Russia may scrap age limits for soldiers to bolster Ukraine invasion force

Senior Russian officials have proposed a new law that would eliminate age limits for military contract soldiers, in another sign the country is facing a shortage of infantry to continue its offensive in Ukraine.

Two members of the ruling United Russia party who introduced the law said the move would enable the military to utilise the skills of older professionals.

“For the use of high-precision weapons, the operation of weapons and military equipment, highly professional specialists are needed. Experience shows that they become such by the age of 40-45,” it said.

Currently, Russians aged 18-40 and foreigners aged 18-30 can enter into a first contract with the army.

The lawmakers added that the proposed legislation would also make it easier to recruit civilian medics, engineers and operations and communications specialists.

Military experts say Russia is facing unsustainable troop and equipment losses in Ukraine after a series of military setbacks that have forced Moscow to reduce its war aims.

Russia initially put about 80% of its main ground combat forces – 150,000 men – into the war in February, according to western officials. In the 82 days since, it has “suffered losses of one third of the ground combat force it committed,” British military intelligence claimed last week.

The Russian military has also faced issues of low morale among its troops, as reports have emerged that hundreds of troops are unwilling to fight in what Russia calls its “special military operation”.

“Russia lacks sufficient ground units with contract soldiers for a sustainable rotation. The troops are getting exhausted – they won’t be able to keep this up for a long period,” said Rob Lee, a military analyst.

Despite widespread speculation and warnings by western intelligence, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has so far opted against ordering a large-scale military draft and formally declaring war on Ukraine, possibly fearing the repercussions such measures would have at home.

Instead, the Russian authorities have quietly stepped up their efforts to recruit new contract soldiers.

An investigation by the BBC’s Russian service showed that Russia’s defence ministry filled employment websites with vacancies, offering people with no combat experience opportunities to join the army on lucrative short-term contracts. Some large government-run companies have received letters urging them to sign up their staff for the army.

The Guardian has also previously reported on how authorities in the pro-Russian Donbas region have organised an aggressive mobilisation campaign, forcing many men to go into hiding to avoid being sent to the frontline.

Separately on Friday, Putin posthumously awarded the former rebel warlord Arseny Pavlov, also known as “Motorola”, with the Order of Courage.

Motorola, a former veteran of the second Chechen war, was one of the first Russians who crossed into Ukraine to join the pro-Russian rebel movement in 2014, where he led the Sparta battalion, known as one of the more ruthless and ill-disciplined of the militia formations. Motorola has previously boasted of killing 15 Ukrainian soldiers. He died in murky circumstances in 2016 from a powerful bomb apparently planted in his apartment block’s lift.

Russia has always denied its role in the Donbas, where war has been raging since 2014, despite evidence collected by journalists and NGO’s that Russia’s military was deployed in the region.

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