Bridget Brink, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said in response: “Sham referenda and mobilization are signs of weakness, of Russian failure.”
“The United States will never recognize Russia’s claim to purportedly annexed Ukrainian territory, and we will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes,” she said.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace described Putin’s mobilization announcement as “an admission that his invasion is failing.”
“He and his defense minister have sent tens of thousands of their own citizens to their deaths, ill-equipped and badly led,” Wallace said in a statement. “No amount of threats and propaganda can hide the fact that Ukraine is winning this war, the international community are united and Russia is becoming a global pariah.”
Putin has resisted calls from nationalist supporters and pro-military bloggers for a general mobilization since launching his full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
On Wednesday, the Russian leader stopped short of that step — which could have significantly boosted his ailing forces, but would likely take time and could also have proven unpopular with a public the Kremlin has sought to insulate from the effects of the war.
It remains to be seen whether the partial mobilization will ease those issues.
The sudden flurry of activity signaled that the Kremlin intends to not just dig in but to ramp up its efforts in a conflict that has dragged on for nearly seven months and recently tilted away from its forces. Its public backers have delighted in the prospect of an “all-out war” and a new confrontation with the West.
Russian-backed separatist officials in the eastern areas of Luhansk and Donetsk, as well as the southern Kherson region and the partially occupied Zaporizhzhia, announced Tuesday that they would hold votes on formally joining Russia over four days starting Friday. It wasn’t clear if the proposed annexation would cover the entire territory of the provinces or only the areas currently occupied by Russian forces.
Russia’s parliament also approved a bill to toughen punishments for a host of crimes, including desertion and surrender, if they are committed during periods of mobilization or martial law.
The swift developments came just a week after Ukraine successfully reclaimed swaths of territory in its northeast, in what many observers said could be a decisive shift in the conflict.
Kyiv’s military has been pressing to make further gains in Luhansk and Donetsk, which together form the industrial Donbas region that Moscow has made its primary goal since failing to seize the capital, Kyiv. And it has also been waging a simultaneous second counteroffensive in the south in an effort to wear down gathered Russian forces around the strategically important city of Kherson and the Black Sea coast.
The Kremlin has insisted that what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine is going according to plan, but military observers have said Russian forces are depleted and increasingly dispirited.
Under growing pressure, Putin has now acted — though it was unclear how the moves will have an immediate impact on the ground.
Kyiv has been boosted by Western-supplied weapons, including long-range rocket systems supplied by the U.S., leading voices on Russian state media to argue that the country is fighting not just Ukraine but NATO as well.
Washington and its allies vowed to stand by Kyiv on Tuesday and condemned the planned votes as a “sham” they would never recognize.
Russia held a vote to annex the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, with most of the international community rejecting the results.
But this time, the referendums come amid a full-scale invasion with which Putin seems determined to press ahead.
Associated Press contributed.
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