Putin Orders Partial Military Call-Up, Sparking Protests

The Kremlin has struggled to replenish its troops in Ukraine. There even have been reports of widespread recruitment in prisons.

Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a partial mobilization of reservists Wednesday, taking a risky and deeply unpopular step that follows humiliating setbacks for his troops nearly seven months after invading Ukraine.

The first such call-up in Russia since World War II is sure to further fuel tensions with the Western backers of Ukraine, who derided it as an act of weakness and desperation. The move also sent some Russians scrambling to buy plane tickets out of the country and reportedly sparked some demonstrations.

The Kremlin has struggled to replenish its troops in Ukraine, reaching out for volunteers. There even have been reports of widespread recruitment in prisons.

In his seven-minute nationally televised address, Putin also warned the West that he isn’t bluffing over using everything at his disposal to protect Russia — an apparent reference to his nuclear arsenal. He has previously told the West not to back Russia against the wall and has rebuked NATO countries for supplying weapons to Ukraine.

The total number of reservists to be called up could be as high as 300,000, officials said. However, Putin’s decree authorizing the partial mobilization that took effect immediately offered few details, raising suspicions that the draft could be broadened at any moment. Notably, one clause was kept secret.

Even a partial mobilization is likely to increase dismay or doubt among Russians about the war. Shortly after Putin’s address, Russian media reported a spike in demand for plane tickets abroad amid an apparent scramble to leave despite exorbitant prices.

The Vesna opposition movement called for nationwide protests, although it was unclear how many would act, given Russia’s harsh laws against criticizing the military and the war.

“Thousands of Russian men — our fathers, brothers and husbands — will be thrown into the meat grinder of the war. What will they be dying for? What will mothers and children be crying for?” the group said.

As protest calls circulated online, the Moscow prosecutor’s office warned that organizing or participating in such actions could lead to up to 15 years in prison. Authorities issued similar warnings ahead of other protests recently. The state communication watchdog Roskomnadzor also warned media that access to their websites would be blocked for transmitting “false information” about the mobilization. It was unclear exactly what that meant.

Within hours, police arrested scores of people at antiwar protests across Russia, including at least a dozen in Moscow. An Associated Press crew in Moscow witnessed at least dozen of arrests in the first 15 minutes of a protest.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, asked what had changed since he and others previously said no mobilization was planned, said Russia is effectively fighting NATO because the alliance’s members have supplied weapons to Kyiv.

The partial mobilization order came a day after Russian-controlled regions in eastern and southern Ukraine announced plans for referendums on becoming integral parts of Russia — a move that could eventually allow Moscow to escalate the war. The referendums will start Friday in the Luhansk, Kherson and partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions.

The balloting is all but certain to go Moscow’s way. Foreign leaders are already calling the votes illegitimate and nonbinding. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said they were a “sham” and “noise” to distract the public.

U.S. national security council spokesperson John Kirby said Putin’s speech is “definitely a sign that he’s struggling, and we know that.”

Added White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on MSNBC: “It’s all because Russia is losing ground on the battlefield.”

Kirby told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that Russia has suffered tens of thousands of casualties, has command and control issues, terrible troop morale, desertion problems and is “forcing the wounded back (into) the fight.”

But Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who also spoke on Russian TV, said 5,937 Russian soldiers have died in the conflict, far lower than Western estimates.

Shoigu also said that only those with relevant combat and service experience will be mobilized, adding that about 25 million people fit this criteria but only about 1% of them will be mobilized.

Neither Shoigu nor Putin offered any other criteria for the call-up, so it wasn’t clear how many years of combat experience or what level of training those to be mobilized must have. The decree, signed by Putin and released on the Kremlin website, provided even less clarity, stipulating only that “citizens of the Russian Federation” will be drafted in the partial mobilization.

Another key clause in the decree prevents most professional soldiers from terminating their contracts and leaving service until the partial mobilization is no longer in place.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been the target of broad international criticism at the U.N. General Assembly that has kept up intense diplomatic pressure on Moscow. Zelenskyy is due to speak to the gathering in a prerecorded address later Wednesday. Putin is not attending.

U.S. President Joe Biden used the global forum to say Russia has “shamelessly violated the core tenets” of the U.N with its “brutal, needless war” in Ukraine. He said Putin’s new nuclear threats against Europe showed “reckless disregard” for Russia’s responsibilities as a signer of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

Putin’s mobilization gambit has a strong element of risk: It could backfire by making the war unpopular at home and hurting his own standing. It also concedes Russia’s underlying military shortcomings.

A Ukraine counteroffensive this month has seized the military initiative from Russia, as well as capturing large areas in Ukraine that the Russians once held. Its speed saw Russian troops abandon armored vehicles and other weapons as they retreated.

A spokesman for Zelenskyy called the mobilization a “big tragedy” for the Russian people.

In a statement to The Associated Press, Ukrainian presidential spokesman Sergii Nikiforov said conscripts sent to Ukraine would face the same fate as ill-prepared Russian forces who unsuccessfully tried to take Kyiv early in the war.

“This is a recognition of the incapacity of the Russian professional army, which has failed in all its tasks,” Nikiforov said.

The Russian mobilization is unlikely to produce any consequences on the battlefield for months because of a lack of training facilities and equipment.

British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace described Putin’s move as “an admission that his invasion is failing.”

Russian political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin said it seemed “an act of desperation.” He predicted that Russians will resist the mobilization through “passive sabotage.”

“People will evade this mobilization in every possible way, bribe their way out of this mobilization, leave the country,” Oreshkin told the AP.

The announcement will be unpopular, he said, describing it as “a huge personal blow to Russian citizens, who until recently (took part in the hostilities) with pleasure, sitting on their couches, (watching) TV. And now the war has come into their home.”

The war in Ukraine, which has killed thousands of people, has driven up food prices worldwide and caused energy costs to soar. It has also brought fears of a potential nuclear catastrophe at Europe’s largest nuclear plant in Ukraine’s now Russia-occupied southeast. Investigations are also underway into possible war crimes atrocities committed by Moscow’s forces.

In his address, which was far shorter than previous speeches on the war, Putin accused the West of engaging in “nuclear blackmail” and noted “statements of some high-ranking representatives of the leading NATO states about the possibility of using nuclear weapons of mass destruction against Russia.”

He didn’t elaborate.

“To those who allow themselves such statements regarding Russia, I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction … and 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,” Putin said, adding: “It’s not a bluff.”

In a speech hours later in Novgorod marking 1,160 years of Russian statehood, Putin hailed the “heroes” fighting in Ukraine and stressed the “colossal responsibility” of protecting the nation’s sovereignty.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Exclusive: With a Russian nudge, Turkey and Syria step up contacts

  • Any normalisation would reshape decade-long Syria war
  • Intelligence chiefs held meetings over last few weeks
  • Focused on Ukraine, Moscow urges political solution in Syria

ANKARA/BEIRUT, Sept 15 (Reuters) – Turkey’s intelligence chief has held multiple meetings with his Syrian counterpart in Damascus over the last few weeks, a sign of Russian efforts to encourage a thaw between states on opposite sides of Syria’s war, four sources said.

A regional source aligned with Damascus told Reuters that Hakan Fidan, head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT), and Syrian intelligence chief Ali Mamlouk met as recently as this week in the Syrian capital.

The contacts reflect a Russian policy shift as Moscow steels itself for a protracted conflict in Ukraine and seeks to secure its position in Syria, where its forces have supported President Bashar al-Assad since 2015, according to two Turkish officials and the regional source.

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Any normalisation between Ankara and Damascus would reshape the decade-long Syrian war.

Turkish backing has been vital to sustaining Syrian rebels in their last major territorial foothold in the northwest, after Assad defeated the insurgency across the rest of the country, aided by Russia and Iran.

But rapprochement faces big complications, including the fate of rebel fighters and millions of civilians, many of whom fled to the northwest to escape Assad’s rule.

Turkey, a NATO member country, has troops on the ground across the area, deemed occupying forces by Assad.

During the meetings, Fidan – one of President Tayyip Erdogan’s closest confidants – and Mamlouk evaluated how the two countries’ foreign ministers could eventually meet, according to a senior Turkish official and a Turkish security source.

