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More than a million more soldiers For an even bigger army, Russian lawmakers raised the nation’s conscription age ceiling to 30 without bumping the minimum age to 21 as promised

Source: Meduza
Aleksey Malgavko / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA

On Tuesday, the State Duma adopted both the second and third reading of legislation that will expand Russia’s age range for conscription (not to be confused with mobilization) to men between the ages of 18 and 30, effective January 1, 2024. Late last year, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced a “phased increase” in the lower age limit for conscription from 18 to 21. State Duma deputies later abandoned the idea, however, arguing that Russia’s “serious demographic situation” means the military must cast a wider net to draw enough men into the armed forces. At the same time, lawmakers raised the upper age limit by three years immediately, even though Defense Committee chairman Andrey Kartapolov said just a day earlier that the increase would be gradual.

Thanks to these changes, the total number of men eligible for conscription in future call-ups will be 1.5 million higher by 2025 compared to the original plan that included a phased increase to the lower age limit. Russia’s conscription pool will be 700,000 men greater by 2025 than would have been the case without any reforms at all.

The number of Russian men eligible for conscription in different years, depending on the military’s age range. Meduza’s calculations are based on demographic forecasts by Alexey Rashka.

When he addressed his colleagues to defend the legislation, Andrey Kartapolov said, “This law was written for a big war that’s already in the air.” The remark prompted a biting response from Andrey Klishas (one of the Federation Council’s most influential senators and the chairman of the Constitutional Legislation and State Construction Committee), who said he’d need to reread the law before it comes to the parliament’s upper house because he didn’t remember seeing anything about “mobilization or a big war.”

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It’s likely that the rise in the number of potential conscripts will be gradual because the new rules don’t take effect until January 1, 2024, meaning they won’t affect this fall’s call-up. Under existing laws that Kartapolov confirmed will remain in effect until next year, men who are 27 or older by 2024 will be listed with Russia’s reserves — even those who evaded military service “without legal grounds.” 

It is not legal to conscript men listed in Russia’s army reserves.

On the other hand, it’s possible that some draft offices will refuse to transfer men to reserve lists, especially if they don’t report in person (though theoretically, this isn’t necessary). 

Those enlisted in the reserves have another problem: they’re eligible for mobilization

In the original version of the legislation, “draft dodgers” who waited to turn 27 would have been offered a choice between enlisting in the reserves or serving one year as a conscript. While the reserves might seem like a refuge from the armed forces, it actually puts men within reach of mobilization and death on the battlefield in Ukraine. (Under existing practices, short of a declaration of war, Russia’s conscript soldiers are not sent into combat.)

In the final version of the legislation, however, lawmakers removed this choice altogether.

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Formally, service contracts for conscripts during the war and draftees will be short (no more than one year), but Putin previously declared all service contracts to be indefinite for now

The final version of the legislation raising Russia’s age limit for conscription states that only short contracts (one year or less) can be reached with conscripts and reservists in periods of mobilization, martial law, wartime, in the event of armed conflicts, when conducting counterterrorist operations, and when using the armed forces abroad. 

It’s unclear, however, why soldiers would seek out these contracts, given that President Putin’s executive order implementing a “partial mobilization” is still in effect and essentially transforms all military contracts into indefinite service until Russia’s mobilization ends.

Translation by Kevin Rothrock

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