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Mar 4, 2024, 12:58pm EST
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Ukraine’s conscription struggles are stirring domestic tensions

Insights from The Kyiv Independent, Unian, The New York Times, and Bloomberg

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REUTERS/Inna Varenytsia
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The News

Ukraine’s struggles to recruit enough soldiers to battle advancing Russian troops has put its leadership under increasing pressure.

The lack of a clear mobilization strategy “has fueled deep divisions in Ukraine’s parliament and more broadly in Ukrainian society,” The Washington Post reported on Monday. A plan to expand conscription is making its way through Parliament at a snail’s pace, with more than 4,000 amendments tabled so far.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s military leadership is searching for more combat-ready troops. Of the almost one million Ukrainians that have been mobilized, only 200,000 to 300,000 have served on the frontline, the presidential administration has said, without yet explaining why 700,000 mobilized people have not served on the battlefield.

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Mobilizing more troops is politically contentious

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Sources:  
The New York Times, Center for European Policy Analysis, The Washington Post, Unian, Bloomberg

While there is a widespread consensus among military experts that Ukraine is in need of more troops, expanding the draft is a thorny issue politically. The existing mobilization system sets the minimum age for conscription at 27 in an effort to shield Ukraine’s younger generation from the frontlines, but the new proposals suggest lowering the age to 25 and could include harsh consequences for non-compliance such as suspending state benefits or seizing bank assets.

“It’s a hot potato,” Petro Burkovskiy, the head of the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, a think tank in Kyiv, told The New York Times. “The political leadership decided to avoid the issue of mobilization” but continuing to ignore the problem is no longer possible, he added. Yet as Kyiv seeks to bolster its military, it must balance its need for troops with maintaining Ukraine’s economic backbone. Officials say it takes eight taxpayers to sustain every soldier, the Ukrainian news agency Unian reported. But employers in key sectors such as agriculture worry that they will run out of workers, risking a key source of government revenue.

Lack of rotation has left frontline troops exhausted

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Sources:  
The Washington Post, The Kyiv Independent

A key issue that has yet to be resolved is the demobilization of frontline soldiers, many of whom have rarely been rotated away from the front since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine more than two years ago. Rare protests broke out in Kyiv in December as more than 100 women gathered to call for the government to demobilize their relatives. “Soldiers are not made of iron,” they chanted. On the frontline, soldiers have complained that long deployments and a lack of rotation has left troops physically and mentally drained. “There is no one to replace them, so they sit there more, their morale drops, they get sick or suffer frostbite,” a Ukrainian battalion commander told The Washington Post.

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