“Russia wants Syria and Turkey to overcome their problems and achieve certain agreements…which are in the interest of everyone, both Turkey and Syria,” said the Turkish official.

One big challenge is Turkey’s desire to include Syrian rebels in any talks with Damascus, the official added.

RUSSIAN SHIFT

The Turkish security official said Russia has gradually withdrawn some military resources from Syria in order to focus on Ukraine, and had asked Turkey to normalise relations with Assad to “accelerate a political solution” in Syria.

The Damascus-allied source said Russia had nudged Syria to enter talks as Moscow seeks to nail down its position and that of Assad in the event it must redeploy forces to Ukraine. Russia has sustained stunning losses on the ground in Ukraine over the past week.

The most recent meetings – including a two-day visit by Fidan to Damascus at the end of August – had sought to lay the ground for sessions at a higher level, the source said.

The senior Turkish official said Ankara does not want to see Iranian or Iran-backed forces – already widely deployed in government-controlled parts of Syria – plugging gaps left by Russian withdrawals.

The Turkish security official said neither did Russia want to see Iranian influence expand as it reduces its presence.

A diplomat based in the region said Russia had pulled a limited number of troops out of Syria’s south earlier this summer, particularly in areas along the border with Israel that were later filled by Iran-aligned forces.

While Fidan and Mamlouk have spoken intermittently over the last two years, the pace and timing of recent meetings suggests a new urgency to the contacts.

The regional source allied to Damascus and a second senior pro-Assad source in the Middle East said the Turkish-Syrian contacts had made a lot of progress, without giving details.

A third regional source aligned with Damascus said Turkish-Syrian relations had begun to thaw and were advancing to a stage of “creating a climate for understanding”.

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the contacts, which have not been publicly disclosed.

The Russian foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Turkey’s MIT declined to comment and the foreign ministry did not immediately comment. The Syrian information ministry did not immediately reply to emailed questions from Reuters.

UNTHINKABLE BECOMES THINKABLE

Turkish-Syrian rapprochement seemed unthinkable earlier in the Syrian conflict, which spiralled out of an uprising against Assad in 2011, killing hundreds of thousands of people, drawing in numerous foreign powers, and splintering the country.

Erdogan has called Assad a terrorist and said there could be no peace in Syria with him in office, while Assad has called Erdogan a thief for “stealing” Syrian land.

But in an apparent change of tone last month, Erdogan said he could never rule out dialogue and diplomacy with Syria. read more

Erdogan faces tight elections next year in which a key issue will be repatriating some of the 3.7 million Syrian refugees now in Turkey. read more

The Turkish-Syrian contacts come against the backdrop of a flurry of meetings between Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin, including one planned on Friday in Uzbekistan.

In July, Turkey helped seal a U.N.-backed deal that lifted a blockade on grain exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports which had prevailed since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of its neighbour.

After a recent visit to Moscow, Erdogan said Putin had suggested Turkey cooperate with Damascus along their joint border, where Ankara has waged several offensives into areas where Syrian Kurdish groups have carved out autonomy since 2011.

Turkey has been threatening to launch another offensive against the U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, which Ankara deems a national security threat. Russia has signalled opposition to such an incursion.

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Reporting by Orhan Coskun in Ankara and Laila Bassam and Maya Gebeily in Beirut; writing by Tom Perry; editing by Jonathan Spicer and Mark Heinrich

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Swedish right prepares for power as PM accepts election defeat

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STOCKHOLM, Sept 14 (Reuters) – The head of Sweden’s Moderate Party, Ulf Kristersson, said on Wednesday he would begin the work of forming a new government after Prime Minster Magdalena Andersson conceded her Social Democrats had lost the weekend’s general election.

The Moderates, Sweden Democrats, Christian Democrats and Liberals appear set to get 176 seats in the 349-seat parliament to the centre-left’s 173 seats, according to the latest figures from the election authority. read more

A handful of votes remain to be counted, but the result is unlikely to change significantly.

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“I will now start the work of forming a new government that can get things done,” Kristersson said in a video on his Instagram account.

The election marks a watershed in Swedish politics with the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats, a party with roots in the white supremacist fringe, on the threshold of gaining influence over government policy. read more

The success of the party, which took over from Kristersson’s Moderates as the country’s second biggest, has raised fears that Sweden’s tolerant and inclusive politics are a thing of the past.

