Hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin escalated its military commitment in Ukraine and issued a nuclear threat, President Biden told the United National General Assembly that his Russian counterpart had “shamelessly violated” the U.N’s charter that protects national sovereignty and was working to ”erase a sovereign state from the map.”
“No one threatened Russia and no one other than Russia sought conflict,” Biden said, speaking to representatives from 193 countries in New York City. The war in Ukraine is “a war chosen by one man,” he said, and the goal is “extinguishing Ukraine’s right to exist and Ukraine’s right to exist as a people.”
Biden described the discovery of mass graves uncovered in Ukrainian cities, as well as evidence of torture, as Russian troops retreated from recent Ukrainian military advances. “That should make your blood run cold,” Biden said.
Putin called up as many as 300,000 military reservists on Wednesday in what he described as a “partial mobilization” to bolster Russia’s armed forces. He also raised the prospect of a nuclear response if Russian territory is threatened. Putin’s televised address came as Russia moves to annex parts of Ukraine currently occupied by its armed forces. Speaking from his desk with two white phones arrayed behind him, Putin said Russia had “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.” He added: “It’s not a bluff.”
The call for required service only applies to Russians already in the military reserves, Putin said, and will begin with Russians who have special skills or military experience.
Russia’s escalation comes as Ukrainian military units have blitzed through Ukrainian towns seized by Russian forces earlier this year, taking back thousands of square miles of territory in the past few weeks. Russian forces have suffered from debilitating strains on logistics and supply lines as well as the loss of tens of thousands of Russian soldiers to Ukrainian attacks.
Putin’s decision to tap hundreds of thousands more reserve troops for the war in Ukraine is “a sign he’s struggling,” the White House’s national security coordinator for strategic communications, John Kirby, said on ABC News Wednesday. “He has suffered tens of thousands of casualties and has terrible morale and cohesion on the battlefield,” Kirby said.
Kirby called Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons “irresponsible rhetoric for a nuclear power” but described it as “not atypical for how he’s been talking the last seven months.
“We are monitoring as best we can their strategic posture so that if we have to, we can alter ours and see no indication that’s required right now,” Kirby added.
Ukraine’s advance has been helped by U.S. and European allies supply of real-time intelligence information on Russian movements, as well as the delivery of sophisticated artillery systems and shoulder fired missiles designed for destroying Russian tanks. So far, Biden has managed to ratchet up U.S. military support for Kyiv without being sucked into a direct conflict with Russia. Biden’s said from the start of the conflict that he has no intention of deploying U.S. troops into Ukraine and does not want to risk a nuclear conflict by sending American fighter jets or military units into the area that might be directly within Russia’s line of fire.
“Biden gets good marks on continuing to supply Ukraine with weaponry and put Russia on the back foot,” says Rajan Menon, an expert on international relations at Defense Priorities, a think tank, and a professor emeritus at the City College of New York. But as the war in Ukraine drags on without a clear resolution in sight, the alliance will face pressure from within, as food and heating oil prices go up because of the conflict and countries face pressure to slow their support of Ukraine. “How long can a Ukrainian economy that is really straining under the weight of the war be propped up?” Menon asks. “For that the president does not appear to have a ready answer, and that’s not a criticism because I don’t either and I don’t think anybody else does.”