Ukraine lowers conscription age as Russia gears up for possible offensive

Newly recruited soldiers toss their hats as they celebrate the end of their training at a military base close to Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Sept. 25, 2023.
Newly recruited soldiers toss their hats as they celebrate the end of their training at a military base close to Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Sept. 25, 2023. Copyright Associated Press
Copyright Associated Press
By Euronews with AP
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Ukraine lowered its age of conscription on Wednesday to bolster its depleted military after two years of grinding war with Moscow.

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Ukraine on Wednesday lowered the military conscription age from 27 to 25 in an effort to replenish its military after more than two years of war following Russia’s full-scale invasion.

The new mobilisation law came into force a day after Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed it. Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, passed it last year.

It was not immediately clear why Zelenskyy took so long to sign the measure into law. He made only a brief public comment about it at a news conference in Kyiv on Wednesday with Finnish President Alexander Stubb.

An audit requested by Ukraine's recently appointed commander in chief, Oleksandr Syrskyi, found that a previous estimate that the country needed 500,000 new recruits was wrong, according to Zelenskyy. That is partly because troops serving in the rear can be sent to the front line, he said.

Zelenskyy said he wasn’t ready to tell journalists how many new conscripts the Ukrainian army will need.

Conscription has been a sensitive matter in Ukraine for many months amid a growing shortage of infantry on top of a severe ammunition shortfall that has helped Russia on the battlefield. 

Russia’s own problems with manpower and planning have so far prevented it from taking full advantage of its edge, though there are fears Moscow could be readying itself for a possible offensive. 

The Russian military on Wednesday said it has experienced a recent surge in enlistments, attributing it to public outrage over last month’s terror attack on a Moscow concert hall that killed more than 140 people.

About 16,000 people have signed up in the last 10 days, Russia’s Defence Ministry said. 

Euronews could not independently verify this claim. 

An affiliate of the Islamic State terror group claimed responsibility for the attack. The Kremlin has insisted, without providing evidence, that Kyiv and the West played a role in the mass shooting - despite their strong denials.

Newly recruited soldiers shout slogans as they celebrate the end of their training at a military base close to Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Sept. 25, 2023.
Newly recruited soldiers shout slogans as they celebrate the end of their training at a military base close to Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Sept. 25, 2023.Associated Press

The law Zelenskyy signed to lower the conscription age, known as 9281, is distinct from a more controversial and expansive draft mobilisation law being considered in parliament. 

That bill, known as 10449, would not only lower the conscription age, but also spell out who has the right to exemptions, among many other issues. 

This legislation, expected to be deeply unpopular, has proven harder to pass in parliament, with more than 1,000 amendments submitted by lawmakers.

Zelenskyy also signed two other laws related to mobilisation, including one that creates an online registry for recruits.

The initial enthusiasm to sign up and fight against the Kremlin’s forces has waned, though public support for the war remains high.

Ukraine currently forbids men younger than 60 from travelling abroad, though significant numbers have left the country. 

Many Ukrainian men are evading the draft by hiding at home or trying to bribe their way out of the battle. Commanders say they don’t have enough soldiers to launch offensives, and barely enough to hold positions during intensifying Russian assaults.

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Russia’s population is more than three times as large as Ukraine’s, and President Vladimir Putin has shown a willingness to force men to the front if not enough volunteer.

Zelenskyy has rarely mentioned the mobilisation issue. 

Last December, he said Ukraine’s military wanted to mobilise up to 500,000 more troops. But he said he had asked the top brass to spell out the details on what is “a very sensitive matter” before deciding whether to grant their wish.

Such a major mobilisation would cost Ukraine the equivalent of €12.4 billion ($13.4 billion), Zelenskyy said at the time. Other aspects to be considered include whether troops currently on the front would be rotated or allowed home leave, he said.

The need for a broad mobilisation to beef up the number of Ukrainian troops reportedly was one of the areas of disagreement between Zelenskyy and General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the popular commander in chief of Ukraine’s armed forces whom the president replaced in February.

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Ukrainian Defence Ministry statistics say the Ukrainian military had nearly 800,000 troops in October. That doesn’t include National Guard or other units. In total, 1 million Ukrainians are in uniform.

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