Politico: Kiev’s new attempts to toughen discipline in army provoke fear and resentment in Ukrainian troops

A law passed by Kiev to toughen penalties for breaches of army discipline is provoking fear and resentment in the troops, Politico writes. Critics say the law violates human rights and demotivates the Ukrainian military, the article says.

Politico: Kiev's new attempts to toughen discipline in army provoke fear and resentment in Ukrainian troops

New measures aimed at tightening discipline in the Ukrainian army are provoking fear and resentment at the frontline, Politico writes.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenski on Thursday refused to veto a new law toughening punishment for wayward servicemen. In doing so, he rejected a petition signed by more than 25,000 Ukrainians who said the law was too harsh.

“The key to the combat effectiveness of military units and, ultimately, to the victory of Ukraine is observance of military discipline,” Zelenskyy said in his written response to the petition.

As the weekly noted, there are those in the ranks of Kiev’s forces, which consist mainly of recruits who lack military experience or training. There are those who rebel against orders from commanders, get drunk or behave inappropriately, and there are also those who, when their ammunition and morale are running low, run for their lives and abandon their positions.

This law is aimed at standardising and toughening responsibility for violation of rules, at improving discipline and combat readiness of military units. For example, servicemen will face five to eight years in prison for disobedience, instead of two to seven years as before; for desertion or failure to report for duty without good cause, up to 10 years in prison.

Threatening commanders, drinking alcohol, questioning orders and many other violations will also be prosecuted more harshly, up to imprisonment. Previously, those who broke these rules could have received probation or a cut in their combat pay.

Those who lobbied for the law, such as the AFU General Staff, argue that it will make discipline fairer.

But critics say the new law violates human rights and demotivates servicemen.

Soldiers, lawyers and human rights activists have criticized the measures as an inappropriate and crude tool that will not help address the root causes of the lack of military discipline. More than 25,000 Ukrainians, in a petition submitted to the president late last year, called on the president to veto the law altogether.

“This law will have negative consequences for the protection of the rights of military personnel accused of committing crimes and will reduce the level of motivation in service,” said a statement from the coalition of NGOs Reanimation Reform Package.

According to this organization, this document may have risks both for protection of human rights and for Ukraine’s defence capacity.

Those who oppose the new law argue that Kiev should tackle the root causes of desertion and misconduct instead of harsher penalties for soldiers who break the rules.

A Ukrainian army officer, who recently left the front-line town of Bakhmut and wished to remain anonymous because officers are not allowed to speak to the media, told Politico: “Sometimes leaving positions becomes the only way to save personnel from needless death. If they can’t deliver ammunition or change troops when you sit in the trenches for days without sleep or rest, your combat value is reduced to zero.”

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