Ukraine’s Parliament Passes a Politically Fraught Mobilization Bill

After months of political wrangling, Ukrainian lawmakers on Thursday passed a mobilization law aimed at replenishing the nation’s exhausted and depleted fighting forces, which are struggling to hold back relentless Russian assaults that are expected to intensify in coming months.

Yulia Paliychuk, a spokeswoman for the party of President Volodymyr Zelensky, confirmed that the law had been adopted by Parliament. It passed overwhelmingly with support from 283 lawmakers, while 49 lawmakers from some opposition parties abstained, according to the official roll call.

The urgent need for fresh troops has been evident since last fall, but Mr. Zelensky has been exceedingly cautious in dealing with the politically fraught topic, which has the potential to undermine the social cohesion that has played a critical role in Ukraine’s ability to wage war against a far larger and better-armed enemy.

Mr. Zelensky had urged lawmakers to act this week and is widely expected to sign the new legislation soon. However, the last time the Parliament passed controversial legislation related to mobilization — lowering the draft eligibility age to 25 from 27 last May — Mr. Zelensky waited nearly a year before signing it into law this month.

Mr. Zelensky was visiting Lithuania on Thursday.

Lawmakers passed the bill only hours after the country was rocked by yet another large-scale bombardment of more than eighty missiles and drones, many aimed at Ukraine’s already battered energy infrastructure.

The law passed by legislators on Thursday addresses the issue of mobilization broadly, and includes provisions that lawmakers said were aimed at making the conscription process more transparent and equitable. The full text of the law was not immediately available.

Lawmakers outlined parts of the bill in statements posted on social media and in interviews with Ukrainian media, saying it included a mix of incentives for soldiers who voluntarily serve and new penalties for those trying to evade conscription.

But perhaps as important as what was included in the legislation is what was cut out — particularly a timeline for when conscripted soldiers will be demobilized.

Oleksiy Goncharenko, a member of Parliament in the opposition European Solidarity party, said that he refused to vote for the bill because it did not address when conscripted soldiers would be released from service.

“It was important to include demobilization,” he said in a statement. “And they just threw it out.”

Under martial law, which was imposed soon after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, conscripts are compelled to serve until the end of hostilities, with notably few exemptions. The original version of the bill submitted in February included provisions that would have capped mandatory service at 36 months.

But Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, Ukraine’s top military commander, urged lawmakers to separate the issue of mobilization from demobilization, a development first reported by the Ukrainian daily Ukrainska Pravda this week.

The Ministry of Defense said in a statement that demobilization was excluded from the government bill at General Syrskyi’s request since he “understands the operational situation” and “the threats and risks facing the state.”

The removal of the provision to cap service at three years could provoke anger in the ranks, particularly among infantry soldiers who have been engaged in brutal combat on the front lines for more than two years with little respite.

Reaction from opposition lawmakers, many of whom abstained from the vote, was swift and derisive.

Inna Sovsun, another opposition lawmaker, said she could not vote for the bill because the punishments for evading military service and the bonuses for those who enlisted were insufficient.

She said the failure to address demobilization created “the impression of a one-way ticket and destroys any motivation for new people to join the army.”

Soldiers on the front, many of whom have been fighting for more than two years, have been outspoken in expressing their frustration over what they saw as a lack of political will to find new soldiers to help ease their burden.

Ukraine’s struggle to replenish its ranks comes as combat forces are also struggling with shortages of ammunition and other critical supplies.

One lawmaker, Iryna Friz, said the law allows recruits who sign contracts to choose their own units and creates additional leave and rewards for soldiers who destroy or capture enemy weapons or equipment.

It also includes provisions for soldiers to take 15 continuous calendar days of vacation, Ms. Friz said in a statement. The families of soldiers who are killed will be sent at a one-time payment of 15 million hryvnias, or about $380,000.

The U.S. Congress has not approved a new military aid package for Ukraine since October and a proposal that would provide a desperately needed infusion of $60 billion in military support has languished for months in the face of fierce resistance from a powerful faction of Republicans aligned with former President Donald J. Trump.

In the attacks in the hours before the vote Thursday, explosions echoed over Kyiv and other cities from Kharkiv, near the Russian border in the east, to Lviv, near the Polish border in the west. The national utility company, Ukrenergo, said power substations in the Odesa, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Lviv and Kyiv regions were all damaged.

While no energy workers were reported to have been killed in the overnight strikes, one explosion in Mykolaiv, in southern Ukraine, killed four civilians and injured five more people, according to local authorities.

In contrast to Ukraine’s ammunition and personnel shortages, Russia has been able to sustain steep losses on the battlefield by recruiting an estimated 30,000 new soldiers to fight in Ukraine every month, according to Ukrainian intelligence officials and Western military analysts.

The British military intelligence agency said in a statement on Wednesday that the Kremlin was seeking to recruit 400,000 people in 2024 to sustain its forces in Ukraine.

Russia’s annual springtime conscription drive is expected to bring another 150,000 soldiers between the ages of 18 to 30 to its ranks who are less likely to serve in combat roles, the British agency said.

The mobilization issue in Ukraine has been a point of contention between Mr. Zelensky and some of his military commanders, who said last year that the nation would need as many as 500,000 new recruits of its own to counter the Russian threat. The rift was a key factor in the dismissal of Gen. Valery Zaluzhny from his post as the nation’s top commander.

Oleksandr Chubko contributed reporting.

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