Vladimir Putin has warned the West that Russia would use all the means at its disposal to protect its territory as he made his first national address since invading Ukraine back in February.
The Russian President accused the West in 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”.
On Wednesday morning (21 September) he ordered a “partial mobilisation” of reserve forces, and told the West that he is “not bluffing” that Russia has modern weapons of destruction.
His address comes a day after Russian-controlled regions in eastern and southern Ukraine announced plans to hold votes on becoming integral parts of Russia. The referendums will start on Friday (23 September) in the Luhansk, Kherson and partly Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk areas.
The Kremlin-backed efforts to swallow up four regions could set the stage for Moscow to escalate the war after recent Ukrainian successes on the battlefield.
What did Putin say in his national address?
In a recorded clip, Mr Putin said: "Citizens of Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia and other areas free from the Nazi regime.
“We will be talking about the steps of protecting our sovereignty, support of the will and desire of our citizens to decide their will themselves."
He claimed Western countries are trying to "block" any independence and development, and that he “supports” people aiming to hold referendums in Russian-controlled parts of Ukraine.
"We will do all we can to ensure safe conditions for holding referendums," he said.
Mr Putin said that the West made the Ukrainian people "cannon fodder" as far back as 2014, when the Crimean Peninsula was annexed.
He added: "In order to force their will in brutal ways to other people. The aim of the West is still to weaken and destroy, they are openly saying that.
He went on to say that the "main aim" of "freeing" the people of the Donbas region "remains without change" and went on to order a "partial mobilisation" of Russian reserves - saying a decree on this has already been signed. He said mobilisation events will begin today.
The Russian President said: "I stress it is partial mobilisation. Only those who are in reserve will be conscripted.
"I shall stress that Russian citizens called up as part of mobilisation will be given all the benefits of those serving under contract.”
In an ominous moment, Mr Putin also reminded the West that Russia has modern weapons of destruction, saying: "I am not bluffing."
What has Russia’s Defence Minister said?
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the “partial mobilisation” of reserves will apply “to those with previous military experience” only. This amounts to around 300,000 reserves, he added.
Mr Shoigu said people “will receive military training before being deployed”, adding the mobilisation will not include “people who served as conscripts or students”. He said that Russia is fighting “not only Ukraine but the collective West.”
The US ambassador to Ukraine has responded to Mr Putin’s call for “partial mobilisation” this morning.
Bridget Brink said: “Sham referenda and mobilisation 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.”
In response, foreign minister Gillian Keegan said the declaration is a "worrying escalation" of the war in Ukraine, adding that the threats should be taken "seriously" as Ukraine begins to make advances, taking back land previously held by Russia.
Asked for her message to Ukrainians, Ms Keegan told Sky News: "We’re there, we’re by your side – we will help as much as we can."