Propaganda, Ukrainian desertion and conscription in Lithuania

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After the reinstatement of military conscription last year, the Ukrainian military is undertaking the first of three waves of 'emergency' military conscription. Call ups in this wave started on 20 January, and men aged 25 to 60 are eligible for conscription. By mid-February 75000 people had been called up, of whom 60% will enter service, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko claims.

Conscription had ended in Ukraine in 2013, but was reimposed in 2014.

There are competing narratives from Russian and Ukrainian politicians as to the rates of desertion - with some claiming it is extremely high, especially in the West. Unofficial sources report Ukrainian/Romanian border area hotels and motels “completely filled with Ukrainian men evading conscription.” A mayor of a small town in western Ukraine said “At least here mobilisation has been a total failure. People don’t understand what they are fighting against. If it’s a war, why has no war been declared?” Such quotes have been widely cited in Russian state media, with Russian President Vladimir Putin voicing his support for Ukrainian draft evasion.

The Ukrainian government has denied there is a major problem with mobilisation, and accused the Russian government of inflating desertion figues in its statement, and inciting people to resist the draft in a concerted propaganda campaign.

Ukrainian journalist Ruslan Kotsaba gained media attention after posting a video addressed to the Ukrainian president in which he said he would rather go to prison for five years for draft-dodging than fight pro-Russia rebels in the country’s east. “I denounce mobilization [for war],” Kotsaba says. “I call on all reasonable adequate people to denounce this mobilization, because this hell, this horror, must be stopped.” Now he faces 15 years in jail after being arrested for treason and obstructing the military.

A new Ukrainian government decree regulates foreign travel for those subject to mobilisation. It means people could be arrested at border checkpoints, with those guilty of draft-dodging facing up to five years in prison – a law that provided the basis for Kotsaba’s video.

The military has also created a database to keep track of offenders, who face two to five years in prison if found guilty of dodging the draft.

There have also been reports of press ganging into pro-Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine, and by Russian forces. Leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), Alexander Zakharchenko, was quoted by Russian news agencies saying that “A general mobilization is planned in the DNR in 10 days. Ten thousand men will be called up,” He did not make clear how the mobilization would be enforced.

Meanwhile in Lithuania - north of Belarus, which borders Ukraine - conscription has been restored, reportedly because of a feeling of threat from Russia, who in December carried out military exercises in Kaliningrad (a Russian enclave on Lithuania's south-western border). Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite called conscription a 'quick and cost-effective way to bolster the country's army', with conscript soldiers costing about half as much as professionals. The 'State Defence Council' has proposed mobilising about 3,500 people into the military for training each year. Men aged 19 to 26 and graduates of higher education institutions up to age 38 will be called up. Conscription was suspended in Lithuania in 2008, and the Parliament approved the decision of the 'State Defence Council' on 4 March.

Sources: Xinhua News Agency, Roundup: Lithuanian gov't approves law on compulsory military service, 4 March 2015; UAToday, Lithuanian president says conscription fast, cheap way to fill army ranks, 26 February; Defense News, Lithuania To Reinstate Conscription Following Ukraine Crisis, 25 February; Delfi, Lithuania to reintroduce military conscription, 24 February; Mail and Guardian, Ukrainians dodge the draft, 13 February; The Guardian, Ukraine: draft dodgers face jail as Kiev struggles to find new fighters, 10 February; antiwar.com, Ukraine’s Conscription Plan Fuels Fear, Resentment, 3 February; Taipei Times, Ukraine rebels plan call-up, want 100,000 soldiers, 3 February 2015; Global Post, Ukraine's war is getting worse, and not everyone wants to fight, 1 February; Global Research, Ukrainians Against War. Conscripts Refuse to Fight against Their Own Citizens, 29 January; KyivPost, Ukraine Defense Ministry: Nearly 62,000 get draft notices, 26 January; Kyiv Post, Military: Register of military mobilization dodgers to be drawn up in Ukraine, 26 January; TelesurTv, Ukraine to Conscript 40,000 New Troops, 15 January; WRI, Ukraine to Reintroduce Conscription, 17 October 2014; WRI, Ukraine to abolish conscription, 16 October 2013.

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