Ukraine Strengthens Mobilization as War Presses On

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 63

(Source: President of Ukraine)

Executive Summary:

  • The Ukrainian government passed a controversial law to strengthen mobilization as the military’s need to recruit soldiers grows in the face of an anticipated Russian offensive.
  • As the war continues, Kyiv may have to turn to more extreme measures, such as mobilizing its citizens who live in the European Union.
  • Ukraine’s Western partners risk emboldening Russia if it cannot maintain a consistent and timely level of support.

On April 16, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed a law to strengthen mobilization measures. The law prescribes several changes, including lowering the mobilization age from 27 to 25 and removing the “limited fitness” option, which allowed drafted citizens with limited physical capabilities to serve in rear units. Under the new rules, all eligible men must show up to recruitment centers in person for physical examinations to increase the number of potential conscripts. These changes are a continuation of new regulations instated in August 2023, which reduced physical exam exemptions and loosened requirements to join the airborne assault troops and marines (Ukraine Military Pages, September 2, 2023, [1], [2]). Both Russia and Ukraine are easing their regulations for military personnel, signaling that both sides are in desperate needs of reinforcements outside of their borders.

Deferral rules have also shifted. Men who have three or more children, whose wives have sick parents and no other able-bodied family members to help with their care, or whose wives have a disability and no other family members to take care of them qualify for exemption. The state, however, categorizes disabilities into different levels of severity, and men whose wives have disabilities that the state classifies as minor are not exempt (, April 10). Exemptions for civil servants and local government employees are also narrowing as no more than 50 percent of eligible conscripts can be assigned to the reserves. In contrast, business owners deemed critical to the economy will be sent to reserves, even if they do not work at their own businesses (, April 9). This shift demonstrates the Ukrainian military’s growing need for soldiers and aid in the face of an anticipated Russian offensive.

Implementing many of these changes will not be immediate nor without problems. Currently, the mobilization reserve totals fewer than four million men (, April 3). This is due to several factors. To begin with, a significant number of military-age men are impossible to track down. There are almost 950,000 men between the ages of 25 and 60 for whom the state has only individual tax numbers but no other information. These men have no recorded workplaces, past or present; tax history; military service; or other identifying information connected to their names (Ukrainska Pravda, February 14). They simply exist as a tax number. Additionally, about 413,000 Ukrainian men are 25 or 26 years old, and one-third are estimated to be exempt from mobilization, leaving 270,000 (, April 3). The government does not, however, know how many of these men are already in the army, currently in Ukraine, or living abroad. Whether these issues will have a tangible impact on the mobilization process remains to be seen.

The mobilization will likely weaken Ukraine’s economy. It will create an urgent need for new workers who can pay taxes and military bonds to take their place. If Kyiv cannot find these workers, the economy will depend even more on injections of foreign cash. This situation recalls a similar circumstance during the Vietnam War when the United States gave aid to South Vietnam to keep its economy afloat. However, when the United States reduced aid in 1974, South Vietnam’s economy, military, and government collapsed. Ukraine will need continued aid to sustain its economy and continue defending its territory. An economic collapses would create a major opening for Russia (see EDM, July 26, 2023; Ukrainska Pravda, February 14;, April 3; Webb, “The Joint Chiefs of Staff and The War in Vietnam 1969-1970,” 2002).

Ukrainian lawmakers have worked incentives into the new mobilization law to encourage volunteers. The Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament) approved providing soldiers and law enforcement on the frontlines with a one-time bonus payment of 70,000 hryvnias ( $1,800) (Ukrainska Pravda, April 16). This and other incentives reflect the discontent the law has stirred up in Ukrainian society, as no clear guidance has been given on demobilizing soldiers who have been serving for months (Ukrainska Pravda, April 10). If the war requires more soldiers, the Ukrainian government will have little choice but to extend mobilization.

The low quality of military training centers represents another significant problem. Most centers are barely able to train recruits in basic combat knowledge. Only two high-quality training centers are available in country for the entire Ukrainian army, the 151st and 142nd. The first was created by volunteers with the help of then-Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Valeriy Zaluzhny. The second training center is run by the Special Operations Forces of Ukraine, an elite paramilitary unit that conducts the top-secret operations. Barring these exceptions, however, the quality of Ukraine’s army personnel has begun to fall relative to that of the Russia’s army. Ukraine’s elite training centers cannot handle the growing demand for recruits (Radio Svoboda, March 2;, March 4). Still, the mobilization capacities of the Ukrainian and Russian armies are roughly equal at the moment. This parity has allowed the Kremlin to postpone another wave of mobilization, giving Putin the option to raise it at a more politically strategic time (, April 10; New Voice of Ukraine, April 11).

Ukraine will need the help of partners to remedy the situation. While EU training for Ukrainian soldiers has been critical for evening the playing field, the recent changes in mobilization indicate that Kyiv may have to turn to more extreme measures. This could include mobilizing Ukrainian citizens currently living in the European Union. Almost 800,000 men—not including those in EU countries on visas, without visas, or with a residence permit for work—between the ages of 18 and 64 under temporary protection in EU member states (Eurostat, accessed April 24).

The inability to find an exit strategy has forced Ukraine to look for every possible tactic to stay in the war. Ukraine’s Western partners, for their part, risk emboldening Russia if they cannot maintain a consistent and timely level of support. An emboldened Russia will not be afraid to set its sights on the Baltic states, and Western leaders should consider this possibility as they determine how to help Ukraine. The recent approval of US aid gives hope that Kyiv’s partners will rally to the call.

The mobilization of military-age male Ukrainians in the European Union is in the interests of Brussels in ensuring hostilities do not spread. All possible options should be utilized before that becomes a reality, including the mobilization of Ukrainians. Otherwise, Ukraine will again be left alone and forced to act as if it were violating human rights by banning the issuance of passports to men abroad (Ukrainian Government Portal, April 23). At the very beginning of the Second World War, an agreement was concluded between France and Poland to mobilize Polish citizens in France, to create a Polish army on French territory. They were trained and given uniforms with weapons of the French army. Paris was thus able to mobilize almost 60,000 Poles and to form and train several divisions. Poles are already talking now about helping to send men with Ukrainian citizenship to Ukraine. It would be better, however, to repeat the past and prepare and equip military units on alliance territory, instead of deportation, in an effort to form combat-ready brigades with veterans of the Ukrainian Armed Forces (, accessed April 24; Reuters, April 24). In hoping to de-imperialize and demilitarize Russia, European leaders can be instrumental in helping Ukraine source recruits. Otherwise, Ukraine will lose more ground on the front and leave open the possibility of its neighbors becoming the next victims of the Russian Empire.