Ukraine lawmakers pass first reading of mobilisation bill

The legislation would tighten draft conditions as Kyiv struggles to replenish its ranks as Russian war grinds on.

Ukrainian servicemen prepare to fire a 120mm captured Russian artillery system at Russian troops near Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region on January 10, 2024 [Inna Varenytsia/Reuters]

Ukrainian lawmakers have passed the first reading of a revised mobilisation bill after difficulties in pushing through legislation aimed at increasing its military ranks.

The parliament tentatively backed the revised draft of the bill on Wednesday. The legislation would lower the age of military service and make it harder to avoid the draft as Kyiv struggles to find enough soldiers to maintain its defences against Russia’s invasion.

In its current form, the legislation would lower the age at which people can be mobilised for combat duty by two years to 25.

It would also require potential military personnel who are abroad to have up-to-date military registrations. Obtaining such a document would be a prerequisite to receiving consular services.

Tighter sanctions for draft evasion, including an asset freeze, are also included.

While the bill would also allow soldiers who have served continuously for 36 months during the war to be discharged, this would not be automatic.

Weary but wary

As the war with Russia has dragged on, Kyiv has found it increasingly difficult to find new soldiers to relieve its troops on the front lines.

That has helped stoke tension between President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who warned in December that the military wanted to mobilise up to half a million people, and military chiefs.

Lawmakers in the Verkhovna Rada last month refused to debate the mobilisation bill as fierce criticism from a war-weary public encouraged a wary approach.

Although MPs gave the bill its first green light on Wednesday, it is clear that changes will be made before it is passed.

The Ministry of Defence said it would closely cooperate with the appropriate parliamentary committee to ensure necessary amendments are made by the second reading.

“This is not a final decision,” lawmaker Oleksiy Goncharenko said on Telegram. “There will be a second reading, amendments will be made to it.”

Enacting the legislation is, therefore, still expected to take weeks.

Kyiv has kept its military losses secret, but the latest US estimates published in August put the death toll at nearly 70,000 and the number of wounded at up to 120,000.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies