Ukraine lowers conscription age as Zelenskiy says Russia plans to draft 300,000 more troops

Nato discusses new ways to help Kyiv amid concerns over possible second Trump presidency

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Russia is preparing to mobilise another 300,000 soldiers for its invasion force, after he signed a law to lower Ukraine’s conscription age as part of plans to refresh its military after two years of all-out war.

Russia’s army is piling intense pressure on Kyiv’s troops in several parts of eastern Ukraine, where it seized the town of Avdiivka in February and continues to creep westward, capitalising on a lack of manpower and ammunition in many Ukrainian units during a freeze on US military aid to the country.

Mr Zelenskiy said that an audit of Ukraine’s military by Oleksandr Syrskyi, who became its chief commander two months ago, showed that earlier estimates that 500,000 more troops were required were inaccurate, given that many serving soldiers had not been at the front during Russia’s full invasion.

“We don’t need half a million. The appropriate number that were not at the front, will be at the front. As for the exact number, I am not ready to say how many will be mobilised,” he added. “I can say that Russia is preparing to mobilise an additional 300,000 troops on June 1st.”


Some military analysts see signs that Russia may launch an offensive in late spring or early summer, to exploit Ukraine’s weapons shortages and depleted military units before it receives any boost from the arrival of new western arms and fresh troops.

A Bill to overhaul Ukraine’s military mobilisation system is now making slow progress through parliament, and Mr Zelenskiy signed a law on Tuesday that lowers the conscription age for combat duty for Ukrainian men to 25 from 27.

He also signed laws to oblige men with exemptions from some military tasks due to physical problems to be re-examined, and to create an online register of people eligible to serve in the army – both moves that could swell Ukraine’s combat force.

Russia’s defence ministry said more than 100,000 new soldiers have started serving under contract since the start of 2024 and that the number of people volunteering for the military had “increased significantly” since gunmen killed at least 144 people on March 22nd attack on a concert hall on the outskirts of Moscow.

“Most candidates stated the desire to avenge those killed in the tragedy ... as the main motive for concluding a contract,” the ministry added.

The ministry’s claims could not be verified, but Russia has tried every day since the attack to link it to Ukraine and its western allies – without offering any evidence – while largely ignoring statements of responsibility from the Islamic State group.

Ukraine renewed calls for more air defence systems from allies following several destructive waves of missile and drone strikes on its power grid in recent weeks.

“Ukraine has urgent needs ... So we need to shift the dynamics of our support,” said Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg. “So that we rely less ... on short-term offers and more on multiyear pledges.”

Nato foreign ministers are reportedly discussing the proposed creation of a five-year, €100 billion Nato fund for Ukraine, and whether the alliance rather than the US should co-ordinate the so-called Ramstein group of states that supply arms to Kyiv.

Both measures could help shield Ukraine from a possible downturn in US support if Donald Trump wins a second presidency this year.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe