Info police monitor.
In Irkutsk in Siberia in eastern Russia, at least 10 of 60 protesters who gathered at a central square were seized.
In Russia’s Krasnoyarsk, groups of anti-war activists are walking the central street holding up their smartphones with torches on. About the most radical form of protest most Russians allow themselves these days pic.twitter.com/B14ORiYCVk
— Matthew Luxmoore (@mjluxmoore) September 21, 2022
UPDATE 1613 GMT:
US President Joe Biden has told the UN General Assembly of the “brutal needless” war in Ukraine “chosen by one man”, Vladimir Putin.
This war is about extinguishing Ukraine’s right to exist as a state, plain and simple, and Ukraine’s right to exist as a people. Wherever you are, wherever you live, whatever you believe… That should make your blood run cold….
Ukraine has the same rights that belong to every sovereign nation. We will stand in solidarity with Ukraine who will stand in solidarity against Russia’s aggression, period.
Biden cited “signs of torture” of Ukraine’s civilians by Russian occupiers, including victims in mass graves discovered in recently-liberated Izyum in eastern Ukraine”. He highlighted “attacks on schools, railway stations, hospitals…even more horrifying evidence of Russia’s war crimes”.
The President referenced Vladimir Putin’s speech this morning, saying the Russian had made “reckless” nuclear threats and endorsed “sham” referenda in Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine.
UPDATE 1331 GMT:
A Russian court in Crimea has sentenced Nariman Dzhelyal, a Crimean Tatar leader who seeks a peaceful solution to Russia’s occupation, to 17 years in prison.
UPDATE 1318 GMT:
There are small protests across Russia today in response to Vladimir Putin’s announcement of partial mobilization.
Protests against mobilisation are taking place in several Russian cities today, mostly small-scale actions leading to a smattering of arrests. The woman’s sign reads “No to Mobilisation” pic.twitter.com/EbytXN2OQF
— Matthew Luxmoore (@mjluxmoore) September 21, 2022
The anti-war movement Vesna has called for demonstrations in cities and towns at u p.m. Moscow time (1600 GMT).
UPDATE 1311 GMT:
Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas has responded firmly to Vladimir Putin’s address:
This is the first time that the Kremlin leadership has spoken after the counteroffensive of Ukraine. They need to show that they are taking the initiative. If Russia cannot win conventionally, they threaten with nuclear weapons and look for ways to demonstrate a political victory.
President Putin’s speech was meant to scare the international community. As for nuclear threats, the aim is the same as it has been so far – it is to fuel fear and terrorise the wider publics. The Kremlin is blackmailing the international community and wants to scare us and deter us from helping Ukraine. Europe will not tire; we will continue to defend and uphold the principles of European security and international law.
European Council President Charles Michel has assured, “EU’s support to Ukraine will remain steadfast.”
Marija Pejcinovic Buric, the Council of Europe’s general secretary, said the “referenda” can “neither be accepted nor recognized”: “We reject this mockery of democracy and reaffirm our commitment to the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of our member state Ukraine.”
Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong has tweeted:
Australia condemns President Putin’s threats to use “all means" at his disposal. Claims of defending Russia's territorial integrity are untrue.
Russia should immediately withdraw from Ukraine and cease its illegal, immoral aggression against Ukraine.
— Senator Penny Wong (@SenatorWong) September 21, 2022
UPDATE 1057 GMT:
Bookings of one-way flights out of Russia have surged today, following Vladimir Putin’s announcement of a partial mobilization.
Direct flights from Moscow to Istanbul in Turkey and Yerevan in Armenia, both destinations that allow Russians to enter without a visa, have sold out.
Some routes with stopovers, including those from Moscow to Tbilisi in Georgia, are unavailable. The cheapest flights to Dubai cost more than 300,000 roubles ($5,000), about five times the average monthly wage.
