February 3, 2023
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by Jack Lockhart '25News Staff
Wednesday, Sept. 21 – In a move not seen in contemporary Russian history since World War I and World War II, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the partial mobilization of the Russian population to bolster the country’s struggling war effort in Ukraine. An estimated 300,000 additional soldiers between the ages of 18 and 55 are being targeted in this draft. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu claims the draft will not be among the general population, but those who had formerly served in the Russian armed forces. Military conscription is compulsory for Russian males ages 18 to 27. Soldiers currently under contract have also had the duration of their deployment extended indefinitely, showcasing the extent of Moscow’s desperation in the face of increased Ukrainian momentum. These developments come on the heels of a massively successful Ukrainian counteroffensive targeting the Kherson and Kharkiv regions, reclaiming up to 3,700 square miles of territory, including the entirety of the Kharkiv oblast in northeastern Ukraine.
With an estimated 55,110 Russian soldiers either killed, wounded, or captured during the now seven months of fighting, Putin finds himself in the unenviable position of either continuing the slaughter of Ukrainians and Russians alike or losing his autocratic grip on the Russian Federation. The domestic impact of mobilization is already beginning to dissolve the bonds of social cohesion in Russia, with protestors taking to the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg, and federal troops being deployed to the Russian Republic of Dagestan to help quell mounting discontent and increasingly violent resistance to the Kremlin-enforced mobilization. Tasked with reinforcing a 600-mile-long frontline, these unwitting participants find themselves in the midst of an army in organizational disarray, with adequate supplies and weaponry running low among already existing units. Russian supply lines already find themselves stretched beyond their capacity in addition to being routinely targeted by Ukrainian-operated and U.S-supplied HIMARS missile strikes, which themselves played a large role in the Ukrainian capacity to attack medium-range Russian supply depots and positions.
Wednesday’s address marked a number of integral developments for the war thus far, with President Putin announcing four distinct and controversial referendums to be held within the occupied territories of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya. The topic at hand: whether or not these internationally recognized regions, or oblasts, of Ukraine will join the Russian Federation. Allegations of Russian tampering have run rampant throughout the international community, with the New York Times reporting on videos of armed soldiers going house to house and building to building, coercing votes out of those residing in these occupied territories. The United States and its western coalition of allies are rightfully unlikely to recognize the results of the votes, with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, among others, preemptively decrying the votes as “sham referenda.” Unfortunately for the plight of peace, the strongly worded condemnations of western leaders have done little to stop Russia’s illegal war of aggression.
Putin’s initiative to consolidate stolen Ukrainian territory comes as his hands are increasingly tied in terms of methods of response. Russia’s status as a self-imposed pariah state has isolated it from the cooperative global order, transforming the armed struggle in Ukraine from one of imperial ambition to one of existential crisis in the eyes of Vladimir Putin and Russian leadership. To this end, Putin capitalized on the existential fear of human civilization by invoking the threat of nuclear weapons as his rhetorical trump card. After first falsely claiming that western officials had floated the idea of using nuclear weapons against Russia, Putin went on to state: “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. This is not a bluff.” Whether this rhetoric is genuine or not, it is unlikely his nuclear saber-rattling will be enough to force Ukraine into capitulation and NATO into apathy.
While Ukraine and its allies rejoice in the liberation of previously occupied territories, the realities of Russian occupation render these brief moments of cathartic celebration short-lived. On Saturday, Sept. 24, the excavation of mass graves was completed in the recently liberated city of Izium, Kharkiv Oblast, revealing the bodies of 436 people, 30 showing signs of torture. Izium exists not as an aberration of the Russian invasion, but as a pattern of behavior for the invading forces. As Russian forces withdrew from the Kyiv Oblast in March of this year, 458 lives were extinguished in the suburb of Bucha, not because of their strategic importance, but for existing where and when they did. Russia’s scorched earth campaign of eliminating all things Ukrainian razed the coastal city of Mariupol to the ground, destroying 90 percent of all buildings and killing at least 22,000 in its indiscriminate artillery attacks. The true human cost of Russia’s hellish campaign won’t be known until years after the last bullet is fired, but for the innumerable innocents whose lives have been uprooted and destroyed, the war will never truly end.