Putin says troop call-up to fight in Ukraine will end in two weeks

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as he speaks to the media after the Summit of leaders from the Commonwealth of Independent States. Credit: AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin expects his troop mobilisation for combat in Ukraine to end in about two weeks.

That would allow him to end the unpopular and chaotic call-up meant to counter Ukrainian battlefield gains and solidify his illegal annexation of Ukrainian territory.

Putin faces domestic discontent and military setbacks in a neighbouring country increasingly armed with advanced Western weapons.

He told reporters he “did not set out to destroy Ukraine" and doesn’t regret starting the conflict. Russia’s difficulties in achieving its war aims are becoming apparent in the illegally annexed Kherson region.

Anticipating an advance by Ukrainian forces, Moscow-installed authorities there urged residents to flee.

The United Nations chief reiterated his appeal to Russia to grant the International Committee of the Red Cross “full access” to all prisoners of war.

Even some of Putin’s own supporters have criticised the Kremlin’s handling of the war and mobilisation, increasing pressure on him to do more to turn the tide in Russia’s favour.

In his comments on the army mobilisation, Putin said the action he ordered last month had registered 222,000 of the 300,000 reservists the Russian Defence Ministry set as an initial goal. A total of 33,000 of them have joined military units, and 16,000 are deployed for combat, he said.

Putin ordered the call-up to bolster the fight along a 684-mile front line where Ukrainian counteroffensives have inflicted blows to Moscow’s military prestige. The mobilisation was troubled from the start, with confusion about who was eligible for the draft in a country where almost all men under age 65 are registered as reservists.

Riot police detain a demonstrator during a protest against mobilisation in Moscow. Credit: AP

Opposition to the order was so strong that tens of thousands of men left Russia, and others protested in the streets. Critics were sceptical the draft would end in two weeks.

They predicted only a pause to allow enlistment offices to process regular conscripts during Russia’s annual fall draft for men aged 18-27, which was postponed from October 1 to November 1.

“Do not believe Putin about ‘two weeks.’ Mobilisation can only be cancelled by his decree. No decree - no cancellation,” Vyacheslav Gimadi, an attorney for imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, wrote on Facebook.

Asked about the possibility of an expanded mobilisation, the Russian president said the Defence Ministry had not asked him to authorise one.

“Nothing further is planned,” Putin said, adding, ”In the foreseeable future, I don’t see any need.”

Putin and other officials stated in September the mobilisation would affect some 300,000 people, but his enabling decree did not cite a specific number. Russian media reports have suggested it could be as high as 1.2 million.

Parents of recently killed Ukrainian serviceman Ruslan Zhumaboev stand next to his grave in a cemetery during Ukraine Defenders Day. Credit: AP

Putin had also said only those with combat or service experience would be drafted. He later admitted military officials had made mistakes, such as enlisting reservists without the relevant background. Men who received minimal training decades ago were drafted in droves.

Reports also have surfaced that some recruits were sent to the front lines in Ukraine with little preparation and inadequate equipment. Several mobilised reservists were reported to have died in combat in Ukraine this week, just days after they were drafted.

Putin responded to the criticism Friday, saying all activated recruits should receive adequate training and that he would assign Russia’s Security Council “to conduct an inspection of how mobilised citizens are being trained.”

Before launching the invasion on February 24, Putin questioned Ukraine’s right to exist as a sovereign nation, portraying the country as part of historic Russia.

When asked about this, he repeated his claim that Russia was prepared for peace talks and again accused the Ukrainian government of quitting negotiations after Russian troops withdrew from Kyiv early in the war.

Ukraine rejected any possibility of negotiating with Putin after he illegally annexed Ukraine’s Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk and Luhansk regions last month based on “referendums” that Kyiv and the West denounced as a sham.

The battlefield momentum has shifted toward Ukraine as its military recaptures cities, towns and villages that Russia took early in the war.

After occupied Kherson's worried Kremlin-backed leaders asked civilians to evacuate to ensure their safety and to give Russian troops more manoeuvrability, Moscow offered free accommodations.

Russia has characterised the movement of Ukrainians to Russia or Russian-controlled territory as voluntary, but in many cases they aren't allowed to travel to Ukrainian-held territory, and reports have surfaced that some were forcibly deported to “filtration camps” with harsh conditions.

The Russian government says that the restoration of a Crimean bridge damaged in a recent explosion is scheduled for completion by July next year.

A Ukrainian territorial defence deminer takes Russian ammunition left behind as his team clears mines near Hrakove village. Credit: AP

Ukrainian forces reported retaking 75 populated places in northern Kherson in the last month, according to Ukraine’s Ministry for Reintegration of Temporarily Occupied Territories.

A similar campaign in eastern Ukraine resulted in most of the Kharkiv region returning to Ukrainian control, as well as parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the ministry said.

As they retreat, Russian forces are adding to their losses by abandoning weapons and ammunition. In the US, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence presented a slide deck stating that at least 6,000 pieces of Russian equipment have been lost since the start of the war.

The presentation outlines enormous pressure on Russia’s defence industry to replace its losses and says that because of export controls and international sanctions, Russia is expending munitions at an unsustainable rate.

Russian rockets launched against Ukraine from Russia's Belgorod region are seen at dawn in Kharkiv. Credit: AP

Russian forces carried out missile strikes on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, and in the Zaphorizhzhia region, home to Europe's biggest nuclear power plant. The UN's nuclear watchdog has warned that fighting at or near the Russian-controlled Zaphorizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, now shuttered, could trigger a catastrophic radiation release.

Putin has vowed to retaliate if Ukraine or its allies strike Russian territory, including the illegally annexed regions of Ukraine. Russia’s Belgorod region on the border with Ukraine came under attack for a second day. According to Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov, the shelling damaged an electric substation, five houses in the village of Voznesenovka and a power line, leaving several nearby villages temporarily without electricity. No casualties or injuries were reported.

Ukrainian shelling blew up an ammunition depot in the Belgorod region on Thursday, according to Russia’s Investigative Committee. Unconfirmed media reports said three Russian National Guard officers were killed and more than 10 were wounded.

Vowing to liberate all Russian-occupied areas, General Valeriy Zaluzhny, the commander of Ukraine’s armed forces, said in a video message: “We have buried the myth of the invincibility of the Russian army.”

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.