Russia will enforce a partial mobilisation of its citizens to further support the war in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin said in a much-expected pre-recorded speech on Wednesday morning.
The mobilisation, effective immediately, will affect army reserves and those who had previously served in Russia's armed forces.
"We are talking about partial mobilisation, that is, only citizens who are currently in the reserve will be subject to conscription, and above all, those who served in the armed forces and have a certain military speciality and relevant experience," Putin stressed.
Russia is believed to have up to 2 million reservists, but only a fraction receive refresher training regularly. The partial mobilisation decree might see some 300,000 former active units called into action against Ukraine, however.
Putin's address to the nation comes a day after Russian-controlled regions in eastern and southern Ukraine announced plans to hold votes on becoming integral parts of Russia.
The Kremlin-backed efforts to swallow up four regions could set the stage for Moscow to escalate the war following Ukrainian successes on the battlefield.
The referendums, which have been expected to take since the first months of the war, will start on Friday in the eastern Donbas areas of Luhansk and Donetsk and southern Kherson and Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions.
Putin said the decision to partially mobilise was “fully adequate to the threats we face, namely to protect our homeland, its sovereignty and territorial integrity, to ensure the security of our people and people in the liberated territories”.
Putin threatens Ukraine's Western allies, says 'it's not a bluff'
In his speech, Putin, who avoided calling Russia's full-scale invasion of its neighbour a war, laid blame on the West for the ongoing conflict, stating that Moscow was fighting "the entire Western military complex" and that Kyiv was "effectively under command of its Western advisors".
"Washington, Brussels and London directly push Kyiv" to take the fight into Russia, he claimed.
Putin further 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”.
“To those who allow themselves such statements regarding Russia, I want to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction, and for separate components and more modern than those of NATO countries 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.
"It's not a bluff," he emphasised.
Putin also repeated a previous line on Russia's need to increase the production of ammunition and new weapons systems -- an order he issued earlier on Tuesday.
The decision to enact partial mobilisation is yet another signal that Russia is digging in for a protracted and possibly ramped-up conflict.
The Kremlin-controlled Duma -- the lower house of the Russian parliament -- voted on Tuesday to toughen laws against desertion, surrender and looting by Russian troops.
Lawmakers also voted to introduce possible 10-year prison terms for soldiers refusing to fight.
If approved, as expected, by the upper house and then signed by Putin, the legislation would strengthen commanders’ hands against failing morale reported among soldiers.
Opposition calls for protests against 'criminal war'
For some Russian citizens, the partial mobilisation may have sewn doubts about the war in Ukraine.
Shortly after Putin’s address, there was a sharp spike in demand for plane tickets abroad in an apparent scramble to leave despite sky-high prices.
Meanwhile, jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and the Vesna opposition movement have called for nationwide protests.
“Thousands of Russian men -- our fathers, brothers and husbands -- will be thrown into the meat grinder of the war," the group said on Wednesday. "Now the war has come to every home and every family."
Navalny meanwhile said Putin was sending more Russians to their death for a failing "criminal war".
"It is clear that the criminal war is getting worse, deepening, and Putin is trying to involve as many people as possible in this," Navalny said in a video message, recorded in jail and published by his lawyers.
"He wants to smear hundreds of thousands of people in this blood," the Russian opposition leader added.
Since the invasion of Ukraine in February, Putin has cracked down on dissent and the media, with thousands arrested at anti-war protests.
A new law also punishes citizens with up to 15 years in prison if they intentionally spread so-called "fake news" about Russia's military or its entities abroad.
According to OVD-Info, at least 46 people were detained across Russia for protesting against the mobilisation.