Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has reportedly told lawmakers in the United States that his government is considering raising the military conscription age to over 40 years old in an apparent attempt to allay concerns about Kyiv’s ability to stand up to the much larger population Moscow can draw on to fight the war.
Upon his latest lobbying trip to Washington D.C. to beseech Congress to back President Biden’s request for an additional $61 billion in military aid to Ukraine, Zelensky reportedly told sceptical Senators that his government is considering conscripting men above the age of 40 to increase troop levels along the frontline with Russia, according to Bloomberg.
Currently, all men between the ages of 18 and 60 are prohibited from leaving the country in case the government decides to call them into service under martial law. However, men with no military experience can only be drafted up until the age of 25.
While there has been legislation put forward to remove this exemption, President Zelensky has been reticent to sign any law that would signal desperation to the public. Therefore, should Zelenksy go through with the move to raise the conscription age to above 40 years old, it could open him up to criticism within Ukraine.
Yet, the embattled leader may be forced into doing so to secure additional funding for the war against Russia. Last month, American defence officials told NBC News that even the Biden administration is increasingly concerned about the lack of manpower at Kyiv’s disposal, saying that more money and weapons sent at U.S. taxpayer expense would not do any good if Ukraine does not “have competent forces to use them.” Indeed, with losses mounting, the average age of soldiers currently fighting for Ukraine has risen to around 43 years old according to Time.
Meanwhile, Russia, which has over three times the population of Ukraine, announced last month that it would be increasing the number of enlisted soldiers by 170,000 additional troops, taking the total strength of the Russian Armed Forces to over 1.3 million.
The reported admission of Zelensky of potentially raising the age of conscription came during his third trip to Washington D.C. over the past year. The Ukrainian leader attempted to lobby Republican lawmakers to support the tens of billions requested by the Biden White House.
However, Zelensky left the U.S. capital without securing funding, with Democrats and the Biden administration refusing to commit to securing the American southern border in exchange for Ukraine military aid.
Zelensky has been facing growing opposition and discontent with his leadership at home as well, with Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko recently comparing him to Putin and of sliding into “authoritarianism“.
These criticisms were echoed by former Zelensky spokesman, Oleksiy Arestovych, who told the i newspaper in Britain over the weekend: “Zelensky tried to create a regime of ‘small-Putinism’… He liked to play the role of hero in parliaments around the world. That time is over now… but he became a hostage of his own propaganda.
“This has become a big problem because he thinks not about the national interest but about his own position.”
Divisions broke out last month as it became clear that the much-anticipated “Spring counteroffensive” against Russia had failed to take back any meaningful amount of territory occupied by Russia, which still controls around a fifth of Ukraine.
The dam was broken by comments from the commander in chief of the Ukraine military, Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, who admitted last month that the conflict has devolved into a “stalemate“, which threw into doubt Zelensky’s promises to the public of recapturing the territories in the Donbas and the Crimean peninsula. Zelensky has maintained that Russia must return these lands, which it now considers its own, for any peace talks to begin.