Russia Issues Partial Mobilization of Troops, Threatens Nuclear Escalation of Russo-Ukrainian War
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.
Juul Reaches Multi-State Settlement in Continuing Legal Saga
Juul Laboratories recently settled upon a multi-state agreement with 33 U.S. states and Puerto Rico regarding their marketing practices targeting minors. Per Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, the lead state representative spearheading the issue: “They relentlessly marketed vaping products to underage youth.” The implications of the agreement are tantamount to utter financial decimation for the vaping giant, having been barred from depicting people under 35 in its marketing, product placements in film and television, advertising on billboards and social media, selling Juul-branded merchandise, and funding education programs in schools. Juul has tried to deny any potential wrongdoing in their marketing practices, claiming that they had “voluntarily” ceased all practices now banned under the new ruling, which stems from an initial investigation started in 2020.
This settlement comes on the heels of a particularly lackluster series of litigious decisions against Juul, who has already paid out a total of $87 million to four different states, including Louisiana, Washington, Arizona, and North Carolina, since the start of 2021. Even more devastating for Juul was the FDA’s June ruling earlier this year, ordering the company to cease all sales within the United States on account of the company’s disproportionate role in the rise in youth vaping. While their products are still being sold in stores today due to an appeal being filed against the FDA, Juul’s fall from grace has been nothing short of poetic. Juul’s 2018 valuation as a $38 billion dollar company now appears to be nothing more than vapor in the air, as the company’s apocalyptic public relations nightmare has now caused the company’s value to drop all the way to $1.3 billion dollars today. In a case of friendly fire in the nicotine market, Marlboro manufacturer Altria Inc. has slashed its investment into Juul by a whopping 70 percent, dropping from $12.8 billion all the way down to $450 million. More concerningly for Juul, however, their now reduced valuation allows Altria to contractually exit their pre-existing non-compete clause, opening the door for them to usher in a new, equally harmful, and more monetizable brand of vaporizers free from the headaches they bought into with Juul.
Electronic cigarette usage has emerged as a pressing public health issue for the world’s younger demographic, introducing a generation primed to loathe the sight of combustible tobacco to the wonders of a candy-flavored head rush. While the efficacy of these products as cessation devices for those quitting regular cigarettes is certainly worth hearing out, companies such as Juul cannot look the public in the face and claim that this is what drove their meteoric rise to public infamy. Their path to a $38 billion dollar empire was built on the coughing and convulsing bodies of their adolescent victims, both informed and uninformed alike. However, as convenient as it would be to believe that regulatory measures toppling Juul’s vaping monopoly will lead to a significant reduction in the harm caused to those who partake, the damage is already done. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, there was a 10 percent increase in adolescents using e-cigarettes between 2017 and 2018 alone, with approximately 1.3 million teenagers who now must bear the burden of addiction that public health workers in this country had fought so diligently to eliminate.
Ultimately, nature abhors a vacuum, and even if Juul’s house of cards comes crashing down upon itself, the market will adapt and those who bought into the nicotine lifestyle will just transition to the next best thing. Unfortunately, Pandora’s Box of nicotine has already been opened, and whether Juul goes down or not, the victims of the corporation’s marketing practices will bear a burden equal in severity to the $438.5 billion Juul must pay to finance its mistakes.