Bridget Brink, US Ambassador to Ukraine, said in reply: “Sham referendums and mobilization are signs of weakness, of Russian failure.”
“The United States will never recognize Russia’s claim to annex so-called Ukrainian territory, and we will continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes,” she said.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace described Putin’s mobilization announcement as “an admission that his invasion failed”.
“He and his defense secretary have sent tens of thousands of their own citizens to their deaths, ill-equipped and ill-managed,” Wallace said in a statement. “No amount of threats and propaganda can hide the fact that Ukraine is winning this war, the international community is united and Russia is becoming a global pariah.”
Putin has resisted calls from nationalist supporters and pro-military bloggers for a general mobilization since launching his large-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
On Wednesday, the Russian leader halted that move — which could have significantly bolstered his ailing forces, but likely would have taken time and could also have been unpopular with a public that has tried to isolate the Kremlin from the effects of the war.
It remains to be seen whether the partial mobilization will alleviate those problems.
The sudden surge in activity signaled that the Kremlin plans not only to dig in, but to step up its efforts in a conflict that has dragged on for nearly seven months and has recently fallen from its forces. Public supporters welcome the prospect of “total war” and another confrontation with the West.
Russian-backed separatist officials in the eastern areas of Luhansk and Donetsk, as well as in the southern Kherson region and partially occupied Zaporizhzhya, announced Tuesday that they will vote on formal accession to Russia for four days from Friday. It was not clear whether the proposed annexation would cover the entire territory of the provinces or only the areas currently occupied by Russian forces.
The Russian parliament also passed a bill to tighten penalties for a wide range of crimes, including desertion and surrender, when committed during periods of mobilization or under martial law.
The rapid developments came just a week after Ukraine successfully reclaimed parts of the territory in the northeast, which many observers believe could be a decisive shift in the conflict.
Kiev’s military has pushed for further gains in Luhansk and Donetsk, which together make up the industrial Donbas region that has made Moscow its main target since it failed to take the capital Kiev. And it is also conducting a simultaneous second counter-offensive in the south in an attempt to defeat the assembled Russian forces around the strategically important city of Kherson and the Black Sea coast.
The Kremlin has insisted that what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine is going according to plan, but military observers have said Russian forces are exhausted and increasingly discouraged.
Under mounting pressure, Putin has now sprung into action, although it was unclear how the moves will have an immediate impact on the ground.
Kiev has been boosted by weapons supplied by the West, including long-range missile systems supplied by the US, leading voices in Russian state media to claim that the country is fighting not only Ukraine but NATO as well.
Washington and its allies vowed on Tuesday to stand by Kiev, denouncing the planned votes as a “sham” they would never acknowledge.
Russia held a vote to annex the Crimean peninsula in 2014, with most of the international community rejecting the results.
But this time, the referendums come amid a large-scale invasion that Putin seems determined to go through.
Associated Press contributed.