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Zelensky signs law expanding draft age as Ukraine struggles to beef up its military

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has signed a law that will lower the country’s minimum conscription age from 27 to 25, potentially boosting the number of men available to fight Russia’s invasion.

The Ukrainian Parliament passed the measure in May 2023 but Zelensky had not signed it into law until Tuesday.

It is unclear how many men will be impacted by the move.

A statement published by the Parliament upon passing the law in 2023 said it was “inappropriate” that “a significant number of citizens” who were fit for military service could not be called up, despite the present need, under martial law.

Calling men up to fight under Ukraine’s martial law, which is currently in effect, is a two-stage process. Firstly, men are drafted into military service. Then, once serving in the military, they can later be mobilized – or called up to fight – by the government.

The law signed by Zelensky on Tuesday lowers the age they can be drafted to 25, but leaves the mobilization age at 27, However, the Ukrainian Parliament is also considering a bill that would reduce the mobilization age to 25.

Martial law also prohibits most men between the ages 18 and 60 from leaving Ukraine, unless they are deemed unfit for military service for health reasons or have an exemption.

The move comes as Ukraine has struggled to free up more manpower for its military as the Russian invasion continues into a third year.

Earlier this week, the United Kingdom’s defense intelligence agency released a report that noted Russia had significantly more personnel and munitions on the eastern front than Ukraine and was able to replenish its forces by 30,000 troops a month.

Controversial issue

Expanding the draft age has been a controversial issue in Ukraine. At the beginning of 2024, the former Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine’s army Valerii Zaluzhnyi argued that the army needed another 500,000 soldiers.

He expressed his frustration at “the inability of state institutions in Ukraine to improve the manpower levels of our armed forces without the use of unpopular measures,” in a CNN op-ed published in February.

Disagreement regarding the draft age is believed to be one of the reasons why Zelensky fired Zaluzhnyi in February of 2024.

But Zelensky previously said he would agree to a law to mobilize younger Ukrainian men, if it was “really” needed.

“If there are enough arguments to mobilize 25-year-olds and this is really something we need to do – I will agree with it,” Zelensky told reporters in a December press conference, where he also ruled out mobilization of women.

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