John Kirby: Putin calling up more troops for Ukraine war is a ‘sign he’s struggling’

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s move to mobilize as many as 300,000 military reservists, an escalation in the Kremlin’s faltering Ukraine invasion, is “definitely a sign that Putin is “struggling,” the White House said Wednesday.

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the calling up of more troops was expected but acknowledged the large number — and what it indicates in this stage of the war.

“I mean, that is almost twice as much as he committed to the war back in February of this year,” Kirby said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “It’s definitely a sign that he’s struggling.”

Kirby’s remarks came after Putin announced the partial mobilization of reservists in a prerecorded address on state television earlier in the day. It was a significant escalation from Putin, following Ukraine’s successful reclaiming of territory in the north — adding pressure on the Kremlin to lay out its next steps in response to Kyiv’s advances on the battlefield.

In the national address, Putin also backed plans to annex occupied areas in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region and the country’s southern Kherson region, and he threatened the use of nuclear weapons if Kyiv continues its fight to reclaim the territory.

“When the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people,” Putin said. “This is not a bluff.”

The Russian leader went on to make false claims about the West’s nuclear threats against Russia, accusing the U.S. and its allies of attempting to “destroy” his country. He bragged about Moscow’s nuclear capabilities.

“Those who are trying to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the wind patterns can also turn in their direction,” Putin said.

Kirby on Wednesday said there will be “severe consequences” if Russia uses nuclear weapons against Ukraine and said the U.S. always takes “this kind of rhetoric seriously.”

“It’s irresponsible rhetoric for a nuclear power to talk that way, but it’s not atypical for how he’s been talking the last seven months, and we take it seriously. We are monitoring as best we can their strategic posture so that if we have to, we can alter ours,” Kirby said. “We’ve seen no indication that that’s required right now.”