What Are Conscripts in Russia? Vladimir Putin Orders Over 100,000 More

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on Thursday ordering 134,500 new conscripts into the army as part of Russia's annual spring draft amid its war with Ukraine.

Russia's Defense Ministry denied that these conscripts had been enlisted to fight in Ukraine, where Moscow's forces have met strong resistance since invading on February 24.

The use of conscription—compulsory military service—is contentious, particularly the use of conscripts in wars.

Russia's Ministry of Defense admitted for the first time on March 9 that Russian conscripts were fighting in Ukraine and that some had been taken prisoner, contradicting Putin's statement the previous day that only "professional servicemen" were involved.

The meaning of "conscripts" varies between countries. Russian conscription dates back to the 17th century. In Russia, it is mandatory for all men aged between 18 and 27 and they are drafted for 12 months. The latest decree signed by Putin on Thursday says that the military draft runs from April 1 to July 15 and includes men in that age range.

The mandatory service term for conscription in Russia was reduced from two years to one year in 2008. Russian authorities can punish people who avoid the draft by fines of up to 200,000 rubles ($2,420) or even imprisonment.

Putin justified his "special military operation" in Ukraine by saying he aimed to "de-nazify" Ukraine's leaders. The war has killed thousands on both sides, including Ukrainian civilians, and displaced millions from their homes, leading many to flee Ukraine and take refuge in other countries.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday that conscripts called to serve in the military in this latest draft would be deployed to their assigned bases in late May, according to Reuters.

"Most military personnel will undergo professional training in training centers for three to five months. Let me emphasize that recruits will not be sent to any hot spots," he said in a statement published on the ministry's website.

Western officials and military analysts have been highly critical of the Russian army's performance in Ukraine. The head of British spy agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Jeremy Fleming, said on Thursday Russian troops in Ukraine suffering from low morale were refusing to follow orders, sabotaging their own equipment and had even accidentally shot down one of their own aircraft.

In Ukraine, men aged between 18 and 60 were banned from leaving the country at the beginning of the war, in case they were needed to fight Russian forces.

Many Western countries that are not at war— such as Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom —do not have mandatory conscription and their militaries are entirely made up of volunteers.

The last time the U.S. army had active conscription was in 1973. There was conscription during the American Revolutionary War, the American Civil War, both world wars, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

The U.K. had a policy of mandatory conscription in both world wars, and after World War II retained it until 1960. The last conscripted soldiers left the service in 1963.

Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a wreath laying commemoration ceremony for the 75th anniversary since the Leningrad siege was lifted during the World War Two at the Boundary Stone monument, around 50 kilometers east of Saint Petersburg on January 18, 2020. Putin on Thursday signed a decree ordering 134,500 new conscripts into the army as part of Russia’s annual spring intake amid its war with Ukraine. Alexei Danichev/Getty