However, their mantra that Sweden’s ills – particularly gang crime – are a result of decades of overgenerous immigration policies have hit home with many voters.

Kristersson said he would build a government “for all of Sweden and all citizens”.

“There is a big frustration in society, a fear of the violence, concern about the economy, the world is very uncertain and the political polarisation has become far too big also in Sweden,” he said. “Therefore my message is that I want to unite, not divide.”

Though Kristersson’s party is smaller, Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Akesson cannot get the broad backing from the right needed to oust the Social Democrats.

Kristersson is likely to try and form a government with the Christian Democrats and rely on support in parliament from the Sweden Democrats and Liberals.

WORRY

Prime Minister Andersson accepted defeat, but warned that many Swedes were worried about the Sweden Democrats’ election success.

“I see your concern and I share it”, she said.

The Sweden Democrats aim to make Sweden the European Union’s toughest on immigration policy including legislation making it possible to deny people seeking asylum based on religious or LGBTQ grounds.

The party wants to slash economic benefits for immigrants and give more powers to police, including zones in troubled areas allowing searches without concrete suspicion of a crime.

The Sweden Democrats look set to win 20.6% of the vote, against 19.1% for the Moderates. The Social Democrats will be at 30.4%.

Commanding only a thin majority, Kristersson faces a number of challenges, not least the fact of his party’s junior status.

Forming an administration and agreeing a budget will not be easy as the Liberals and Sweden Democrats refuse to serve together – or separately – in government and differ on many policies.

“Sweden is now going to get an administration that is only one or two parliamentary seats away from a government crisis,” Andersson said.

She said the her door was open to Kristersson if he wanted to rethink his alliance with the Sweden Democrats.

In addition, Sweden is in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis and could be heading for recession next year.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has destabilised the Baltic region – Sweden’s backyard – and uncertainty remains over whether Turkey will finally agree to Stockholm’s application for NATO membership. read more

Measures to address climate change and long term energy policy also need to be thrashed out while holes in the welfare system exposed by the pandemic need to be plugged and a planned surge in defence spending financed. read more

The result still has to be officially confirmed, probably by the weekend.

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Reporting by Simon Johnson and Anna Ringstrom
Editing by Terje Solsvik, Mark Potter and Jonathan Oatis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Putin Alludes to China’s ‘Concerns’ Over Ukraine War

Credit…Pool photo by Alexandr Demyanchuk/Sputnik

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said on Thursday that Moscow understood that China had “questions and concerns” about the war in Ukraine — a notable, if cryptic, admission from Mr. Putin that Beijing may not fully approve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

He made the remark as he met with Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, in Uzbekistan. China has staked out a neutral position on the invasion publicly, even as it has echoed the Kremlin’s rhetoric about Russia’s being treated unfairly by the West and as China’s propaganda apparatus has parroted Russian disinformation about Western bioweapons.

The summit, meant to signal the strength of the relationship between the two authoritarian leaders at a time of increasing animosity with the West and challenges to their agendas, is particularly important to Mr. Putin, who has become more isolated by the United States and its allies over his invasion of Ukraine. Russia has also faced a spate of recent losses on the battlefield.

“We highly appreciate the balanced position of our Chinese friends in connection with the Ukrainian crisis,” Mr. Putin said in televised remarks at the start of the meeting. “We understand your questions and concerns in this regard. During today’s meeting, of course, we will explain in detail our position on this issue, although we have spoken about this before.”

After the meeting, China released a statement saying that “China is ready to work with Russia in extending strong support to each other on issues concerning their respective core interests.” It said that “in the face of changes in the world, times, and history, China is willing to work with Russia to demonstrate the responsibility of a major country, play a leading role, and inject stability into a turbulent world.”

The transcript did not have any comment from Mr. Xi regarding Ukraine or the threat posed by NATO. Mr. Putin, by contrast, railed against the “unipolar,” American-led world order that he sees Beijing and Moscow aligned against.