UPDATE 0939 GMT:
The leading Turkish financial institutions Isbank and Denizbank have suspended the use of the Russian payment system Mir, citing US sanctions on any facility enabling Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The suspensions following the American expansion of sanction to include the head of the entity running Mir, used by tens of thousands of Russian tourists in Turkey this year.
Only three Turkish banks now use Mir.
Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Vietnam are the latest countries to halt Mir transactions.
UPDATE 0858 GMT:
Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko has responded to Vladimir Putin’s speech:
The mobilization and nuclear threats announced by Putin will not help the aggressor in his quest to conquer and destroy Ukraine and Ukrainians. The tyrant finally launched the processes that will bury him in his country.
And the civilized world must finally understand that evil must be eradicated from the roots, and not talk about some illusory “peace negotiations”.
Ukraine Presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak mocked the Kremlin:
210th day of the "three-day war". Russians who demanded the destruction of 🇺🇦 ended up getting:
2. Closed borders, blocking of bank accounts.
3. Prison for desertion.
Everything is still according to the plan, right? Life has a great sense of humor.
— Михайло Подоляк (@Podolyak_M) September 21, 2022
Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte has told Dutch broadcaster NOS:
The mobilization, calling for referenda in the Donetsk, it is all a sign of panic. His rhetoric on nuclear weapons is something we have heard many times before, and it leaves us cold.
It is all part of the rhetoric we know. I would advise to remain calm.
UPDATE 0851 GMT:
Russian attacks across the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine killed six civilians and injured 20 on Tuesday, said Governor Pavlo Kyrolenko.
A Russian strike on a house in Kurakhove on Wednesday morning injured 12 people, including two children.
UPDATE 0747 GMT:
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin has immediately distanced Beijing from Vladimir Putin’s statement:
We have always maintained that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected, the purposes and principles of the UN Charter should be observed, the legitimate security concerns of all countries should be taken seriously, and all efforts conducive to the peaceful resolution of crises should be supported.
UPDATE 0620 GMT:
In a 20-minute videotaped address to the nation, Vladimir Putin has announced the partial mobilization of forces, with the call-up of reserves.
Having held out against mobilization for his “special military operation” until now, Putin said Russian forces are facing the military operations of the “West” on a frontline of more than 1,000 km (620 miles) in Ukraine.
Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu said 300,000 Russians will be called up, claiming that all of them have some military experience. He said students will be exempt and that conscripts will not be sent to the “special operation zone”.
Putin had said in a televised address in March, “There will be no additional call-up of reservists.”
Putin also endorsed the annexation “referenda” in the occupied Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions.
Putin blamed other countries for his decision to invade Ukraine and its failure to this point:
In its aggressive anti-Russian policy, the ‘West’ has crossed all lines….
The aim of the West is to weaken and destroy Russia. They are openly saying that in 1991 they managed to destroy the Soviet Union and now is the time for Russia itself. That Russia will fall into many areas that are fighting themselves. They had those plans for a long time.
Rather than recognize Ukraine’s resistance against his “special military operation”, Putin blustered, “[The West made the Ukrainian people cannon fodder and pushed them into the war….
[They are] using the army against the civilian population, and organising the genocide and blockade and terror against the people who refused to acknowledge Ukrainian power is a result of the military coup.
He then warned:
When the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we, of course, will use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people.
This is not a bluff. And those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the weathervane can turn and point towards them.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: Facing Ukrainian counter-offensives closing on their occupied territories, Russian proxies have announced “referenda” for Moscow’s annexation.
The four proxy areas — Donetsk and Luhansk in the east and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia — issued announcements throughout Tuesday setting the staged votes for September 23 to 27.
The head of the Russian proxy “Donetsk’s People Republic”, Denis Pushilin, addressed Vladimir Putin:
The long-suffering people of Donbas have earned the right to be part of Russia, which they have always considered their homeland. I ask you to consider the issue of joining the Donetsk People’s Republic into the Russian Federation as soon as possible in the event of a positive decision on the results of the referendum, which we have no doubts about.
The Kremlin appeared to offer its endorsement through Dmitry Medvedev, the former President and current deputy head of the State National Security Council: “Referenda in the Donbas are essential, not only for the systematic protection of residents of the LPR [“Luhansk People’s Republic] and DPR…but also for the restoration of historic justice.”
Putin was suddenly scheduled to address the nation on Tuesday night. However, for unstated reasons, the speech was postponed until Wednesday morning.
Although the Russian proxies have mentioned the possibility of referenda since Russia seized territory early in its February 24 invasion, analysts quickly noted that Tuesday’s hasty declarations raised political and legal questions about the process. Journalist Shaun Walker of The Guardian wrote:
I’m not a legal scholar but it feels like there may be some legality issues with organising a referendum in three days in the middle of a war on territory you only partially control.
— Shaun Walker (@shaunwalker7) September 20, 2022
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy brushed aside the Russian proxies, “Our positions are not changed by noise and announcements from somewhere, and our partners fully support us on that.” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted:
Sham ‘referendums’ will not change anything. Neither will any hybrid ‘mobilization’. Russia has been and remains an aggressor illegally occupying parts of Ukrainian land. Ukraine has every right to liberate its territories and will keep liberating them whatever Russia has to say.
— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) September 20, 2022
Much of the international community supported Kyiv’s response. The European Union’s foreign policy head Josep Borrell said, “Russia, its political leadership, and all those involved in these ‘referenda’ and other violations of international law in Ukraine will be held accountable, and additional restrictive measures against Russia would be considered.”
French President Emmanuel Macron said the “referenda” were a “parody”. Canada’s Justin Trudeau tweeted:
Canada denounces Russia’s planned “referendums” in occupied regions of Ukraine. We will never recognize them. This is a blatant violation of international law. It is a further escalation of war. And it is unacceptable.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) September 20, 2022
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan echoed, “These referenda are an affront to the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity that underpin the international system. If this does transpire, the United States will never recognize Russia’s claims to any purportedly annexed parts of Ukraine.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken repeated Sullivan’s words and added, “We continue to stand with the people of Ukraine.”
American officials said President Joe Biden, in his speech at the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, will call on the world to stand firm against the “referenda”.
A few hours later, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will address the Assembly by video link, an appearance which Russia tried to stop but which was overwhelmingly supported by UN members.
Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö told the Assembly on Tuesday, “Now we are in a situation where Putin, using the poker term, has gone all-in, and it is extremely risky to play this way. By all-in, I mean, for example, the political and economic future of Russia.”
In contrast, no state offered support for the annexation. Only Syria, Belarus, and North Korea recognize the “independence” of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic”.
Will Putin Gamble on Mobilization?
The delay in Putin’s address may also be linked to the debate over general mobilization as the Russians suffered defeat in the northeast and face further erosion of their position in the east and south.
Declaring a “special military operation” rather than war, Putin has held out against a mobilization.
But on Tuesday, the lower house of Russia’s Parliament, the Duma, passed amendments to the legal code that refer to “mobilization” and “martial law”. They introduce criminal liability for desertion or wilful surrender.
Putin has already lost the gamble that he could seize the capital Kyiv quickly and topple the Zelenskiy Government, with Russian forces withdrawing from northern Ukraine in early April. His gamble that he could detach Ukraine from international support has backfired, with military aid assisting Kyiv’s reclamation of more than 8,000 square km (3,088 square miles) this month.
Political analyst Ekaterina Schulmann summarizes the difficulties with the further gamble of moblization:
There’s one problem. The administrative side of adding new territory takes time, mobilising and integrating mobilized troops takes time, and they’re assuming the opposing side is going to stop and wait — evidently, out of respect for the Russian legislative process.
Now, however, it seems that the Kremlin may be willing to go further than before, including using nuclear blackmail in order to freeze the war and solidify its territorial gains in Ukraine.
The decision has not been publicly adopted by the Kremlin or Vladimir Putin. However, senior Russian officials, including the former president Dmitry Medvedev, have supported calls for the referendums.