Putin mobilises more troops and renews nuclear threat; Biden slams ‘sham’ annexation referendums

Putin mobilises more troops and renews nuclear threat; Biden slams ‘sham’ annexation referendums
A Ukrainian military member stands next to a destroyed freight wagon stuck in Russian shelling, in Kharkiv, Ukraine, 21 September 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Sergey Kozlov)

President Joe Biden excoriated Vladimir Putin for making ‘overt nuclear threats’ to Europe as the Russian leader escalated his seven-month war in Ukraine with a partial mobilisation and vowed to annex territory.

Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly, US President Joe Biden said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s effort to stage “sham” referendums in occupied territory was an “extremely significant violation” of the UN charter. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz earlier called Putin’s announcement an “act of desperation”.  

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said that as many as 300,000 troops would be called up as part of a gradual process. The Kremlin is set to stage hastily organised referendums on absorbing four occupied regions in eastern and southern Ukraine as soon as this weekend, although Ukraine and its allies say the votes have no basis in international law.  

Key developments 

On the ground

Russian shelling damaged infrastructure in more than 50 settlements, including Bakhmut, Zaporizhzhia and Nikopol, with Russian forces also trying to hit a thermal power plant near the city of Slovyansk in the eastern Donetsk region, the Ukrainian General Staff said in its morning update. Ukrainian troops pushed back Russian attacks near nine settlements, according to the statement. 

Russia shelled the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant overnight, causing damage to one of the power units, the Ukrainian nuclear operator Energoatom said on Telegram. Russia hit residential buildings in Ukraine’s second largest city Kharkiv with missiles overnight, Unian reported, citing local authorities. Russian forces pounded the dam at the Pechenihy water reservoir in the Kharkiv region, and local authorities warned of a risk of “catastrophic flooding of territories”, Unian said. 

Putin’s war should make ‘blood run cold’, Biden tells UN

The US president said Putin’s military campaign was about “extinguishing Ukraine’s right to exist as a state, plain and simple, and Ukraine’s right to exist as a people” in his address to the world body in New York. The Kremlin’s ambitions “should make your blood run cold”, he said. 

“If nations can pursue their imperial ambitions without consequences, then we put at risk everything this very institution stands for — everything,” he added. 

Read more: Putin’s Ukraine war should make ‘blood run cold,’ Biden says

Nato chief condemns ‘dangerous and reckless’ rhetoric – Reuters  

Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg slammed Putin for what he called his repeated “dangerous and reckless nuclear rhetoric” but added the military alliance so far hadn’t seen Moscow make any changes to increase the readiness of its nuclear forces.

Stoltenberg told Reuters that any further mobilisation of troops by Moscow would escalate the conflict, but it would also take time and equipment. So far, Russian troops had been ill-equipped, lacked proper command and control and had struggled with logistics, the alliance chief said.

While the speech is an escalation, it was not a surprise, Stoltenberg added. “Therefore, we have been prepared,” he said. “We will stay calm and continue to provide support to Ukraine.”

Zelensky doubts Putin will deploy nuclear arsenal – Bild 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed doubt that Russia would use nuclear weapons in its war against Ukraine. “I don’t believe he’ll deploy these weapons. I don’t believe the world will allow him to deploy these weapons,” Zelensky told Germany’s Bild newspaper. Putin sees that his troops “are simply walking away”, he said.  

US administration says Putin’s move shows he’s ‘struggling’  

Putin’s mobilisation is “definitely a sign he’s struggling”, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told ABC’s Good Morning America on Wednesday.

“He feels like he’s on his back foot” in northeastern Ukraine, where Kyiv’s troops have pressed back Russian forces in a counteroffensive, Kirby said. He condemned Russia’s “sham referendums” and Putin’s renewal of a nuclear threat. 

“We’re monitoring as best we can their strategic posture so that, if we have to, we can alter ours. We’ve seen no indication that that’s required right now,” Kirby said.




Scholz calls Kremlin call-up an ‘act of desperation’  

The German leader, speaking during the United Nations General Assembly, said that the Kremlin “cannot win this criminal war”, and said the source of the escalation lies with Putin’s blunder in invading Russia’s neighbour.

“With the latest decision, Putin and Russia are only making things much worse,” Scholz told reporters in New York. “He completely misjudged the situation from the start and underestimated both the spirit of resistance of the Ukrainians and also the determination and unity of Ukraine’s friends.” 

Gold, nickel rise as Putin’s move raises tension 

Gold advanced as investors looked for havens after Putin announced the partial mobilisation. Nickel moved higher amid heightened anxiety about Moscow’s exports. 

Bullion climbed, despite gains in the dollar, on the back of Putin’s vow to use all means necessary to defend Russia. Earlier in the day, the precious metal had been steady near a two-year low, as traders braced for another hefty interest-rate hike by the US Federal Reserve. 

Belarus has no plans to follow suit with mobilisation  

Russian-allied Belarus won’t follow Putin’s example, with Aleksandr Volfovich, the state secretary of the nation’s Security Council, saying the mobilisation “does not apply to us”.

“The people of Belarus and the country are mobilised as it is,” Volfovich said, according to state-owned news agency Belta. The Belarusian official had just met with his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, Belta reported. 

Estonia will bar return of Russians fighting in Ukraine  

Estonia will not stop Russian residents from fighting in Ukraine, but they won’t be welcome back in the Baltic nation, the Estonian public broadcaster cited the country’s Interior Ministry as saying. 

“People with a conscience probably don’t need to be told this, but I’ll say it again — don’t go,” Estonian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mihkel Tamm said in an email. A country of 1.3 million people, Estonia is home to more than 80,000 Russian citizens.

