By Pavel Polityuk and Tom Balmforth
KYIV/LONDON (Reuters) -Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Tuesday the military had proposed mobilising 450,000-500,000 more Ukrainians into the armed forces in what would mark a dramatic step up of Kyiv’s war with Russia.
The Ukrainian leader told his end-of-year news conference it was a “highly sensitive” issue that the military and government would discuss before deciding whether to send the proposal to parliament.
Zelenskiy said he wanted to hear more arguments in favour of mobilising the additional people before backing such a move.
“This is a very serious number,” he said.
Ukraine has been at war with Russian troops since February 2022. Both sides treat their casualty numbers as a state secret, but U.S. officials estimate that hundreds of thousands have been killed and wounded.
Ukraine’s troop numbers are not known, but it has said in the past it has around 1 million people under arms. Russia has been expanding its army during the war and said on Tuesday it planned to boost its ranks to 1.5 million service members.
“I said I would need more arguments to support this move. Because first of all, it’s a question of people, secondly, it’s a question of fairness, it’s a question of defence capability, and it’s a question of finances,” Zelenskiy said.
Ukraine, which initially saw tens of thousands of volunteer fighters queuing up to defend their country from Russia’s invasion, is now trying to conscript more men to replace those currently at the front.
There have been discussions behind closed doors for weeks on how to improve the draft process. Some Ukrainians have reacted angrily to social media videos showing draft officers handing out call-up papers at gyms and resorts.
Zelenskiy said an additional 500 billion hryvnias ($13.5 billion) would be needed to support the army’s mobilization proposal and he wants further details on how the troops would be used to fight Russia.
There has been tension between Zelenskiy and the head of the army.
This week, army chief Valeriy Zaluzhnyi criticised a decision, made by Zelenskiy, to fire the heads of the regional military draft offices amid a crackdown on corruption this summer.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Max Hunder and Olena Harmash; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)