Australia, New Zealand condemn Putin threats as "unthinkable"

SYDNEY/WELLINGTON Sept 22 (Reuters) - Australia and New Zealand condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin's escalation of the war in Ukraine, saying his threats to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia were "unthinkable" and exposed his justification for the war as untrue.

Putin ordered Russia's first wartime mobilisation since World War Two on Wednesday, shocking citizens with what Western countries described as an act of desperation in the face of a losing war effort, and announced moves to annex swaths of Ukrainian territory while threatening to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia.

"These threats are unthinkable and they are irresponsible. His claims of defending Russia's territorial integrity are untrue. No sham referendum will make them true," Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong said in New York, where she is attending the United Nations General Assembly.

"Russia alone is responsible for this illegal and immoral war, and peace must first lie with Russia withdrawing from Ukrainian territory," she added.

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern strongly condemned Russia's escalation, saying Putin's claim he could use additional weapons "flies in the face of the lie that they have told that they are there to liberate others".

"This highlights the falsehood around this war," she told media in New York, where she is attending the United Nations General Assembly.

"What is happening in Ukraine is illegal, it's immoral, it's causing the loss of civilian life and that loss could extend if, as Putin has claimed, he broadens the types of weapons he uses in this war," she added. (Reporting by Kirsty Needham in Sydney and Lucy Craymer in Wellington. Editing by Gerry Doyle)