The Russian parliament’s lower house on Tuesday approved a bill extending the upper age limit for the compulsory military draft from 27 to 30, a move that appears to be part of efforts by the Kremlin to expand the military during the fighting in Ukraine.
All Russian men aged 18-27 are currently obliged to serve in the military for one year, although many avoid the draft by using deferments granted to students, people with chronic illnesses and others.
The bill, which was quickly approved by the lower house on Tuesday, still needs to be endorsed by the upper house and signed by President Vladimir Putin to become law.
It comes as the Russian army is facing a grinding Ukrainian counteroffensive in several parts of the more than 1,000-km (625-mile) front. The bill is widely seen as part of the Russian authorities’ measures to expand the ranks as fighting in Ukraine has dragged out into its 18th month.
The Russian authorities say the military doesn’t use draftees in the fighting in Ukraine, relying on volunteers and reservists who were mobilised for action.
Some Russian media have reported, however, that the military tries to encourage or coerce many draftees into signing contracts as volunteers.
The initial version of the bill envisaged raising the lower age for the draft from 18 to 21 and introducing the changes over several years, but lawmakers abruptly changed course, endorsing the Defence Ministry’s proposal to set the draft age at 18-30 starting next year.
The sudden shift drew criticism from some senior members of the upper house, but its speaker said it will support the new version. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov wouldn’t comment on the change, referring questions to the Defence Ministry.