Putin using nuclear threat in ‘arsenal of terror’, says EU official  

Putin is using the nuclear threat as part of his “arsenal of terror”, EU spokesman Peter Stano told reporters, when asked about the risk of the president using nuclear weapons to defend annexed territories after his address.

“It shows very clearly to what extent he’s willing to go to advance and continue this illegal and unjustified invasion against Ukraine,” Stano said, adding that any use of such weapons would not only affect the local region but all of Ukraine as well as Europe and Asia. 

Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, will soon propose a sixth tranche of EU weapons financing, which currently amounts to €2.5-billion, Stano said, adding this was currently under discussion among the bloc’s member states.

Poland, Lithuania urge more aid in response to mobilisation  

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Nato countries should increase their financial and military aid to Ukraine in response to Putin’s declaration of a partial mobilisation. Speaking on the sidelines of military exercises with US and UK troops in Nowa Deba, southern Poland, Morawiecki said he would seek support from leaders in Western Europe for additional supplies to Kyiv. 

Lithuanian Defence Minister Arvydas Anusauskas urged “a continuous flow of advanced military equipment to help the nation defend itself from genocide”.

The situation on the Finnish-Russian border remained calm and no troop movements had been detected, Finnish Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen said. Finland’s defence forces remain prepared and there’s no immediate military threat, said the minister, whose country guards 1,300km of the border with Russia. Finland and Sweden are in the process of joining Nato.




War ‘cost $34.6bn in damage to Ukraine’s environment’  

The cost of the damage to Ukraine’s environment caused by the war is now estimated at almost 1.3 trillion hryvnia ($34.6-billion), Environment Minister Ruslan Strilets said on television. This is only a preliminary estimate which does not include all the possible consequences of pollution and the destruction of infrastructure, nor damage to the Black and Azov seas which hasn’t yet been assessed.

Navalny slams mobilisation order at court hearing 

Jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny slammed Putin’s mobilisation order during a court hearing, accusing the president of expanding the war to maintain his grip on power.

“Putin is tormenting a neighbouring country, killing people there, and now he is throwing a huge number of Russian citizens into the meat grinder of war,” Navalny said in a video posted by his organisation. “It was a crime, and now it has become a crime of a much larger scale.”

Lithuania puts reaction force on high alert 

Lithuanian Defence Minister Anusauskas said the Baltic nation is putting its Rapid Reaction Force on high alert to prevent any provocation from Russia after Putin’s address. “As Russia’s military mobilisation will also take place near our borders, in the Kaliningrad region, Lithuania cannot just watch,” Anusauskas said in a Twitter post.

The Kaliningrad exclave, a former German territory that was seized by the Soviet Union in World War 2 and which is now sandwiched between Nato members Lithuania and Poland, leaves its population cut off from Russia’s main territory. 

Wheat back at pre-grain deal levels as Russia steps up war 

Wheat climbed to a two-month high after Putin’s announcement, escalating the conflict and adding further uncertainty over Black Sea grain supply.

Prices have been increasingly at the mercy of remarks from Putin in recent weeks, as he also criticised a grain pact signed in late July that resumed seaborne shipments from Ukraine. Wheat futures are now back at levels seen before the deal was struck and the escalation raises questions over whether the accord will be extended beyond its initial 120-day run, with the agreement about halfway through.

Germany raids properties linked to oligarch Usmanov  

German authorities are conducting nationwide raids of properties linked to Alisher Usmanov and as part of a probe against the sanctioned Russian billionaire. 

Two dozen sites in the states of Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg are being searched, Munich prosecutors said in a statement. They’re probing Russian citizens who are on the sanctions list. While no names were disclosed, one of the targets is Usmanov, a person familiar with the matter said.

China calls for ‘dialogue and consultation’ 

“China’s position on the Ukraine crisis is consistent and clear,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular press briefing in Beijing. “We call on all parties to have dialogue and consultation to end the fighting and find a way to address the legitimate security concerns of all parties. We hope the international community can create the space and conditions for this to happen.”

Germany says mobilisation ‘bad and misguided’ 

Germany’s vice-chancellor condemned Putin’s decision to order a partial mobilisation and said the government in Berlin would discuss “how to react” to what he called Russia’s latest “escalation”.

“This is another bad and misguided step,” Robert Habeck, who is also the economy minister, told reporters in Berlin. “For me and for the federal government it’s in any case clear that we will continue to fully support Ukraine at this difficult time.”

Putin says US, allies seeking to ‘destroy’ Russia  

The Russian president said in his televised address on Wednesday that Russia is fighting the full might of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The US and its allies, he said, were seeking to “destroy” Russia.

“We will definitely use all means available” to defend Russian territory,” Putin said. “That’s not a bluff.” The partial mobilisation will mean that reservists will be drafted into military service, Putin said, starting immediately.

Germany nationalises Uniper to avert energy collapse 

Germany said it would nationalise Uniper in a historic move to rescue the country’s largest gas importer and avert a collapse of the energy sector in Europe’s biggest economy.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s ruling coalition is determined to ensure Uniper’s survival in the coming months, when the energy crunch could worsen as temperatures fall heading into winter. 

Zelensky says fighting initiative belongs to Ukraine 

The situation on the front line “clearly indicates” that the initiative belongs to Ukraine in its war against Russia, Zelensky said in his regular nightly address to the nation on Tuesday. He vowed more support for Ukraine’s army and intelligence service, “for everyone who is gradually restoring our territorial integrity”, according to his statement.

“Our positions do not change because of the noise or any announcements somewhere,” Zelensky said referring to the address by Putin. “And we enjoy the full support of our partners in this.” DM


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