Ukraine wants to lower the draft age from 27 to 25. It would gain up to half a million soldiers

 01. 01. 2024      Category: Defense & Security

Ukraine's parliament is about to debate a bill that would lower the age of conscripts for the war against the Russian aggressor by two years, from 27 to 25. As part of the general mobilisation, up to 500,000 additional men could be newly drafted to fight. With this act, Kiev seeks to shore up the tired and thinning existing Ukrainian forces after nearly two years since the Russian invasion. The current recruitment practices have long been criticised by the Ukrainian army leadership, who say the recruitment authorities are not functioning properly. In recent months, Ukrainian authorities have also charged dozens of people over the amount of bribes and draft dodging.

Picture: Ukraine's parliament is about to debate a bill that would lower the age of conscripts for the war against the Russian aggressor by two years | Shutterstock
Picture: Ukraine's parliament is about to debate a bill that would lower the age of conscripts for the war against the Russian aggressor by two years | Shutterstock

Nearly two years after Russia's incursion into Ukraine, the war has stagnated. In the east, the Russians are consolidating their positions in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and while Ukrainian defenders are succeeding in preventing the Russians from advancing further west, the attrition phase of the conflict is wearing on both sides. And while neither side has given casualty figures, US estimates put Ukrainian losses in the high tens of thousands and the wounded may be as high as over 100,000. The total number of Ukrainians under arms is then estimated by the US at around one million. The current move towards wider recruitment is thus logical and illustrates Ukraine's need to reinforce depleted forces.

By lowering the age of conscription to 25, Ukraine could gain 450,000 to 500,000 new soldiers. "This is a very significant number. But, as I said, I will need more arguments to make a decision on this," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told a December 19 news conference on his balance sheet, according to Reuters. "Because first of all this issue concerns people and secondly it is also a question of fairness, defense and finance," Zelensky added.

Although Volodymyr Zelensky was the first Ukrainian leader to speak about this necessity, he has not yet officially endorsed it. A draft amendment to the mobilisation law must now pass through the local parliament. "The army needs to solve its problems and society wants to hear answers to all sensitive questions," Davyd Arakhamya, chairman of the parliamentary club of Zelenskiy's ruling party, the Servants of the Nation, wrote on his Telegram, adding that the parliament would deal with the proposal as soon as possible.

Debates on how to improve the recruitment system in Ukraine have been ongoing for several months. As a result, officials have tried a change of tactics, even chasing conscripts through gyms or hotel resorts, which the Ukrainian public has loudly criticized on social media. In addition, a number of relevant staff members were accused of allowing young men who had received draft orders to avoid enlistment for a fee. In some cases, it was the recruitment officials who even gave conscripts the opportunity to leave the country, which is forbidden to all Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60, according to the declaration of martial law on 24 February 2022.

Thus, as part of the anti-corruption reforms that are one of the European Union's requirements for Ukraine to start accession talks, Kiev is focusing on recruitment offices, among others. Already in August, Ukrainian authorities carried out large-scale raids and charged over 30 people in total. All regional heads of recruitment centres have been dismissed from their positions. "This system should be run by people who know exactly what war is and why cynicism and bribery in times of war is treason," Zelensky commented on the case, adding that new recruiters will have to have combat experience and will also be additionally vetted by intelligence services.

But it is not just this internal split. Some time ago, the increasingly visible feud between the presidential office and the military leadership also flared up on the outside. The latter has disagreed with a number of government actions, not least on recruitment. Now the fuel to the fire has been added directly by the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Valery Zaluzhnyi. "I am currently not satisfied with the work of the recruitment offices. If I were satisfied with their work, we would not be talking about this draft law on mobilization," Zaluzhnyi, who usually leaves official statements by the military to his subordinates, told an emergency press conference in Kiev, according to Reuters. "I won't comment on these specific figures," Zaluzhnyi continued, adding that he had heard of a possible up to half a million new conscripts under the new law, but that the estimate did not come from the military. According to the Ukrainian forces commander, such a figure likely represents Kiev's overall longer-term plan to bolster its forces. Zaluzhnyi also added that he himself would never publicly release such figures, again subtly taking a shot at the Ukrainian president's office.

Despite internal political disagreements, the two entities are ultimately trying to appear united. Both Zaluzhnyi and Zelensky agree that the war must and will look different next year. This is to be helped by arms deliveries from the West, especially the long-awaited F-16 fighter jets, more Western tanks and more advanced air defence systems. On the subject of recruitment, Valery Zaluzhnyi expressed his interest in the army being able to send out recruitment orders electronically and to increase the presence of recruitment officers at checkpoints and on the streets. "We are happy for any way to meet our need to recruit new people," the head of the Ukrainian army concluded, according to Reuters.

 Author: Oliver Jahn