Sen. Lindsey Graham calls on Ukraine to enact mobilization law during visit to Kyiv

Sen. Lindsey Graham calls on Ukraine to enact mobilization law during visit to Kyiv

KYIV — Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called on Ukrainian lawmakers Monday to quickly pass a mobilization bill that would make more citizens eligible to be drafted into the military, and sharply questioned exempting men under 27 from the fight.

Graham called for the swift legislative action — even as U.S. lawmakers remain unable to reach their own consensus on aid for Ukraine — while visiting Kyiv, his first trip to the Ukrainian capital since abruptly turning against a $60 billion aid package for the country last month.

As he issued his advice on the draft, Graham, who met with President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday, could offer no true assurances about the pending aid package, instead telling reporters that he is “more optimistic than I’ve ever been that something will get out of the House pretty soon.”

Ukraine is already short of soldiers and ammunition, and Russia is advancing on the battlefield, having recently seized the eastern city of Avdiivka after a Ukrainian retreat. Ukraine’s new mobilization law, which has been under debate for months as Ukraine faces a severe shortage of battle-ready troops, proposes lowering the country’s draft age to 25. Although citizens can voluntarily join the military starting at age 18, and men between 18 and 60 are banned from leaving the country under martial law, the draft has until now protected younger men — many of whom are students — from being forcibly mobilized.

“I would hope that those eligible to serve in the Ukrainian military would join. I can’t believe it’s at 27,” he told reporters Monday. “You’re in a fight for your life, so you should be serving — not at 25 or 27.”

“We need more people in the line,” he said.

He also urged Ukrainians not to base their decisions to join the military on whether or not the United States continues to support them. “No matter what we do, you should be fighting,” he said. “No matter what we do, you’re fighting for you.”

Graham has made several trips to Ukraine since 2022 and has repeatedly advocated for more aid for Ukraine. But he reversed course last month and voted against an urgently needed aid package, saying Donald Trump was “dead set” against it and would prefer to negotiate such aid as loan packages.

In Kyiv on Monday, he pushed for that approach.

“I was very direct with President Zelensky. You can expect me to always be in your corner, but it’s not unfair for me to ask you and other allies: Pay us back down the road, if you can,” Graham said. “I think the loan idea is going to be pretty popular, not just among Republicans but also among Democrats.”

In a statement after their meeting Monday, Zelensky said it is “critically important” that Congress reaches a decision on support for Ukraine. His office also said he raised issues including shortages of missiles and air defense with Graham.

Ukrainian troops have long complained of a shortage of 155mm artillery shells — a deficit Graham acknowledged Monday. “You’re lacking the 155 rounds. We’re going to get you some more,” he said in the news conference.

The senator also criticized slow deliveries of U.S.-provided long-range missiles known as ATACMS, saying they “should have been here yesterday.”

He said he hoped Ukraine will soon “get ATACMS so you can knock the damn bridge down linking Crimea to Russia.” Although the United States bars Ukraine from using U.S.-provided weapons to strike inside Russia, Ukraine has used ATACMS to attack targets inside Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.

Serhiy Morgunov contributed to this report from Warsaw.

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