“We jointly stand for the formation of a just, democratic and multipolar world order based on international law and the central role of the U.N., and not on some rules that someone has come up with and is trying to impose on others, without even explaining what it’s about,” Mr. Putin told Mr. Xi. “In general, I must say that the attempts to create a unipolar world have recently acquired an absolutely ugly shape and are absolutely unacceptable for the vast majority of states on the planet.”

One of the core principles of Chinese foreign policy, repeated again in official statements from Mr. Xi’s meetings this week with Central Asian heads of state, is that countries should not intervene in others’ internal affairs and should respect one another’s borders.

Mr. Xi, who is under pressure as China’s zero-Covid policy hurts the economy, needs to project power in the weeks before a meeting of the country’s Communist Party leadership.

The two held talks on the sidelines of a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a multilateral, security-focused organization that includes China, Russia, India, Pakistan and four Central Asian nations.

Chinese support is important to Russia. China bought record levels of Russian oil in May, June and July. But Beijing has been careful to avoid violating sanctions on Russia that could lead to it being punished as well.

Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi last met in February, before the start of the Winter Olympics in Beijing. In a 5,300-word statement, they declared a friendship with “no limits” and criticized the influence of the United States in their regions.

For Mr. Xi, the meeting is also a chance to resume his role as a global statesman.

As he tries to build up a regional power base, Mr. Xi went to Kazakhstan on Wednesday for a brief stop at the start of his trip before heading to Uzbekistan in the evening. Mr. Xi used a 2013 trip to the country to announce a vast international investment and development program that became known as the Belt and Road Initiative.

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U.S. Intelligence Is Helping Ukraine’s Counteroffensive

Former senior U.S. intelligence officials tell Newsy information from U.S. sources is helping Ukraine make new gains as it pushes back Russia.

U.S. intelligence has played a “significant” role in Ukraine’s once quiet but now widely praised counteroffensive, a member of Ukraine’s security service tells Newsy. 

The source believes that Ukrainians first struck bridges in the southern region of Kherson, where Russian troops amassed,  so that Ukraine could hinder them from resupplying or crossing the Dnipro River to travel north to the Kharkiv region, as a major counterattack started.  

“They were running like mice,” said one Ukrainian Air Assault soldier. “They were running and abandoning everything — vehicles, their own men. They even shot one of their own who was wounded just to get away.” 

Two former senior U.S. intelligence officials tell Newsy that intelligence sharing remains “robust,” and includes insight into the locations of Russian units. The U.S. has provided intelligence that helped Ukraine kill Russian generals and sink the prized Russian warship, the Moskva. 

Officials in the Biden administration don’t want to discuss specific intelligence assessments, for fear they could jeopardize Ukrainian security or military operations. A senior U.S. defense official said this week that the U.S. provided information on  conditions, but the Ukrainian military and political leadership decided how to conduct the counteroffensive.  

Ukraine’s lightning advance has had a major impact in Moscow. Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson says a mobilization to replace lost and exhausted troops is not on the agenda and the Russian president is aware of all developments: 

“The president is in constant contact, we can say, 24-hour contact with the defense minister and all the chiefs,” said Dmitry Peskov, a Russian presidential spokesman. “It can’t be any other way during the special military operation. The special military operation is ongoing and will continue until it reaches all of its goals.”  

Jeffrey Edmonds, the former Russia director on the White House’s National Security Council, tells Newsy Putin’s position weakens the longer that Russia experiences losses, and “the more he loses, and knows he [is] losing, the higher the risk he will escalate in some way.”

“He does not know what to do and he will strike here even more,” said Serhii, a Kharkiv resident. “Just on infrastructure. He will strike so we don’t have water, electricity, to create more chaos and intimidate us. But he will not succeed because we will survive, and Putin will soon croak!” 

With Ukraine’s swift military gains — some 6,000 square kilometers, according to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy — come honors for military intelligence officers. 

“Your operations are not usually written about in the news, but they will definitely be written about in military science textbooks,” Zelenskyy said. “Your successes are often quiet and imperceptible to our people, but always painful and tangible to our enemy.”   

According to British intelligence, Russian forces that hastily retreated from the northern Kharkiv region were from one of Russia’s most prestigious armies, meant to defend Moscow and lead potential counterattacks in the event of war with NATO. It will likely take years for Russia to rebuild that capability.  

Source: newsy.com

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