Today's D Brief: Putin calls up 300k troops; Biden's nuclear warning; USN, Canada sail through Taiwan Strait; Iran protests spread; And a bit more.

Putin’s big manpower gamble. Russia’s autocratic leader Vladimir Putin has ordered a “partial mobilization” of about 300,000 reserve troops to help fight his flagging invasion of democratic Ukraine, which is now in its seventh month, as Ukraine has begun clawing back land previously occupied by Putin’s ragtag forces in the east and in the south. The new order, which Putin described as “necessary, imperative measures,” allegedly covers only soldiers with “combat experience,” and excludes students and “conscripts,” though exactly how for the latter remains unclear. 

Putin still insists Russia is fighting “neo-Nazis” in Ukraine; and he said he expects referendum votes in four occupied territories—set to begin Friday—to proceed without complication. That particular goal, as we highlighted in Tuesday’s newsletter, seems to be one of the dominant motivations for Wednesday’s apparently abrupt mobilization.

Big picture: Vlad the invader appears to be attempting to thread a needle of sorts. That’s because he desperately needs more soldiers for his Ukraine invasion, but he doesn’t want them in such large numbers that it could provoke potential questioning and possible political instability over why exactly his mighty invasion force has apparently stopped advancing over the past several weeks—and indeed is losing ground in occupied Ukraine, particularly around Kharkiv in the northeast. 

Putin told his countrymen that Russia is fighting “virtually the entire military machine of the collective West,” according to the text of his speech Wednesday. And, “The goal of that part of the West is to weaken, divide, and ultimately destroy our country,” Putin said. 

But he also has his eye on a “line of contact that is over 1,000 kilometers long” in Ukraine, he explained. And he needs these new troops “to defend our motherland and its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to ensure the safety of our people and people in the liberated territories.” 

According to Putin’s logic, “Washington, London, and Brussels are openly encouraging Kiev to move the hostilities to our territory,” he claimed Wednesday, against any apparent evidence in the public record. “They openly say that Russia must be defeated on the battlefield by any means, and subsequently deprived of political, economic, cultural, and any other sovereignty and ransacked,” Putin claimed. 

Putin also delivered a not-so-veiled nuclear threat, warning in his address, “In the event of a threat to the territorial integrity of our country and to defend Russia and our people, we will certainly make use of all weapon systems available to us,” he said, and added, “This is not a bluff.” Warned one expert to the Wall Street Journal, “Any decision by Vladimir Putin to use nuclear weapons would be catastrophically stupid…The nuclear threat has been taken seriously from the outset, but you have to combine taking it seriously with not being intimidated by the mere mention of nuclear weapons.”

U.S. reax: “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 very seriously,” said John Kirby, spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council.

By the way: One-way flights out of Russia began selling out moments after Putin’s comments, Reuters reports, specifically citing sold out Turkish and Armenian destinations. Flights to Dubai, meanwhile, listed at around $5,000 apiece. Other destinations from Moscow are jacking up their prices as well. Dmetri Alperovitch offered some travel advice to Russians pondering an exit, here.

NATO reax: “The speech of President Putin demonstrates that the war is not going according to President Putin's plans,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told Reuters in an interview Wednesday. “He has made a big miscalculation,” Stoltenberg added.

Kyiv’s reax: “We will act according to our plans step by step. I’m sure we will liberate our territory,” President Volodymir Zelenskyy told Germany’s Bild on Wednesday.

BTW: Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy had planned to speak to U.S. defense companies directly today (virtually) at an audience of the National Defense Industrial Association in Austin, Texas. But Zelenskyy has since changed plans, and picked Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and Deputy Defense Minister Maj. Gen. Volodymyr Havrylov as surrogates instead, according to our colleague Marcus Weisgerber. Follow him on Twitter for the latest, here.

China’s reax: “We call on all the parties involved to reach a cease-fire through dialogue and negotiations, and find a way as quickly as possible to take into account the reasonable security concerns of all sides,” Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, told reporters Wednesday in Beijing. “We also hope that the international community will create the conditions and room to bring this about,” he said. 

