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Ukrainian parliament passes politically tense mobilization bill

Ukrainian parliament passes politically tense mobilization bill


kyiv, Ukraine — After months of political wrangling, Ukraine's parliament on Thursday passed a new law aimed at replenishing the depleted and depleted fighting forces struggling to contain relentless Russian assaults expected to intensify over the summer.

The mobilization law is a carefully crafted attempt to increase the size of Ukraine's military while avoiding a negative public backlash. It offers a mix of financial incentives to those who take up arms, including a special bonus for soldiers on the front lines and death benefits for the families of those who fall in combat. It also imposes new penalties on Ukrainian men who try to evade service, such as suspending the driver's licenses of those who fail to appear.

But perhaps as important as what was included in the legislation is what was removed, namely the timetable for the demobilization of conscripts, something soldiers and their families were demanding after more than two years of brutal war.

The original version of the bill submitted in February included provisions that would have capped mandatory service at 36 months, but they were removed at the request of the military.

The urgent need for fresh troops has become evident since last fall, as Russia intensified its attacks and began its slow and bloody advance into eastern Ukraine, including seizing the city of Avdiivka this year.

“Ukraine needs this bill and it needed it much earlier,” Volodymyr Yermolenko, editor-in-chief of Ukraine World, an independent media outlet, said in an interview. “It's a good thing that we have it now because it will create a more stable and firmer legal framework for mobilization. »

It will take a month for the new measures to take effect, and Yermolenko said it would take even longer to assess their impact. But, he added, it is “a step in the right direction.”

Petro Burkovsky, director of the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, a Ukrainian think tank, said he believed the bill came late and did not address deeper problems Ukraine faced, such as “a detachment between political leaders and society.

But ultimately, he added, President Volodymyr Zelensky would be judged by results, and only one result mattered: winning or losing the war against Russia.

Zelensky was extremely cautious in broaching the politically charged topic of mobilization, which could potentially undermine the social cohesion that has played a crucial role in Ukraine's ability to wage war against a much larger and better-armed enemy. .

Zelensky, who was visiting Lithuania on Thursday, urged lawmakers to act this week and is expected to sign the new legislation soon.

However, the last time Ukraine's parliament passed a controversial mobilization law – lowering the eligibility age to 25 from 27 last May – Zelensky waited almost a year before signing it this month. this.

The bill passed Thursday, which dealt more broadly with mobilization issues, was approved by an overwhelming majority. It was supported by 283 deputies, and 49 deputies from various opposition parties abstained, according to the official call.

The bill's passage comes at a precarious time for Ukraine, which is struggling to maintain its front lines due to an ammunition shortage and protect millions of civilians in the rear due to dwindling its air defenses.

Lawmakers passed the bill just hours after the country was rocked by another large-scale bombardment of more than 80 missiles and drones, many of them targeting Ukraine's already battered energy infrastructure, officials said. those responsible. This is the third large-scale attack targeting the grid since March 22, part of a new Russian campaign to collapse Ukraine's power grid.

An energy company, DTEK, said the attacks over the past three weeks had been the most severe of the entire war, destroying about 80% of its production capacity.

In an attack on Thursday, the main thermal power plant supplying energy to the kyiv region was completely destroyed, the plant's operator, Centrenergo, said. The eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv was hit by 10 missiles and more than 200,000 people were left without power, officials said.

“If Russia is allowed to continue, if Russian missiles and Shahed drones strike not only Ukraine but also the resolve of our partners, this will constitute a global endorsement of terrorism,” Zelensky said in a statement after the attacks.

No deaths were reported in the nighttime strikes, but Ukrainian officials say hundreds of civilians have been killed and injured in recent weeks as Russia has stepped up its bombing.

An explosion in Mykolaiv, southern Ukraine, killed four civilians and injured five others on Thursday, according to local authorities.

Ukraine depends on its allies for its air defense systems which have provided a shield to millions of people. Zelensky also fought to strengthen the armed forces without undermining public support or endangering economic stability.

Much of the new law, which was presented in part by lawmakers on social media and in interviews with Ukrainian media, appears relatively modest and has broad support across the political spectrum.

For example, the law creates an additional payment of approximately $1,800 for soldiers performing frontline combat duties, which is added to their base salary and combat pay.

But the removal of proposed limits on how long conscripted soldiers can serve before being discharged was quickly criticized by soldiers on social media and by Zelensky's political opponents.

Oleksiy Goncharenko, an MP from the opposition European Solidarity party, said he refused to vote in favor of the bill because of the omission.

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

Under martial law, imposed shortly after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, conscripts are obligated to serve until hostilities end, with few exemptions.

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

The Defense Ministry said in a statement that demobilization was excluded from the government's bill at Syrskyi's request because he “understands the operational situation” and “the threats and risks the state faces “.

The government will instead draft a separate bill on rotations and demobilization, but this could take up to eight months, the ministry said.

Some lawmakers said they abstained because they felt Thursday's bill did not go far enough.

Opposition lawmaker Inna Sovsun said she could not vote for the bill because penalties for evading military service and bonuses for those who enlisted were insufficient. She said the failure to address the issue of demobilization created “the impression of a one-way ticket and destroyed any motivation for new people to join the army”.

The law includes a provision that would allow soldiers to leave the army after captivity; the obligation for men recognized as being “partially fit” to be re-examined within 12 months; and mortgage assistance for military personnel who have completed a certain period of service.

Another opposition lawmaker, Iryna Friz, said the law allows recruits who sign contracts to choose their own units and grants extra leave and rewards to soldiers who destroy or capture enemy weapons or equipment. The families of the killed soldiers will receive a one-time payment of 15 million hryvnias (about $380,000), she said.

While Ukraine's war effort was hampered by personnel shortages, Russia was able to suffer heavy battlefield losses by recruiting about 30,000 new troops to fight in Ukraine each month, officials say Ukrainian intelligence and Western military analysts.

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

Russia's annual spring conscription drive is expected to add an additional 150,000 troops aged 18 to 30 to its ranks, even though they are less likely to serve in combat roles, the agency said British.

This article was originally published in The New York Times.




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