Bloodied and exhausted: Ukraine’s effort to mobilize more troops hits trouble

12:11 17.01.2024 •

This is Odessa. Mobilization in Ukrainian manner: in public places, on the  street, armed people catch those who do not want to die for Zelensky. Ukrainian social media are full of  photographs and videos of the kind.
Photo: Topwar

Kyiv needs more men for the battlefield, but must also balance concerns about the economy, taxes and fairness, writes POLITICO.

Ukraine's parliament withdrew a mobilization bill that would supply more troops to the front, but which has come under ferocious attack for flaws in how it was drafted.

"Nothing will happen under the law on mobilization. Neither today nor tomorrow. Nor in the near future," Ukrainian lawmaker Yaroslav Zhelezniak of the pro-European opposition Voice party said on Telegram.

The bill — presented to parliament over Christmas — generated enormous controversy with its aims of cutting the draft age from 27 to 25, of limiting deferrals for men with slight disabilities, and of increasing penalties for draft-dodgers. But some parliamentarians claimed it wasn't clearly formulated and included human rights violations.

The purpose of the bill is to send more soldiers to battle; the military has said it needs an additional half-million men this year. The extra troops would allow exhausted frontline soldiers who have been fighting for almost two years to rotate home, while also holding the line against the 617,000 Russians fighting in Ukraine. The latter figure was given by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is increasing the ranks of the Russian military by nearly 170,000 to a whopping 1.3 million.

Ukraine's army now has some 850,000 troops, according to the country's State Military Media Center and the Global Firepower Index.

The mobilization plan, however, is politically toxic.

In the early weeks of the war in February 2022, Ukrainians lined up at draft centers to join the army

But after months of bloody stalemate that continued to cost thousands of lives, that early enthusiasm has evaporated. Meanwhile, military corruption scandals and a sense of exhaustion both at home and among Ukraine's allies have made joining up far less appealing.

Over a fifth of Ukraine's GDP — or about $46 billion out of an economy of $214 billion — is going toward the war effort, with about half used to pay troops and a quarter feeding the military industrial complex. Simply put, Ukraine's entire government budget is being spent on the war, with billions in aid from the EU and the U.S. helping fund the rest of the economy.

But that aid is increasingly in question — stuck in Washington thanks to resistance from the Republican Party, and blocked in Brussels by Hungary. That has forced Kyiv to balance between finding enough new soldiers to continue to prosecute the war while also ensuring enough taxpayers and workers remain to keep the economy and war industries afloat.

“The mobilization of an additional 450,000 to 500,000 people will cost Ukraine 500 billion hryvnia (€12 billion) and I would like to know where the money will come from,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in December. “Considering that it takes six Ukrainian working civilians paying taxes to pay the salary of one soldier, I would need to get 3 million more working people somewhere to be able to pay for the additional troops."

Speaking in Estonia on Thursday, Zelenskyy said: "If you are in Ukraine and you are not at the front, but you work and pay taxes, you also defend the state. And this is very necessary." He added that Ukrainians who have fled the country and are neither fighting nor paying taxes face an ethical dilemma.

"If we want to save Ukraine, if we want to save Europe, then all of us must understand: Either we help Ukraine or we don't. Either we are citizens who are at the front, or we are citizens who work and pay taxes," he said.

Ukrainian political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko said the mobilization bill is very unpopular, so politicians are afraid to take ownership; even Zelenskyy prefers the legislation be proposed by the government rather than championing it himself.


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