Expert reax: The new forces could potentially be enough “to prevent a collapse of Russian forces” in Ukraine, said Rob Lee. “Otherwise, Russia's manpower issues could have become catastrophic this winter when many short-term volunteers likely would not sign another contract.” However, Lee cautioned, “the war will now increasingly be fought on the Russian side by people who do not want to be there. The difference in morale, unit cohesion, and other critical factors between Ukrainian and Russian units will grow even greater.”

A second opinion: Putin’s order will very likely “extend Russia's ability to sustain this war more so than alter the outcome,” said Michael Kofman of CNA. On the other hand, he continued, “Having used up its best equipment, officers, and personnel” already in the Ukraine invasion, “I don't see how this can be recovered.” 

See also: Former U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling called Putin’s order “A new sign of [Russian] weakness,” and he explains in a Twitter thread, here

From Defense One

AFA Conference Wire: Space Force Victory Lap // Jacqueline Feldscher: Day Two of the Air, Space, and Cyber conference led off with a keynote by the outgoing Space Force commander—and a new song.

Vax Refusal Poised to Deepen National Guard’s End-Strength Shortage // Caitlin M. Kenney: The Guard is missing its goals for the first time in several years, and worse is expected to come.

US Working on AI to Predict Ukraine’s Ammo and Weapons Needs // Patrick Tucker: But a Pentagon watchdog is already unhappy with the way materiel is being tracked.

The Air & Space Brief // Jacqueline Feldscher: The Space Force song is here; Inflation tops troops’ concerns; Air Force Secretary says invading Taiwan would be ‘enormous mistake’ for China.

USAF to Unveil B-21 Stealth Bomber in December // Marcus Weisgerber: The strategic bomber has been developed in near-total secrecy at Northrop Grumman's plant in Palmdale, California.

The Space Force Has a Song // Bradley Peniston and Jacqueline Feldscher: The song honors the “invisible front line” of warfighters keeping watch “beyond the blue.”

Welcome to this Wednesday edition of The D Brief, brought to you by Ben Watson with Jennifer Hlad. If you’re not already subscribed to The D Brief, you can do that here. And check out other Defense One newsletters here

A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,” U.S. President Joe Biden told world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly, which is meeting this week in New York City. Shortly afterward, Biden will speak one-on-one with UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
“But today we’re seeing disturbing trends,” Biden said. “And again today, they [that is, Russian leaders] are making irresponsible nuclear threats to use nuclear weapons.” Biden also cited China’s apparent recent nuclear infrastructure buildup, including seemingly increased silo-building. Biden also vowed not to let Iran acquire a nuclear weapon.
He also called out Putin for his Ukraine invasion, telling the UNGA delegates, “A permanent member of the United Nations Security Council invaded its neighbor, attempted to erase the sovereign state from the map…Russia has shamelessly violated the core tenets of the United Nations charter.
Later, Biden will meet with UK Prime Minister Liz Truss for the first time in her new role. Biden is also set to speak at two other events later in the afternoon and evening—first at the Global Fund’s Seventh Replenishment Conference, and afterward at a UNGA “Leader’s Reception” at the American Museum of Natural History.

The U.S. and Canadian navies sailed through the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea together, officials from the U.S. Navy’s Japan-based 7th Fleet announced Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
Tuesday’s Taiwan Strait transit was the U.S. Navy’s fourth this calendar year, with previous trips in late February, July, and August.
Heads up: For the first time in five years, Chinese Communist Party leaders are meeting in Beijing next month for a meeting of the party’s congress. It’s unclear what China’s leader Xi Jinping will announce in those meetings, but some believe “long-term” reunification of Taiwan is among the more likely goals. The Diplomat has a bit more on a wider preview, here.
Related reading: 

And lastly: Iran just blocked the social media site Instagram as anti-hijab protests have begun spreading across the country. NetBlocks reported the shut down Wednesday morning, calling it “one of the last available social media platforms in Iran.”
What’s going on: The massive protests began after the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old woman who was arrested by the morality police that enforce the country’s strict clothing rules for women and was reportedly beaten in custody, CNN reported. At least three people have died as a result of the protests so far, according to Iranian authorities. The BBC has more, here.