Putin: 'Partial Mobilization' to 'Liberate' Ukraine from 'Neo-Nazi Regime'

Following two days of feverish anticipation and speculation on Russian media, Vladimir Putin finally gave his Ukraine address on Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. Moscow time.

He did not disappoint his supporters.

Over the course of his 14-minute speech, Putin characterized the Ukrainian government and its armed forces as "neo-Nazis" 10 times.

"Respected friends, the topic of my speech is the situation in the Donbas and the course of the special military operation to liberate it from the neo-Nazi regime that seized power in Ukraine in 2014 as a result of an armed coup," said the four-term Russian president, who in 2020 ushered in constitutional changes that would allow him to remain in office until 2036.

This was not the first time Putin used the terms "neo-Nazis" and "armed coup" to justify his invasion of Ukraine, which is led by President Volodymyr Zelensky, a native Russian speaker of Jewish heritage. Zelensky was elected with 73% of the popular vote in 2019 in a process that an observation mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe characterized as "competitive and held with respect for fundamental freedoms."

Putin Speaks on Crimea Annex Anniv 03.18.22
"In order to protect our Motherland, its sovereignty and territorial integrity, to ensure the security of our people and people in the liberated territories, I consider it necessary to support the proposal of the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff to conduct partial mobilization in the Russian Federation," Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a speech on Wednesday, September 21, 2022. In this photo, President Putin speaks during a concert marking the anniversary of the annexation of Crimea, on March 18, 2022 in Moscow.. Photo by Getty Images

Putin's speech served two main functions: to express the Kremlin's support for Crimea-style "referendums" slated to be held in Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine from September 23-27, and to announce a partial mobilization of the Russian armed forces.

"The parliaments of the people's republics of Donbass, as well as the civil-military administrations of the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions, decided to hold referendums on the future of these territories, and they turned to us, Russia, with a request to support such a step," Putin said, referring to regions that Zelensky had carried by wide margins in 2019.

After making an unsupported claim that Russian occupying forces on the territory of Ukraine were opposed by "not only neo-Nazi formations, but in fact the entire military machine of the collective West," Putin moved on to the next topic: mobilization.

"In order to protect our Motherland, its sovereignty and territorial integrity, to ensure the security of our people and people in the liberated territories, I consider it necessary to support the proposal of the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff to conduct partial mobilization in the Russian Federation," he said.

After laying out an extended reminder of his country's nuclear capabilities, the Russian commander-in-chief concluded that, "It is in our historical tradition, in the destiny of our people, to halt those who strive for world domination, who threaten the dismemberment and enslavement of our homeland, our Fatherland. That is what we are doing now, and it will continue."

Putin was not the only high-ranking Russian official to speak on the topic. In an interview broadcast on television channel Russia-1 shortly after the president's remarks, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said he expected that 300,000 reservists would be called up.

But he emphasized that this was not a general mobilization.

"I want to preempt any questions that might arise: there is no talk of a mobilization or call up of any students," Shoigu said. "Let them attend their lessons and study in peace."

Nevertheless, the independent Russian news outlet Baza reported that Moscow riot police officers had been ordered to report for duty by 2 p.m. local time on Wednesday, bringing with them their helmets, shields and clubs. The call was said to be made in anticipation of possible protests. As of the time of publication, no such protests had materialized.

On the two days leading up to the speech, Russian media was buzzing over what Putin would say. On Monday, for much of the afternoon and evening in the Moscow time zone, the Russian television audience was treated to talk about what the Duma's legislative step might portend, and what Putin might say.

"The State Duma made a very important decision today, one that, in my opinion, provides the foundation for a very serious change in the character of the military operation," said Vyasheslav Nikonov, host of the geopolitical talk show The Great Game and also a member of the Duma.

One of Nikonov's in-studio guests, fellow Duma deputy and Lieutenant-General in reserve Andrey Gurulyov, agreed with his assessment.

"These referenda are the beginning of the end of Ukrainian statehood," Gurulyov said without irony, nearly seven months after the start of the Russian full-scale military invasion aimed at ending Ukrainian statehood in time for a May 9 Victory Day parade down central Kyiv's Khreshchatyk Street — which never happened.

"I expect that the present events will have consequences not only for the regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhia," the retired Lieutenant-General added. "When people see what is happening, the same will follow in other regions of Ukraine."

His remarks came as counterattacking Ukrainian troops continue to be greeted as liberators in the formerly Russian-occupied parts of the Kharkiv and Kherson regions.

In what was expected to be the minutes before the president's speech, Russia's First Channel broadcast an advertisement for a "documentary" film, titled "Donbass: the Road Home," which is set to air on Sunday, September 25, two days before voting in the referendum is officially set to finish.